Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Hanukkah (or Chanukah)

Hanukkah, is the eight day long Festival of Lights, and is one of the most joyous times of the Jewish year. The reason for the celebration is twofold (both dating back to 165 BC):

■The miraculous military victory of the small, ill-equipped Jewish army (Maccabees) over the ruling Greek Syrians, who had banned the Jewish religion and desecrated the Temple;

■The miracle of the small cruse of consecrated oil, which burned for eight days in the Temple’s menorah instead of just one.

The celebration is not only the Festival of Lights to commemorate the oil lasting for eight days instead of just one, but also the Feast of Dedication inasmuch as the Temple was rededicated after its destruction. (John 10:22) Chanukah means dedication. It commemorates the day the Holy Temple (this was the second temple) was re-dedicated after the defeat of Antiochus. The war was fought because King Antiochus marched into Judea with his soldiers and wanted all the Jews either to be killed, or to become Hellenists (a religion that includes mostly Greek customs, along with some Jewish customs).

Antiochus made terrible laws against the Jews which prevented them from following most of their customs. A statue of Antiochus was erected in the Jewish temple and the Jews were ordered to bow down before it. The Ten Commandments forbid Jews to worship statues or idols so they refused. Antiochus, the Syrian King and his army destroyed the Jewish Temple almost completely, and put pigs (which Jews are not allowed to eat) and idols all around it and stole holy vessels. A small group of Jews called Maccabees rebelled and after a three year war they recaptured Jerusalem from the Syrians. The Temple was all but destroyed.

The Jews had to clean and repair the Temple, and when they were finished they rededicated it to God. They did this by lighting the lamp (Menorah) – which was a symbol of God’s presence. Only one small jar of oil was found, enough to last only one day, but miraculously the lamp stayed alight for eight days. Hanukkah is not one of the larger Jewish Holy Days, but it is a joyous celebration nonetheless and falls close to the Christmas season nearly every year.

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