Hanukkah 2020: 10 things you may not know about Hanukkah

Hanukkah 2021: When it is and what to know

There are people out there whose knowledge on the subject is that Hanukkah is a festival of lights and that, instead of one day of presents, the Jewish community gets the joy of eight nights of gifts.

Here are 10 interesting things you probably didn’t know about Hanukkah:

  1. How to spell it
  2. What did we just spell?
  3. What the dedication was all about
  4. What exactly is Hanukkah and when is it?
  5. Why are there ‘eight crazy nights,’ as Sandler puts it?
  6. Is it really about the oil lasting eight nights?
  7. The books that describe all of these events aren’t in the Hebrew bible
  8. The game of dreidel was inspired by Irish game
  9. Hanukkah isn’t as big a deal as Christmas?
  10. What happens during Hanukkah?

Hanukkah 2020: When it is and what to know?

1. How to spell it

When the subject of Hanukkah comes up, you may don’t know whether to go with H-A-N-U-K-K-A-H or C-H-A-N-U-K-A-H, or whether it’s two K’s or one? Here’s the deal: you probably aren’t wrong. The Hebrew word is “חֲנֻכָּה” and when people transliterate that word into something English, they sometimes go with C-H and sometimes go with just an H, both of which approximate the guttural “kh” sound that starts the Hebrew word. So, if you like keeping things easy, start with the H.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

2. What did we just spell?

The word Hanukkah, by the way, translates to “dedication.”

3. What the dedication was all about

A brief history lesson: In 164 BC, the land Jewish people consider “the Holy Land” was ruled by a group that today would comprise parts of Syria and Greece. They wanted the people of Israel to assimilate, but a small band of Jews (led by a fellow named Judah the Maccabee) won a battle, reclaimed their temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the God of Jewish tradition.

What the dedication was all about

4. What exactly is Hanukkah and when is it?

Known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C. The event occurred when Jews rose up against Greek-Syrian rulers in the Maccabean Revolt and drove them out of Jerusalem, according to the History Channel.

To mark their victory, Jews wanted to reclaim the temple and light its menorah, but only found enough pure olive oil for one day, according to Chabad.org. That one-day supply lasted eight and is considered a miracle in Jewish faith.

Every year, Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of Kislev, a month in the Hebrew calendar. It lasts eight nights (yes, because of the oil), and this year it’s from Dec. 10 to 18.

What exactly is Hanukkah and when is it?

5. Why are there ‘eight crazy nights,’ as Sandler puts it?

Because, as legend has it, when the temple dedication team went to light the temple’s menorah, they found only enough olive oil to last one day. Miraculously, that supply lasted eight whole days. And thus, Hanukkah was born.

6. Is it really about the oil lasting eight nights?

Maybe not. Other Jewish texts suggest it wasn’t the oil burning for eight days, but rather a delay in regularly scheduled programming that brought about the modern eight-day Hanukkah tradition. Because the Jewish people of Israel were still in caves fighting during September 164 BC, they didn’t get to celebrate the eight day holiday of Sukkot. The event was postponed until after the Jewish guerrillas won back Jerusalem and reclaimed the temple. Then, the event was back on, and thus Hanukkah was born.

The story of the oil lasting eight days goes back to ancient rabbis, who seemed to have made up the story while chatting about lighting candles during the holiday, reports The Washington Post. Some staunchly believe the oil story, though others are more inclined to focus on the messages/lessons the holiday teaches.

Is it really about the oil lasting eight nights?

7. The books that describe all of these events aren’t in the Hebrew bible

The books of Maccabees are the ones that describe the retaking of the holy land. And they aren’t even in the traditional Hebrew bible. But they are in the Catholic bible. So, there’s that.

8. The game of dreidel was inspired by Irish game

Besides the menorah, nothing is associated with the holiday traditions of Hanukkah quite like the dreidel. But few realize the game itself comes from Ireland. Originally, the four-sided tops were painted with Latin words. The game dates to an era before the Roman empire. As the empire’s trade routes expanded, the game spread across Europe and eventually became synonymous with Jewish culture.

9. Hanukkah isn’t as big a deal as Christmas?

For those who don’t know better, Hanukkah can seem like a Jewish Christmas. But it isn’t that at all. Nor, despite its proximity in dates to western holidays, is it some kind of post-Thanksgiving buffer holiday. In fact, Hanukkah moves around. The Jewish calendar relies on lunar months of either 29 or 30 days. But the rest of the world goes on the Gregorian calendar. As a result, Hannukah’s start date can fall anywhere between November 27 and December 26 in any given year. The next time we see a Thanksgivukkah? 52 years (2070).

Hanukkah isn’t as big a deal as Christmas?

10. What happens during Hanukkah?

To mark the holiday, Jews light one candle each evening on a nine-branched menorah. The ninth candle – the shamash, (“helper” or “attendant”) – is used to light the other eight.

