HAVE A WONDERFUL FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS!
No, Chanukah is not the Jewish Christmas! Yes, it is in the winter. Yes, it has to do with lights and yes, some people give presents. Yet Chanukah is different. It is a celebration of light during the darkest days of the year, a celebration of wonder and a celebration of a very exciting time in Jewish history. We can pick and choose from the many meanings of this holiday. A celebration of preserving Jewish identity? Yes. A celebration of light and wonder? Yes. A celebration of heroism? Of course! What about faith in the Eternal? Jewish independence? Jewish Religious identity? Jewish secular identity? Of course!
So we hope you’ll all find something on this page, HAPPY BROWSING, NEW EXPERIENCES, WONDERFUL HOLIDAYS!
WHAT IS CHANUKAH?
THE two MIRACLES OF Chanukah that we celebrate today:
The stunning military victory by the Hasmoneans led by Judah Macabee and his 4 brothers (Maccabim) over the Syrian Greeks and King Antiochus IV in 164 BCE.
According to Rabbinic tradition (Talmud Tractate Shabbat 21b), when they went to re-dedicate the Temple, they found one cruse of oil bearing the seal of the High Priest Yochanan. The oil was sufficient to light for one day but it miraculously lasted for eight.
Some Historical Context
Chanukah is one of the few Jewish holidays not mentioned in the Bible (hint, another is Purim!). The story of how Chanukah came to be is contained in the book of Maccabees 1 and 2, which are not part of the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Talmud in tractate Shabbat also gives us some insight into the history and nature of Chanukah, including laws around rituals that we practice like the lighting of the Chanukiah.
The events that inspired the Chanukah holiday took place during a particularly turbulent phase of Jewish history. Around 200 B.C.E, Judea, also known as the Land of Israel came under the rule of Antiochus III, the Seleucid king of Syria. At the beginning of his reign he was favorably disposed toward the Jews and accorded them some privileges. His son, Antiochus IV, proved less favorable, ancient sources recount that he outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered the Jews to worship Greek Gods. At the same time, the influence of the Hellenists (people who accepted idol-worship and the Greek way of life) was increasing. Yochanan, the High Priest at the time, tried to do all he could to push back on the Syrian-Greek influence. This led to internal strife between him and the Jewish Hellinists.
Some modern historians suggest that this internal strife between those who had assimilated into the dominant culture that surrounded them, and those who were determined to impose Jewish laws and traditions is at the core of the Chanukah story. The traditionalists won out in the end, with the Hasmonean dynasty gaining control of the land of Israel and maintaining an independent Jewish kingdom for over a century.
Antiochus IV had enacted a series of harsh decrees against the Jews which eventually led to forcing them to serve Pagan gods. In 168 B.C.E, his soldiers entered Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people and desecrating the Second Temple. Mattityahu and his 5 sons, led by Judah who was known as the Macabee, a word composed of the initial letters of the four Hebrew words Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Hashem, “Who is like You, O G‑d” led a revolt that lasted for 3 years. They eventually overcame Antiochus and his army and were able to liberate the city of Jerusalem. Later when they went to re-dedicate the Temple, they found one cruse of oil bearing the seal of the High Priest Yochanan. The oil was sufficient to light for one day but it miraculously lasted for eight. Shortly thereafter the Rabbis established the 8 day holiday of Chanukah to commemorate these two miracles and to celebrate the continuation of Jewish religious life which had been challenged both internally and externally.
DREIDEL / SEVIVON
The dreidel game (or Sevivon in modern Hebrew) is one of the most famous Chanukah traditions. It has its origins from various similar games called “Tops” where one would spin something and based on the outcome, you would take or put money into a central pot. During Greek King Antiochus IV’s rule Jews were forbidden from keeping Shabbat and Jewish holidays, ordered to eat non-kosher food, expected to worship Greek idols, and were banned from teaching or studying the Torah. Some historians believe that children played these types of games to trick the authorities into thinking that they were not studying about Judaism but rather playing games.
