the Festival of Lights, is observed for eight days, beginning on
the evening of the twenty fifth day of the month of Kislev.
This year, (2009), Chanukah
starts at sundown, Friday, December 11,
and lasts for eight days thru Shabbat,
December 19 . Please see special instructions below
for Friday and Saturday Menorah candle lightings.
is a wonderful holiday of renewed dedication, faith, hope and
spiritual light. It's a holiday that says: "Never lose hope."
commemorates the victory, thru the miracles of Hashem,
of a small band of Maccabees
over the pagan Syrian-Greeks who ruled over Eretz Yisroel
has two meanings. First, and foremost, it means “dedication” because
it was on Chanukah that the Beit Hamikdash (Holy
Temple) was purified and rededicated to the service of Hashem,
in 165 BCE, after many years of pagan defilement. For
more about Chanukah and "dedications" click here.
The other meaning gives us an easy way to remember the Hebrew
date of the holiday: “Chanu” means “they rested”, and
“Kah” (composed of the Hebrew letters for 25 - “Chof
and Hay”) means “on the twenty fifth” (day of Kislev).
Chanukah is also called "The Festival of Lights" referring
to the flames kindled on each night. It is also called "The Festival
of Light" as Chanukah is the victory of the forces of
"light" - which include faith and loyalty to Hashem and
the Jewish tradition and the will to fight for these beliefs -
over the forces of "darkness," represented by the hedonistic lifestyle
of the ancient Syrian-Greeks.
THE MIRACLE(S) OF CHANUKAH
year was about 165 BCE. A large group of men led by Judah the Maccabee
climbed to the top of a mountain overlooking Yerushalayim
(Jerusalem). It was the same mountain from which, many centuries
later, the Crusaders would launch their attack against the Moslems
and from which, the Jordanian artillery would shell Yerushalayim
in 1967. In 165 BCE, however, Judah and his men, with the help of
Hashem, were about to complete a great victory, a triumph
that lives on as the miracle of Chanukah.
After the death
of Alexander the Great, conqueror of the world and friend of the
Jewish people, his Empire was divided among his generals. Eretz
Yisroel (the land of Israel), - the Kingdom of Judea - was
added to the Empire of Antiochus III. When Antiochus Epiphanes
became king of the Syrian-Greeks, he was not content to accept
the taxes and loyalty of the Jews as his predecessors had done.
He wanted the Jews to lay aside their Torah and ancient
religion, and, in their place, substitute the Hellenistic Greek
culture and Grecian idols.
bore down on his Jewish subjects with a measure of ruthlessness,
stubbornness and cruelty that earned him the nickname Antiochus
the Madman. (For a
related story of bravery and courage about Chana & her Seven Sons,
click here). He defiled the Beit Hamikdash - by filling
it with pagan idols and sacrifices of pigs. He forbade the Jews
to observe the commandments of Brit Milah (circumcision),
Rosh Chodesh (the New Moon), and the Shabbat.
Jewish women were systematically mistreated.
Jews who dared
to remain loyal to their faith were brutally tortured and murdered.
If a woman had her infant circumcised, she was murdered, the baby
publicly hanged, and all who participated in the Brit
ceremony were executed and their property confiscated. Against
this backdrop, Jewish resistance began to ebb and it seemed inevitable
that the last remnants of resistance would soon be wiped out.
Then, one courageous
old man turned the tide. His name was Mattisyahu and he
was a Kohain - head of the Hasmonean
family, from the Judean town of Modi'in near Lod. The Syrian-Greek
governor of Mattisyahu's region set up an idol in Modi'in,
rounded up the townspeople, and introduced an "enlightened" Jew
who would sacrifice a pig on the idol in recognition of the decree
of Antiochus. Old Mattisyahu stepped forward and slew the
With the rallying
cry of, “Mi La’Hashem Ay-li (Whoever is for Hashem,
let him come to me)," he called the people to rebellion. A pitifully
small number responded at first - the people were numb with fear
and hopelessness - but Mattisyahu's five sons led the way.
