Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Happy Hannukah! - !חנוכה שמח

Happy Hannukah, Chanukkah, חנוכה, Ranouca (for my French speaking readers who have a hard time pronouncing the CH sound) or however you might spell it. I'm going to go for Hannukah.

This 2,000-year-old holiday is also called the Festival of Lights or Feasts of Lights and celebrates an ancient victory of the Jews over their enemies, and the freedom Jews enjoy today. Hannukah celebration is significant in that it symbolizes the Rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago and the triumph of Judaism's spiritual values.

Around 200 BCE Jews lived as an autonomous people in the Land of Israel, also referred to as Judea, which at that time was controlled by the Seleucid king of Syria. The Jewish people paid taxes to Syria and accepted its legal authority, and they were free to follow their own faith, maintain their own jobs, and engage in trade. In 175 BCE Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended to the Seleucid throne. At first little changed, but under his reign, the Temple in Jerusalem was looted, Jews were massacred, and Judaism was effectively outlawed. In 167 BCE Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple.

Antiochus' actions proved to be a major miscalculation as they provoked a large-scale revolt. Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons Yochanan, Shimon, Elazar, Yonatan, and Yehuda led a rebellion against Antiochus. Yehuda became known as Yehuda HaMakabi ("The Hammer").

After three years of fighting, the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful and the Maccabees victoriously reclaimed the temple on Jerusalem's Mount Moriah. Next they prepared the temple for rededication. When the Temple was reclaimed, the altar was so desecrated that Judah and his clan didn't just clean it up they rebuilt it and all the utensils involved with that area. In Hebrew, Hannukah means "dedication", and when you move into a new home, you do a "Hannukat Bayit" -- a dedication of the house -- before actually living in it.

In the temple they found only enough purified oil to light the Temple lamp and burn one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days.

The festival of Hanukkah was instituted by Yehuda HaMakabi and his brothers to celebrate this event.
The significance of the eight days is celebrated by lighting one candle for each day of the celebration. Each candle represents a day the oil burned in the Temple lamp. The candles are held in a symbolic figure called the Hannukiah (for some odd reason Americans insist on calling it a Menorah). A Hannukiah is a candle stand with nine branches, eight of them are of the same height, for each of the eight days of Hannukah, and one which is taller, for the Shamash ("servant"). The Shamash is used to light the others and is the first candle to be lit. Once it is lit, it lights the other candles, one for each night of celebration. This continues until all the candles are lit each evening of Hannukah with a special blessing.

We add to the "oily" festivities by indulging in foods which have been deep fried in oil (this is not the healthiest of holidays...) like Latkes and Soufganiot, as well as playing with a dreidel (Sevivon). The general "They tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat!" motto is valid for this Jewish holiday as well.

So a quick little math question...
Eight nights of Hannukah, every night we add a candle to the Hannukiah, which is lit with a Shamash. Every night all the candles burn out, so the next day we need to put new candles in the Hannukiah.
How many candles are needed per season per Hannukiah? (Assuming of course that none are broken, and that you light them every night :p)

I'm not sure this virtual Hannukiah will light up at European sunset time, we'll see what happens.

Happy oily food bestuffing!

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