Today we play as a way to celebrate a rich history and have fun with friends and family!
WHAT IS A DREIDEL / SEVIVON?
A Dreidel is a 4 sided top with 4 Hebrew letters on it. What are the Hebrew letters and what do they stand for? Nun (נ) / Gimmel (ג) / Hey (ה) / Shin (ש) (Outside of Israel) / Pey (פ) (In Israel). What do the Hebrew letters on the four sides of a dreidel stand for? Answer: The letters nun, gimel, heh, and shin represent the saying, “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning “a great miracle happened there.” In Israel, Shin is replaced Pey to change the phrase to “Nes Gadol Haya Po,” meaning “a great miracle happened here.”
HOW TO PLAY DREIDEL?
- Divide the “coins” equally amongst all players.
- Everyone takes a turn at spinning the dreidel, the one with the highest spin has first turn. Note: nun is highest, then gimmel, hey, and shin. If there is a tie, those who tied spin again.
- Everyone puts one token of the ante into the middle (the pot).
- Spin the dreidel once — depending on the side it lands on, you give or get tokens from the pot.
Shin: put one more token in the pot
Nun: do nothing
Gimmel: take all tokens from the pot
Hey: take half of all tokens lying in the pot. In case of an odd number of tokens, round up.
- Pass the dreidel on to the next player after your turn is finished in a clockwise direction.
- Keep playing until someone wins by collecting all the tokens.
Check out these two articles that give you some historical perspectives on the game of Dreidel / Sevivon:
EATING OILY FOODS – DOUGHNUTS, LATKES
It is customary to eat oily foods during the week of Chanukah. The main reason for this is to remind us of the miracle of Chanukah when the oil lasted for 8 days. Some of the classic oily foods people eat are latkes (potato pancakes) and Sufganiyot (Jelly donuts). We encourage you to try making at least latkes at home for your family.
HOW TO LIGHT THE CANDLES
For 8 days of the holiday you will need at least 1 Menorah and 44 candles.
* Even if you do not have a Chanukah Menorah at home, you can make one yourself by just lining up tea lights or lining up candles in a straight order. Remember to distinguish the Shamash (the middle candle that lights the others). All you need are enough candles / tea lights for that specific night.
Place the Chanukah Menorah at the door, opposite the mezuzah OR in the front window.
Publicizing the miracle—Pirsum HaNes
We are supposed to publicize the miracles of Chanukah, which is why we should light the candles in a window, ideally at a time of day when people are still passing by. In Israel, people even have the custom to light the candles outside. There is no other Jewish ritual that requires us to publicize something to the outside world. Why do you think that is the case with lighting the Chanukah candles? What is it about the nature of this holiday that is so important that we must publicize it? See reflection question #8 below for further discussion.
The custom of many communities is to light the menorah shortly after sunset. In other communities, the menorah is kindled after nightfall (approximately thirty minutes after sunset).
Candles should burn for at least 30 minutes.
In many families, all members of the household, including children, light their own Menorahs.
SPECIAL SHABBAT REQUIREMENTS
It is forbidden to light a fire on Shabbat, which extends from sunset on Friday evening until nightfall on Saturday night. Therefore, on Friday evening, Dec. 3, the Chanukah lights should be kindled early, before the Shabbat lights, which are lit 18 minutes before sundown.
From the time the Shabbat candles are lit (Friday evening) until Shabbat ends (after nightfall Saturday night) and until the havdalah prayer (separating Shabbat from the weekday) is recited, the Chanukah menorah should not be relit, moved or prepared.
Chanukah lights for Saturday night are kindled only after Shabbat ends after nightfall.
BLESSINGS TO RECITE BEFORE LIGHTING THE MENORAH
On the first night of Chanukah (Sunday, November 28, 2021), recite all three blessings. On all subsequent nights, recite blessings number 1 and 2.
