All About Chanukah
By: Alecia Dixon
Chanukah or Hanukkah?
Why do some people write Chanukah while others say Hanukkah? Rabbi Mark S. Diamond explains that these are two different English spellings and neither is incorrect. The Hebrew word for the festival of lights, Hanukkah/Chanukah, consists of five Hebrew characters opening with the consonant het (chet). This letter is not the same as the English letter "h" (as in house). It is also not the same as "ch" (as in child). It is a Hebrew guttural sound that has no precise equivalent in English.
What does Chanukah Mean?
Chanukah or Hanukkah is the Hebrew term for rededication.
When Does Chanukah Begin?
Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev in the Jewish calendar (November/December). It is celebrated for eight days in honor of the Jewish victory and the miracle of the oil lasting for 8 days to rededicate the temple.
Why is Chanukah celebrated?
Over 2300 years ago in a country called Judea (Israel) there lived many Hebrew, or Jewish people. There also lived a very wicked man called King Antiochus. Antiochus ordered all the Jewish people to give up their God, religion, and customs and worship only the Greek Gods. By his orders Jewish temples were destroyed or used for his purposes and those Jews who would not worship how he commanded were severely punished.
Some of the Jewish people chose to obey Antiochus, but others refused. Now one of these men who refused to worship the Greek Gods was Judah Maccabee. Judah had four brothers and together they formed an army with as many as would join with them. Their goal was to defeat the Syrians that oppressed them so that the Jewish people could be free to worship as they believed. They chose to call themselves Maccabees, which means hammer. The Maccabees and the Syrians fought for about three years until finally the Maccabees defeated the Syrians and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem.
Their first priority was to clean and rededicate the temple to the service of God. So they washed and scrubbed the temple clean and removed the Greek symbols and idols from within the walls. Now they were ready to rededicate it unto their God. Remember Chanukah/Hanukkah means "rededication". The only problem was that Judah and the Judean heroes could not find any blessed oil to light the lamps. They searched and searched. Finally, in one of the Temple chambers they discovered a very small cruse of oil.
The Maccabees knew that there was just enough oil that the lights could be lit for one evening. Then a miracle happened. That very small flask of oil lasted not just one night but eight nights! This is why the menorah has eight candles. Each one represents a night that that small flask of oil kept the lights of the Holy Temple lit.
What is a Menorah?
A Menorah is a very special arrangement of nine candles. Eight of the candles are for each night of Chanukah, and the highest candle, known as the Shamash or "servant", is used to light the other candles.
On the first night of Chanukah one light is lit and this continues for eight days until all eight are shining brightly. This reminds the people of the Miracle that happened so long ago. The candles are placed in the menorah from right to left, but lit from left to right. Special blessings are recited each night before the lights are lit.
Long ago olive oil was used in chanukah menorahs, but over the years colorful candles have been substituted. In Israel, the chanukah menorah is called the Hanukiyah. They come in all shapes and sizes and resemble the Holy Temple's menorah.
What is a Dreidel?
A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side. In America the letters stand for "A Great Miracle Happened There". In Israel the letters mean "A Miracle Happened Here".
The Dreidel game is played by giving each player a number of coins or candy pieces. Before spinning the dreidel, each player puts a fixed proportion of the amount of coins received into the "Kupah" or kitty. Each player in turn spins the dreidel. When the dreidel falls, it will fall on one of the 4 letters. According to the letter, the following will happen:
Nun - no win / no lose
Gimmel - take all (from the kitty)
Heh - take half (from the kitty)
Peh or Shin - lose (what you deposited)
The game continues until players run out of 'funds' or agree to stop (anyone losing all funds is out of the game).
The dreidel game was popular when Antiochus ruled. Jewish people, struggling to keep their faith alive, would gathered together to study the Torah, outlawed by Antiochus. They would keep the dreidel near by so if soldiers appeared they could hide their scriptures and pretend to play with the dreidel. In Israel the dreidel is called a sivivon. The yiddish word "dreidel" is derived from the German word "drehen", or "turn".
What is a Latke?
The most popular ingredient in Chanukah dishes is oil. Why? Because the oil reminds the Jewish people of the small cruse of oil that burned eight days instead of one.
Latkes are potato pancakes made from grated potatoes mixed with eggs, onions, and flour, and fried in vegetable oil. They are crispy on the outside yet soft inside. They are served hot and often dipped in apple sauce or sour cream.
The Maccabee soldiers ate latkes made from cheese, vegetables, or fruits which were brought to them on the battlefields. However, they didn't eat potato latkes, as potatoes weren't available until the sixteenth century.
Sufganiyot are jelly doughnuts without the hole. They're dropped into hot oil without being shaped and come out in odd, funny shapes, then covered in powdered sugar and/or cinnamon. Sufganiyot are particularly popular in Israel, where they are sold on stands in the streets over a month before Chanukah begins.