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Friday, December 11, 2009

The Festival of Lights: Part I

It's official: today marks the beginning of Hanukkah! On this, the 25th day of Kislev (which falls on December 11th this year) Jews all across the world break out their Menorahs, Dreidels, etc. to celebrate "The Festival of Lights." And even though my family and I are not Jewish, we thought it would still be a lot of fun (and be educational) to celebrate the holiday for ourselves:

Day 1 in the books. Only 7 more to go!
Here is my oldest son (Jaxson) taking the "Shamash" candle to light the first candle of Hanukkah.

Being that today is the first official day of Hanukkah, I thought I might provide a very brief history of what Hanukkah signifies to the Jewish people.

In a nutshell, Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Jewish temple during the Maccabean revolt in the 2nd century B.C. In fact, the word "Hanukkah" itself means "dedication" or "consecration." It was during the reign of Antiochus IV, who was king of Seleucid Empire, that Jerusalem was engulfed in a quasi-civil war of sorts. The emergence of Hellenization, which had quickly caught on with a large portion of the Jewish community, came face-to-face with the more traditional (orthodox) lifestyles and teachings of the Jewish faith. In the wake of such a conflict, Emperor Antiochus chose to side with the Hellenized Jews; a move that was politically very beneficial. A passage from the second Book of the Maccabees illustrates just how profound Antiochus' decision was:
Not long after this the king sent an Athenian senator to force the Jews to abandon the customs of their ancestors and live no longer by the laws of God; also to profane the temple in Jerusalem and dedicate it to Olympian Zeus, and that on Mount Gerizim to Zeus the Hospitable, as the inhabitants of the place requested...They also brought into the temple things that were forbidden, so that the altar was covered with abominable offerings prohibited by the laws. A man could not keep the sabbath or celebrate the traditional feasts, nor even admit that he was a Jew. At the suggestion of the citizens of Ptolemais, a decree was issued ordering the neighboring Greek cities to act in the same way against the Jews: oblige them to partake of the sacrifices, and put to death those who would not consent to adopt the customs of the Greeks. It was obvious, therefore, that disaster impended. Thus, two women who were arrested for having circumcised their children were publicly paraded about the city with their babies hanging at their breasts and then thrown down from the top of the city wall. Others, who had assembled in nearby caves to observe the sabbath in secret, were betrayed to Philip and all burned to death. ~2 Maccabees 6: 1-11
To make a long story short, the Maccabees were upset at the Hellenization taking hold in Jerusalem and chose to revolt. Their revolt turned out to be a massive success, as the "enemies" of traditional Judaism were swept away. In the aftermath, however, the Jewish temple was (due to the "heathen" influences) in need of purification. According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.

And over 2000 years later, Jews still celebrate this event by lighting the Menorah, giving thanks and enjoying "Eight Crazy Nights" of fun! And in the spirit of that fun, here is Adam Sandler's famous song to celebrate the holidays:

Day 1 down, 7 more to go!

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