Weekly Feature



2017-12-13 / Lifestyles

Hanukkah holiday

Thirteen lesser-known facts about the

Prior to this year’s celebration of Hanukkah, here are 13 lesser-known but important facts about the holiday that have been posted online by the Chabad House of Buffalo:

Eight nights equal miracle lights According to the Talmud, when the Greeks entered the sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem, they defiled all the vessels of oil that were there. But when the Chashmonean monarchy overcame the Greeks, they discovered that one vessel remained. While it had only enough oil to light the candelabrum for one day, it miraculously lasted for eight days. The next year, the sages instituted those days and made them holidays with the recitation of Hallel and prayers of thanksgiving.

Light after dark

The Hanukkah candles must burn after night falls because their purpose is to bring light into darkness, but they need to be lit early enough in the day to be seen by someone so that they can remind others of the great miracle God wrought.

The silent holiday

Hanukkah is the only Jewish holiday not mentioned in the Bible because the canon was sealed by the Great Assembly two centuries before the Hanukkah miracle took place. The holiday’s observances are also not discussed in the Talmud. Hanukkah gets only an indirect mention in Tractate Shabbat, in the context of discussing candles.

Before potatoes, there was cheese

Today, potato latkes are customarily enjoyed on Hanukkah because the oil they are fried in is a reminder of the miracle of the flames on the Temple menorah. But there is an older custom of eating cheese pancakes, which is reminiscent of the dairy meal that Judith fed the Greek general Holofernes before decapitating him to save her village.

Lighting a Hillel menorah

In the days of the Talmud, there were two major academies of learning: the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai. Hillel taught that on every night of Hanukkah, the Jewish faithful must light another candle and add it to the menorah. The House of Shammai taught that menorahs should have eight lit candles on the first night, and one fewer candle should be lit each night so that only one remains on the eighth. According to tradition, Jews are to follow the Hillel model until the prophet Moshiach comes.

Syrians, Greeks, Hellenists or Yevanim?

Greeks, Syrians and even Hellenists are mentioned in retellings of the Hanukkah story, leading to confusion over whom exactly the Maccabees expelled. In fact, it was all of the above. After Alexander the Great died, his empire split into the Seleucid Greek Empire, based in Syria, and the Ptolemaic Empire, based in Egypt. The soldiers stationed in Judea belonged to the Syrian Greeks. Hellenists and Yevanim are the same people, since “Hella” is the Greek word for Greece, and “Yavan” is the Hebrew for the same.

Menorahs everywhere

On the first Hanukkah, candles were lit throughout the courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem, symbolically bringing the light of the Temple’s inner sanctum, considered by the Jews to be the holiest place on earth, out into the open. The effect is repeated each year on a grander scale, as menorahs are lit around the world.

Lots of choices

Unlike other Jewish holidays, Hanukkah can begin on any day of the week except Tuesday, since the month that precedes Hanukkah can have 29 or 30 days. Most other Jewish holidays begin on one of four days of the week, such as Rosh Hashanah, which can start on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday, but not on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday.

Were the Maccabees really so great?

Any child who attends Chabad preschool knows that the heroes of the Hanukkah story are the Maccabees, but they were not all good. The successors of Judah Maccabee, who were members of the priestly tribe chosen by God to minister in the Temple, took Israel’s kingship for themselves, which rightfully belonged to the Tribe of Judah. Before long, the monarchy was involved in power grabs and bloody intrigue, and kings of Maccabean descent were imitating the same people their ancestors had expelled.

Hanukkah in the USSR

Avraham Genin, a teacher of the Torah and former soldier of the USSR who refused to bow to Joseph Stalin during the Cold War, lit a giant menorah inside the Kremlin Palace of Congresses during Hanukkah in 1991, in the presence of approximately 6,000 of the Jewish faithful. The demonstration was the second of its kind to occur after cracks formed in the Iron Curtain, and public menorah lightings have been a staple of Jewish life in Russia ever since.

Hanukkah in space

Jeffrey Hoffman, who in 1993 helped repair the Hubble Telescope as part of the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, celebrated Hanukkah above the earth by twirling his dreidel, showing his Hanukkah supplies and wishing Jews everywhere a happy Hanukkah during live satellite communication. He was unable to light a menorah due to safety concerns and a lack of gravity.

Is your menorah in the doorway or the window?

Outside Israel, menorahs are commonly lit and placed in windows. In ancient times, menorahs were placed outside, to the left of the door leading in from the street. Due to the harsh realities of the Jewish Diaspora, both sociopolitical and meteorological, Jews in other corners of the world were forced to relocate menorahs indoors.

How Hanukkah went public in three years

The practice of spreading awareness of Hanukkah became overtly public in 1973 when some Chabad-Lubavitch yeshivah students planning to distribute menorahs in Manhattan attracted attention by attaching a giant wooden menorah to the roof of a station wagon. The following year, a rabbi lit a menorah in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and in 1975, a rabbi in San Francisco lit a 22-foot-tall mahogany menorah in the city’s Union Square. Since then, public lightings have been held in more than 90 countries, and 5,000 menorah-topped vehicles have spread Hanukkah awareness.

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