The lit menorahs are displayed prominently, often in windows. Playing with tops called dreidels and exchanging gifts are other Hanukkah traditions to celebrate the holiday. Don’t forget about gelt, chocolate coins adults give to children during Hanukkah (a symbol of the money that Jewish parents would give their children in lieu of gifts; “gelt” means money in Yiddish).

Larger family gatherings during the pandemic are likely not happening this year (and are not recommended), meaning it will be up to individual households to figure out in-person gift exchanges and dreidel spinning. I know I’m hoping for gelt in the mail this season.

Adam Sandler – The Hanukkah Song

Presidential Message on Hanukkah, 2020

During this holiday season, the First Lady and I send our warmest greetings to the millions of Jewish people in the United States and around the world as they begin the celebration of Hanukkah and the miracle that kept the flames of the menorah burning in the Second Temple for eight nights.

The candle-lighting tradition that began over 2,000 years ago is rooted in perseverance and faith—two virtues that are indicative of the Jewish culture and the Jewish faith.

This year’s observance of the Festival of Lights comes at a time when the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel has never been stronger.  Over the past four years, my Administration has stood in unwavering solidarity with the Jewish people.  In recent months, we brokered historic peace deals between Israel and major Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan, ushering in unprecedented opportunities for enhancing stability and prosperity in the region.  As we enter this season of celebration and reflection, we must continue to build on this progress and work toward a brighter and more secure future in the Middle East and around the world.

Over the next eight days, families and friends will gather to carry on the time-honored tradition of lighting the menorah.  The First Lady and I wish you all a joyous celebration.  Happy Hanukkah!

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2 responses to “Hanukkah 2020: 10 things you may not know about Hanukkah”

  1. Tonight Yidden light the first of the Hanukkah lights. The Gemara of Shabbat teaches the famous dispute between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel concerning lighting the lights of Hanukkah. This famous dispute always puzzled me, what difference does it make whether one begins with lighting 8 candles the first night or only one? What does lighting the lights of Hanukkah have to do with the life and death struggle against Greek cultural domination of the tiny Jewish State?

    The B’hag, a late scholar whose Torah shined the light of Torah during the waning domination of the Gaonim schools. The Reshonim scholarship, this “candle of light” followed the lights of the Gaonim schools. The B’hag holds that the rabbinic mitzvot of both Purim and Hanukkah, their light shines as part of the 613 Commandments Israel received from HaShem and Moshe Rabbenu.

    The Rambam denounced the light which the B’hag directed the generations of Israel. The B’hag links Hanukkah, as does the Talmud to Shabbat. He held that lighting the lights of Shabbat – this mitzva from the Torah – its light shines on par with the Torah mitzvot of Purim and Hanukkah. To comprehend the light shone by the Torah of the B’hag, Yidden must discern the common denominator which the Houses of Hillel and Shammai, your shared foundation by which their Torah communicated the k’vanna of the mitzva of Hannukah as expressed through the rabbinic halachic ritual of lighting the lights of Hannukah throughout the generations.

    The Greek empire conquered the Persian empire, which uprooted the Babylonian empire, who destroyed Jerusalem and expelled Yidden from the lands ruled by the king of Yechuda from the House of David. Greek hostility to the Torah centered not upon the Written Torah but rather the Oral Torah. This latter Torah light expresses itself through a unique logic format by which Yidden, following the Golden Calf, dedicated the souls of their children, to strictly interpret the language of the Written Torah by employing the Oral Torah logic format alone as the light to see and understand the k’vanna and intent of the Written Constitution of the Jewish State.

    The Greek schools of philosophy taught a completely different logic system. The logic of Plato and Aristotle overshadow the ancient Greek contribution of knowledge. Yidden, humiliated from our disgrace of the avoda zarah of the Golden Calf, our forefathers swear a Torah oath, to all generations Yidden sanctify our dedication unto the Torah revelation to interpret the Written Torah through the lights of the Oral Torah alone.

    The lights of Shabbot, the dedication to strive to achieve shalom among family and friends. The lights of reading the Megillah on Purim, the dedication of tohor, opposed by tuma middot unto HaShem. The Book of Ester, the only Book of the T’NaCH which lacks the Name of HaShem. The Name המן and המלך they teach a רמז Gematria of tohor as opposed to tuma middot. The k’vanna of “kingship” (To make a Torah blessing requires the Name and Kingship), as a king stands as the head of a nation so too the dedication of tohor, as opposed to tuma, middot unto HaShem – middot express the faith unto the revelation of the Torah throughout all and every generation. The mussar of the Book of Ester teaches middot, expressed through the contrast between Mordecai and Haman.

    In similar fashion the Gemara of Shabbot, teaches the k’vanna of lighting the lights of Hannukah, expressed through the contrast of opinions expressed by the Houses Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel. What defines the Oral Torah? Logic stands upon the יסוד/foundation of Order. The Order of the Torah logic system in its turn sharply contrasts with the Order of the ancient Greek logic formats which ancient Greek philosophers developed.

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