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PHOTO/ Hanukkah: the miracle of the lasting oil

December Wed 12, 2012

Dreidels  Dreidels

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights began this year on December 8th and goes until December 16th. This eight-day holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt, in the 2nd century BC and is a celebration of religious freedom and national liberation for the Jews.

In 200 BC, the King of Syria, Antiochus III, defeated the King of Egypt, Ptolemy V Epiphanes, and Judea became part of Syria. Antiochus III allowed the Jews to continue practicing their religion and live in peace, but his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, invaded Judea in 175 BC, looted the Temple and outlawed Judaism. A Jewish priest, Mattityahu and his sons led a rebellion against the King. In 165, they beat the King and rededicated the Temple. According to the Talmud, they needed oil for the menorah in the Temple, which had to burn every night throughout the night to purify the Temple. They only had enough for one night, but it burned for eight, the number of nights they needed to get a fresh supply. Hanukkah was instituted to commemorate this miracle.

In the days of Hanukkah, Jews light the candles of the menorah, a nine branched candelabrum. There is a ninth candle in the middle that is slightly raised. The first night, one candle is lit in addition to the middle candle, on the second two, etc. The ninth candle, lit every night, is the one that can be used, since the use of the Hanukkah candles is forbidden.

Aside from lighting the candles and saying the associated blessings, during this holiday Jews exchange gifts and play dreidel. On the dreidel, a wooden spinning top, there are four letters, which form an acronym for “A great miracle happened there” (ones sold in Jerusalem say “a great mirale happened here”). In these days it is also customary to eat fried foods, to remember the importance of oil, and cheese. It is common to eat cheese to commemorate another important event leading to the freedom of the Jews, when Judith killed Holofernes. Holofernes, an Assyrian general, had surrounded a Jewish village as part of a plan to take over Judea. Judith, a beautiful widow, pretended to surrender to the Assyrians. She was taken to the tent of Holofernes, where she gave him wine and cheese until he fell asleep. She then beheaded him and took his head back to the Jews. When they showed the head to the Assyrians, they were afraid and ran away, giving the Jews the victory.



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