Blessed are you, Our God, Ruler of the Universe, who makes us holy through Your commandments, and commands us to light the Hanukkah lights.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b-mitzvotav, v-tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר של חֲנֻכָּה
Blessed are you, Our God, Ruler of the Universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors in their days at this season.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, she-asah nisim la-avoteinu ba- yamim ha-heim ba-z’man ha-zeh.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בִּזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Blessed are you, Our God, Ruler of the Universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu v-ki’y’manu v-higianu la-z’man ha-zeh
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לִזְּמַן הַזֶּה
After we light the candles it is customary to sing two songs:
We kindle these lights [to commemorate] the saving acts, miracles and wonders which You have performed for our forefathers, in those days at this time, through Your holy priests. Throughout the eight days of Chanukah, these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make use of them, but only to look at them, in order to offer thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, for Your wonders and for Your salvations.
Hanerot halalu, anu madlikin
Al hanisim ve’al hanifla’ot
Ve’al hateshu’ot, ve’al hamilchamot
Bayamim haheim bazman hazeh
Al yedei kohanecha hak’doshim.
V’chol sh’monat yemei Chanukah (x2)
Hanerot halalu, hanerot halalu kodesh heim.
Ve’ein lanu reshut lehishtameish bahem
Ela lir’otam bilvad
Kedei lohodot ulehalleil leshimcha hagadol
Al nissehcha ve’al yeshuatehcha
עַל יְדֵי כֹּהֲנֶיךָ
קֹדֶשׁ הֵם, וְאֵין לָנוּ
אֶלָּא לִרְאוֹתָן בִּלְבָד, כְּדֵי לְהוֹדוֹת לִשְׁמֶךָ,
MA’OZ TZUR – ROCK OF AGES
Rock of ages
Crown this praise
Light and songs to you we raise
Our will you strengthen
To fight for our redemption
Our will you strengthen
To fight for our redemption
We celebrate with hymn and praise
Festive candles to you we raise
We celebrate with hymn and praise
Festive candles we celebrate
Ma’oz tzur y’shu’ati, l’cha na’eh l’shabei’ach, Tikon beit t’fi’lati, v’sham todah n’zabei’ach. L’eit tachin matbei’ach mitzar ham’nabei’ach, Az egmor, b’shir mizmor, chanukat hamizbei’ach.
מָעוֹז צוּר יְשׁוּעָתִי לְךָ נָאֶה לְשַׁבֵּחַ
תִּכּוֹן בֵּית תְּפִלָתִי וְשָׁם תּוֹדָה נְזַבֵּחַ
לְעֵת תָּכִין מַטְבֵּחַ מִצָר הַמְנַבֵּחַ
אָז אֶגְמֹר בְּשִׁיר מִזְמוֹר חֲנֻכַּת הַמִזְבֵּח
Some Thought questions to consider as you sit and enjoy the candles burning each night
- Each person you are with should share one Chanukah memory / image that is meaningful to them.
- For you, what defines a miracle?
- Can you think of something miraculous that has happened to you in the past year or two that you are thankful for?
- One of the messages of Chanukah is bringing light into our homes during the darkest days of the year. Can you share one way in which either someone has brought “light” into your life or you into someone else’s in the past year?
- Best Chanukah present you ever got?
- Has someone ever challenged your Jewishness or questioned your Jewish identity? If so, what did you do?
- Chanukah is a holiday that should encourage us to look into our Jewish identity. As much as there was a miracle around the military victory and the oil lasting 8 days, there is also a struggle for religious and cultural Jewish identity that is at the center of the Chanukah story. How do you identify as a Jew? More religious / secular / cultural or some combination of both?
We are supposed to publicize the miracles of Chanukah, which is why we should light the candles in a window, ideally at a time of day when people are still passing by. Have you ever struggled with keeping your Jewish identity inside or making it known to others? How has that impacted you and possibly your relationship with other people?
We encourage you to ask yourself these questions during Chanukah and discuss it with those you are lighting the candles with each night.
FOLLOW THE SAFETY GUIDELINES FOR A HEALTHY AND HAPPY CHANUKAH!