They fought the Syrian-Greeks, retreated to the mountains, and
began a guerrilla war against the Syrian-Greeks and their Jewish
allies. Mattisyahu had not long to live, but on his death
bed he charged his sons to carry on the struggle. The glorious
brothers heeded his command. He passed on the leadership to his
second son, Judah the Maccabee, who was a mighty warrior
and a charismatic leader.
Many miracles happened.
Outnumbered a hundred to one, Judah and his men won many battles.
Jews came to join him. In a few years, he had defeated the mightiest
armies of Syria. Victory belonged to the Jew, the pure, the righteous,
the loyal defender of the Torah. Following the rebellion,
the kingdom of Israel was restored for 200 years, until the destruction
of the Second Beit Hamikdash.
So it was that
Judah and his men climbed the mountain above Yerushalayim
and saw that there was no resistance. On the twenty fifth
day of Kislev, they marched into the Holy City and immediately
made their way to the Beit Hamikdash where they saw a
sight that left them shocked and angered. Idols, filth, impurity
were everywhere. They rummaged through the ruins seeking at least
one flask of pure olive oil with which to light the makeshift
menorah they hastily put together.
Flask after flask
they found - every one of them defiled. Finally - another miracle!
One small jug, sufficient for only one day, remained with the
seal of the Kohain Gadol intact! Quickly, with trembling
hands, they poured it into the menorah and lit it. It
would be eight days before they could manufacture more oil for
the next lighting, but meanwhile, they lit what they had.
The flames of the
menorah burned and burned and burned and burned and burned
and burned and burned and burned. For eight days they burned.
(I bet you counted). Those eight miraculous days were chosen as
the eternal symbol to commemorate the miracle of Chanukah
- the eight day long Festival of Lights, where we light the Menorah
each evening, publicizing the miracle Hashem performed
some 2000 years ago.
WHY EIGHT DAYS?
The question then arises, since the oil was adequate for one night, only seven days were miraculous. Why, then, wasn't Chanukah made a seven day festival?
Many answers have been given over the years. Here are a few:
One extra day of celebration was proclaimed to commemorate the miracle of the military victory.
The Syrian-Greeks did such a thorough job of defiling the Beit Hamikdash, that it was a miracle to find even that one jug of oil. So the first night's lighting, too, was miraculous.
Knowing that it would take eight days to secure new oil, the Maccabees
decided to ration the oil they found. They used only one eighth
each night - yet that little bit of oil burned until dawn every
After pouring the oil into the cups of the menorah, the Maccabees
saw to their amazement that the oil jug was still full. A miracle
- even on the first day!
After burning all night, the cups of the menorah were still full the next morning.
On each night, the Maccabees made very thin wicks in order to conserve
oil. Nevertheless, the menorah burned with bright and
hearty flames just as if the wicks had been of normal size.
LIGHTING THE MENORAH
NOTE: This is just a very
basic introduction. A competent authority should be consulted with
The Menorah (or Hanukkiya in Hebrew), that
we use today, is a nine-branch candelabra. On each night one more
candle is added and lit, beginning with one candle on the first
night of Chanukah and ending with the eighth on the final
evening. The ninth branch is reserved for the shamash,
the servant light, which is lit first and used to kindle the other
lights of the Menorah. The candles of a menorah
must be of equal height in a straight row. The shamash,
should stand out from the rest (i.e. higher or lower).
The best time to light the
Chanukah candles is at nightfall. The whole family and
guests should be present. Young children should also be encouraged
to light the candles. Students and singles who live in dormitories
or their own apartments should kindle menorahs in their
own rooms. If someone can't be home by nightfall, we may light
as long as people are still up and about - either at home or out
On Friday afternoon, the Chanukah lights (which will
burn until 1/2 hour after nightfall) are kindled BEFORE
the Shabbat candles are lit. Saturday night, AFTERShabbat ends, the Chanukah lights for Saturday
night are lit. See below.
The miracle of Chanukah, of course, involved pure olive
oil and that's why it is preferable to kindle the Chanukah
lights with cotton wicks and olive oil. Candles are perfectly
all right, however. Many people prefer them because they give
a steady, clean flame.
