What is Hanukkah? Why do Jews light candles for this holiday?

For the reason that the vacation falls so close to Christmas, large Hanukkah celebrations are progressively a marker of American Jewish identity — a way for Jews to remind ourselves and those all around us that, when we are a portion of this country’s traditions, we also have a distinct culture of our possess.

But Jews didn’t normally make such a fuss about the holiday getaway, which starts off on Sunday, Nov. 28, this calendar year. The story that gave increase to the competition of lights does not even surface in the Hebrew Bible.

Hanukkah is a rabbinically ordained getaway, as opposed to 1 the Torah instructions Jews to rejoice. More, the prohibitions versus work that exist for major vacations like Passover and Rosh Hashanah really don’t use to Hanukkah.

Really don’t get me wrong, the non secular classes of Hanukkah have constantly been essential. And it is a enjoyable holiday since it offers Jews a license to devote eight evenings eating tasty fried foods. The most preferred are potato pancakes, termed levivot in Hebrew but broadly referred to by the Yiddish phrase latkes by American Jews, and sufganiyot, doughnuts.

Basically set, we try to eat these fried food items — and gentle candles every single night time — mainly because the getaway commemorates a miracle involving oil.

A ragtag team of rebels armed with faith

The short edition of the Hanukkah story goes like this: In the 2nd century B.C., the Greek-Syrians (who are from time to time referred to by the far more traditionally correct and politically right moniker Seleucids) sought to Hellenize the Jews.

They preferred the Jews to disavow God and their religion. But the Jewish people today refused defiant, they held fast to their beliefs. And, led by Judah Maccabee, a little ragtag team of rebels defeated 1 of the region’s mightiest armies (though the Greeks weren’t entirely driven from the land and battling ongoing).

Right after beating the Seleucids, the Jews returned to their temple in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated. The Jews needed to rededicate their temple to God by lighting the 7-candle menorah, but they uncovered that only a person canister of ritually pure oil remained. Believing that the oil would only last for just one working day, they manufactured a leap of faith and lit the menorah in any case. Miraculously, it stayed lit for not a single evening but 8.

So Hanukkah is seriously about two miracles: the victory of individuals improperly geared up fighters who were being armed with very little additional than their religion and that very small little bit of oil lasting for eight nights. (Having said that, a pair of thousand yrs in the past, rabbis created an intentional, ideological final decision to focus on the oil and deemphasize the armed service victory, a selection discussed by The Dialogue in 2017).

Jews reenact the miracle of the oil each and every year by lights candles for eight sequential nights. We always begin by lights the shammash — the helper or servant candle — and then we use that to light the many others.

On the 1st evening, we use the shammash to gentle 1 candle, the 2nd night time, two, and so on until finally the very last night when all 8 are ablaze.

As with other holiday seasons, there are one of a kind prayers for Hanukkah. And numerous Jews also sing “Maoz Tzur,” or “Rock of Ages,” a liturgical poem that is greatly thought to have been prepared in Europe in the 12th or 13th century, amid another wave of violence: the Crusades.

Oh, and as I mentioned now, we also fry lots of scrumptious matters!

Much more Hanukkah enjoyment specifics

In The usa, lots of Jews mistakenly say we’re lighting a “menorah” for the duration of Hanukkah. But the phrase menorah truly refers to the seven-branched candelabra that was applied in the temple in Jerusalem and that is a image of the two Judaism and the Condition of Israel.

The detail we gentle for the getaway is essentially a hanukkiah, which retains 9 candles: eight for the eight evenings and then the ninth, the shammash, which is applied to light the other folks. The shammash is supposed to be unique from the other candles it is usually positioned better than the rest.

Customarily, the lit hannukiah is proudly shown in a window and serves as a reminder to the two Jews and non-Jews that we won’t be ashamed of our identity nor be bullied into hiding our heritage.

In the latest decades, some Jewish sects have taken Hanukkah celebrations out into their group with public candle lights ceremonies. These community ceremonies embody “the idea of lights the darkness of the entire world all around us with the light-weight of God and the gentle of Torah,” reported Salt Lake Metropolis Rabbi Benny Zippel.

Through Hanukkah, Jews frequently perform dreidel. Each confront of the four-sided spinning top rated is emblazoned with a distinct Hebrew letter, while the letters are a little bit distinct dependent on no matter if you’re in Israel or overseas.

If you’re abroad, the four letters are nun, gimmel, hey and shin, a sequence that is supposed to stand for “nes gadol haya sham,” which translates to “A excellent wonder took place there.”

In Israel, three of the 4 letters on the dreidel are the identical, but the previous one is different. An Israeli dreidel reads nun, gimmel, hey and peh, which supposedly stands for “nes gadol haya poh,” “A terrific wonder happened listed here.”

A time to rededicate our residences and ourselves to God

Even though I’ve obtained you imagining about letters and text, let’s talk about the title of the vacation. The word Hanukkah, which is also spelled Chanukah, suggests “dedication.” Hebrew speakers will explain to you that the phrase shares the exact same 3-letter root as the word for “education.” (This connection is not missing on rabbis, either). And that linguistic enjoy can go in a lot of instructions.

Here’s one particular: You can consider of the holiday getaway as an option for the Jewish neighborhood to teach itself and rededicate alone to the continued advancement that comes from education and learning — a worthy lesson for Jews and non-Jews alike.

Considering, also, that Hanukkah is noticed at household, a spot that, in Judaism, is referred to as mikdash me’at, a modest sanctuary, the vacation can also serve as a reminder to rededicate your particular person temples — your life, deeds and phrases — to God.

Chag chanukah sameach! Satisfied Hanukkah holiday getaway!

(Enjoy the fried meals — you can stress about your waistline when it’s above.)