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Hanukkah - The Festival of Lights

Aug 17, 2007
Hanukkah (also spelt Chanukah) is a huge annual Jewish religious event that celebrates the reclamation and rededication of the Holy Jewish Temple in Jerusalem after it was forcefully taken back from the Greco-Syrian monarch, Antiochus Epiphanes, by a small group of Jewish freedom fighters called the Maccabees, and the miracle of the oil that happened at that time.

Like Christmas, it has become very commercial and with all the hanukkah products now available on the internet with online shopping it can be easy to lose the original focus of the holiday. However, with careful choices made in your shopping for hanukkah gifts, crafts, toys, menorahs & activities, it is possible to add new dimensions of understanding and enjoyment to this family festival appreciated by young and old alike.

So, as you get ready to do your hanukkah shopping this year, explore the possibilities and pick up a new menorah that means something to you or your family, buy a book with mouthwatering recipes to remember, and indulge your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins or friends with some of the many creative & imaginative toys and activities now available at online hanukkah shops to enhance their appreciation, rather than distract from, this wonderful time also known as the Festival of Lights. Read on to learn more!

The Jewish freedom fighters arose because Antiochus Epiphanes had forced the Jewish people to practice Greek culture and forbade them from reading the Torah. The insurrection was first led by Mattathias the Hasmonean, and later by his son Judah the Maccabee. This is why the freedom fighters came to be known as the Maccabees. Even though the Maccabees were outnumbered, after three years of fighting they were able to recapture the Temple mount and begin to repair the damage that had been done to it. However, when they went to rededicate the Temple and light the menorah, they found only enough oil to burn for one day, but they knew that it would take eight days to make and consecrate more oil.

In faith the Maccabees decided not to wait the eight days, but rather they lit the menorah right away with the remaining oil and a miracle happened as the oil continued to burn for eight days while new oil was being made and consecrated! For this reason, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days each year, beginning with the 25th day of Kislev, and it is also often known as the Festival of Lights.

Hanukkah, the celebration that commemorates this significant victory, and miracle, literally means "dedication." Each evening the Hanukkah menorah is lit, with one more candle being lit every day until all the candles are alight. The 9th branch carries the shammash (or "servant") candle, and this is used to light the others. When you place the candles in the menorah, always place them from right to left, but when you light them you should do so from left to right. This is to give honor to the newest member.

Once the candles are lit, let them burn out on their own, and do not use their light to light your room and do work or read by, but rather just to be looked at to be appreciated and enjoyed. The light from the candles in the Hanukkah menorah are not supposed to provide light to see by because they are not supposed to perform any work. The purpose of the candles is just to serve as a reminder of the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days in the Temple.

The Hanukkah menorah has 9 branches. Eight of the branches represent each of the 8 days the menorah burned in the Temple after the Maccabees defeated the Syrians. In order for it to be kosher, all 8 branches should be on the same level, however there are some contemporary menorahs available now that have the branches on different levels, and many people now also use these menorahs. The 9th branch is set apart from the others, often slightly higher, and it holds the Shamash, which literally means "servant." The Shamash is lit first and is used to light each of the other candles. The first night of Hanukkah, you light the Shamash plus one. On the second night, you light the Shamash plus two, and so on until the end of Hanukkah.

There are traditional blessings that should be recited before the lighting of the menorah, two each night and one extra the first night only. Before one recites the blessings over lighting the candles at Hanukkah, the following prayer, known as the Shehecheyanu, is said only on the first night:
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'o-lam she-he-che-ya-nu v'ki-yi-ma-nu v'hi-gi-a-nu la-z'man ha-zeh. Amein.
Blessed are you, O L-rd, our G-d, King of the universe Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season. Amen.

On each night the following prayers are said:
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'o-lam a-sher ki-di-sha-nu b'mitz'vo-tav v'tzi-va-nu l'had'lik neir shel Hanukkah. Amein.
Blessed are you, O L-rd, our G-d, King of the universe Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the lights of Chanukah. Amen.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'o-lam she'a-sah ni-sim la'a-vo-tei-nu ba-ya-mim ha-heim ba-zi-man ha-zeh. Amein.
Blessed are you, O L-rd, our G-d, King of the universe, Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time. Amen.

After the lighting it is customary to sing Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages), a traditional song, as well as other Hanukkah songs. Many times the children or adults will play the dreidel game while the candles are burning, do hanukkah crafts, eat chocolate gelt, cook up a platter of latkes & sour cream, or read the story of hanukkah aloud. Often there are latkes and sofganiot (jelly donuts), as well as chocolate gelt and other goodies. Any food cooked in oil is traditional during Hanukkah, but the most popular is probably potato latkes, traditionally served with sour cream and apple sauce.

Hanukkah menorahs themselves come in all shapes and sizes. They can be made out of silver, gold, pewter, brass, ceramic, stone, wood, glass, or just about any other material. In some homes, each person in the family has a Hanukkah menorah, including the children. Many contemporary menorahs follow a theme such as sports, pets, trains, the city of Jerusalem, flowers, etc. Contemporary menorahs will have the branches on all different levels, as in the Tree of Life menorah. Some menorahs even substitute electric lights for candles, and there are as many themes out there as you can look for. The internet is a wonderful place to source new and unique menorahs, and whether you are a biker, car racer, sailor, shoe collector, musician, chef, sports fan, hippy or whatever, there is a menorah out there for you! Just don't forget to order a box of hanukkah candles at the same time!
About the Author
Adam Barnett works for Studio Shofar Judaica & Gifts , and hopes to help educate the judaica market to better understand judaica products in general. Visit us to learn more about hanukkah , menorahs & other festival items at www.studioshofar.com/hanukkah.html
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