The generally accepted custom is to place the menorah
at a window so that it can be seen from the street. This is because
we are required to proclaim the miracle publicly by means of the
lights. Or, the menorah may be placed on the left side
of a doorway opposite the mezuzah on the right side,
so that we may be surrounded by mitzvot as we light the
menorah. (such is the custom of Chabad-Lubavitch).
The lights must burn for at least half an hour into the night,
(after nightfall), during which time no use may be made of the
light. The standard small colored Chanukah candles will
burn long enough, but - a word of caution - during the last few
days of Chanukah when many candles are lit, if the family
menorahs are too close together, the intense heat will
cause the candies to burn down in less time. For
some Chanukah safety tips,
the first night of Chanukah, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010,
three Brachot (blessings) are said. (For
the Brachot, Click Here). The third and last one, Shehechiyanu,
is omitted all the other nights of Chanukah. The candles
are lit after completion of the brachot.
The first day’s
candle is placed at the far right side of the menorah.
On each succeeding day, an additional candle is placed to the
previous night's candle's left. The lighting is done from left
to right, in other words, the new candle of each night is lit
before the old one(s). Light the shamash (extra candle)
first. Then use the shamash to light the candles from
left to right.
SHABBAT REQUIREMENTS FOR 2009
This year, (Friday,
December 11th, and Friday, December 18, 2009),
because the first night of Chanukah is Friday,
December 11th, and the last night of Chanukah is
Friday, December 18th,
the Chanukah Lights should be kindled early, BEFORE
the Shabbat Lights (which are lit 18 minutes before sundown).
Additional oil or larger candles should be used for the Chanukah
Lights to ensure that they will last a full half hour after nightfall.
the time the Shabbat candles are lit (Friday evening) until
Shabbat ends (after nightfall Saturday night) and the Havdalah
prayer (separating Shabbat from weekday) is recited, the
Chanukah menorah should not be re-lit, moved or prepared.
lights for Saturday night, Dec.12th,
are kindled AFTER Shabbat
ends (after nightfall).
After kindling the first candle
(and on the second and later nights) while the others are being
lit, this simple prayer is recited. It declares that we kindle
these lights in memory of the miracles Hashem performed
"in those days at this season," through the brave priestly family
of Mattisyahu. It concludes by declaring that all through the
eight days of Chanukah, the lights are holy - and are
not to be used as a light source; only to be seen as an expression
of gratitude and praise to Hashem for his miracles. For
the words, Click Here.
One should not benefit
from the light of the candles, only from the shamash and
other sources of light. During the time the candles are burning,
it is customary to sit by the candles, sing songs and tell stories
relating to the holiday. Work should not be done in the proximity
of the burning candles.
Maoz Tzur is the universal song of Chanukah. It traces eras of oppression - Egypt, Babylon, Haman, the Syrian-Greeks, the nineteen centuries since the Second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed and praises Hashem for redeeming Bnei Yisroel after each of them. A song of hope, it fills Jews with the courage to face the future and stresses the desire to a return of the Beit Hamikdash and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheira Beyomainu, (May it happen speedily in our days), Amen.For the words, Click Here.
is a passage that is added on the days of Chanukah and
Purim to the Birchat Hamazon (Grace after Meals)
and Shmoneh Esrei (the Amidah - Silent Prayer) for
morning, afternoon, and evening. It starts by expressing thanks
to Hashem for the miracles of Chanukah and Purim.
Then follows a section that is said on each specific holiday with
details of the respective miracle that occurred on that holiday.
Al Hanissim makes no mention of the miracle of the oil, per se. (The Talmud, TractateShabbat 21b, does however put emphasis on this miracle). Al Hanissim, focuses on both the physical and spiritual victories of the small band of Jews over the Syrian-Greek oppressors, and the guardian role of Hashem in the history of the Jews.
Al Hanissim refers to the miracles that occurred "bayamim hahem bazman hazeh, (in those days, at this time)." Some say that it only refers to the miracles Hashem performed for our ancestors; others say that it also contains a large element of praise for the countless hidden miracles that Hashem performs for us every day.
For the words, Click Here.
During the eight days of Chanukah, the entire Hallel (Psalms of praise taken from the Psalms of David), is recited every day in the Shacharit (morning) prayers.
In addition, there is a special reading from the Torah Scroll each morning in the synagogue. The readings recall the offerings of the Nesiyim (Princes), heads of the Tribes of the Bnei Yisroel, during the inauguration of the Mishkan.
WHO HAS A SPECIAL STAKE IN CHANUKAH?
It is customary that women do no housework for the first half
hour that the Chanukah lights are burning.
First of all because the Syrian-Greeks mistreated Jewish women
systematically thru their vicious laws.
Secondly, because a major figure in the
victory was a Jewish woman named Yehudit, (Judith). She won the confidence
of the Syrian-Greek general Halifornus. Then, after making him
sleepy with wine and cheese, she decapitated him. When she hung
his head out the window, the Syrian-Greek army was demoralized
and the Jewish victory was greatly facilitated.
dreidel was introduced as a special treat for children. During
the long winter nights of Chanukah they are given a respite
from their studies and given this special Chanukah toy
with which to wile away the time.
The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top, also called
a "s'vivon," in Hebrew. It is traditionally used to play
a lively Chanukah game. The dreidel has on it's
four sides, letters that tell the Chanukah message: a
great miracle happened there - as if to say, "Play children, enjoy
your beautiful gifts and your even more beautiful holiday. But
remember, it was given us as a miracle by Hashem, our
Creator and we will show our gratitude with renewed dedication
"In Eretz Yisroel (Israel), the dreidel bears
the letters Nun, Gimel Hay, and Pay standing
for "Nes Gadol Hayah Po",
a great miracle happened here. In the diaspora, (around
the world), however, the dreidel says the letters Nun,
Gimel Hay, and Shin meaning "Nes Gadol
Hayah Shom", a great miracle happened there
(in Eretz Yisroel). So even the dreidel is no
idle toy. As it spins, it delivers a message.
player places some dollars, quarters, dimes, or would you believe
pennies, candies, raisins, or nuts into a kitty, and each player
takes a turn spinning the dreidel.
"Nun" means nothing, you win nothing, you lose nothing.
"Gimel" means you take the whole kitty.
"Hay" means you win half of what's in the kitty.
"Shin" (or in Israel - "Pay") means "put in" - you lose, and must put one ...more into the kitty.
THE ORIGIN OF THE DREIDEL
The Syrian-Greeks decreed that
the teaching or studying of Torah was a crime punishable
by death or imprisonment. But the children defiantly studied in
secret; and when Syrian-Greek patrols were spotted, they would pretend
to be playing an innocent game of dreidel.
On Chanukah, it is
traditional to give all children Chanukahgelt
(money) and/or presents. Of course, this beautiful custom adds
to the children's happiness and festive spirit. In addition, it
affords parents an opportunity to give children positive reinforcement
for exemplary behavior, such as diligence in their studies, and
acts of charity.
should be given to children after lighting the Menorah.
The children should be encouraged to give charity from a portion
of their money.
MIRACLES AND MENUS - A HISTORIC COMBINATION
Jewish tradition and religious observances are not exclusively tied to the synagogue. Judaism is an entire life experience that even permeates the kitchen.
So it is that Pesach (Passover) is symbolized by the matzo and by a host of delicacies that have become integral parts of every Seder table. Rosh Hashana has its honey flavored foods. Purim has its hamantaschen, all of them contributing to the completeness of the holiday celebration.
Chanukah is no exception.
Which Jewish home hasn't enjoyed sizzling potato "latkes" on Chanukah.
Because the ancient miracle took place through a jug of oil, so Jews for over 2,000 years have commemorated the event with delicious oily delicacies and fried food. And because the Jewish heroine Judith used cheese and milk to help her lull Syrian-Greek General Helipornas to sleep so that she could kill him, dairy delicacies like luscious cheesecake are Chanukah delights.
For a few tempting recipes, Click Here.
Try them. Enjoy them. We hope they add a special flavor to your