Hannukah For Dummies

What is Hanukah? (from Hanefesh.com):

The Jews observe the Festival of Lights for eight days, in honor of the historic victory of the Maccabbees and the miracle of the oil.

The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication.” In the 2nd century BCE, the Syrian-Greek regime of Antiochus sought to pull Jews away from Judaism, with the hopes of assimilating them into Hellenism — Greek culture. Antiochus outlawed aspects of Jewish observance — including the study of Torah — which began to decay the foundation of Jewish life and practice. During this period, many of the Jews began to assimilate into Greek culture, taking on Greek names and marrying non-Jews.

In response, a band of Jewish settlers took to the hills of Judea in open revolt against this threat to Jewish life. Led by Matitiyahu, and later his son Judah the Maccabee (“The Hammer”), this small band of pious Jews led guerrilla warfare against the Syrian army.

Antiochus sent thousands of well-armed troops to crush the rebellion — but the Maccabees succeeded in driving the foreigners from their land.

Jewish fighters entered Jerusalem in December, 164 BCE. The Holy Temple was in shambles, defiled and desecrated by foreign soldiers. They cleansed the Temple and re-dedicated it on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. When it came time to re-light the Menorah, they searched the entire Temple, but only one small jar of oil bearing the pure seal of the High Priest could be found. Miraculously, the small jar of oil burned for eight days, until a new supply of oil could be brought.

From then on, Jews have observed a holiday for eight days in honor of this historic victory and the miracle of the oil.

Today, the observance of Chanukah features the lighting of a special Chanukah menorah with eight branches (plus a helper candle), adding one new candle each night. Other customs include spinning the dreidel (a top with Hebrew letters on the sides), eating “oily” foods like potato latkes (pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), and giving Chanukah gifts & coins) to children.

Sheryl on “When is Hannukah Celebrated?”:

hannukah is celebrated on the 25th day of
Kieslev, which is a jewish month. jewish months are lunar, so the moon
cycles are what determines them, and a jewish leap year has a whole
extra month tacked on to the end o.O which is why, sometimes, hannukah
is reaaaaaaaaaaaaaally late or reaaaaaaaaaaaaaally early ๐Ÿ˜€ because
the sun and the moon dont quite circle the earth in the same way.
well, the earth circles the sun. you know what i mean ๐Ÿ˜€

Sheryl on “Jewish Christmas”:

christians think hannukah is the be-all-end-all because we give
gifts on it and its in the winter so it must be the “jewish
christmas.” i’ve heard that on several occasions. so, why isnt
christmas the “christian hannukah?” ๐Ÿ˜› because it certainly has
nothing to do with jesus if we can have one ๐Ÿ˜›

Tasty Jewish linkage from Sheryl:
ย• Judaism 101
ย• Hebrew Calendar Converter
ย• FactMonster: Hanukkah

As for the details of the design: Just like red and green are Christmas colors, blue and silver are Hannukah colors. Why can’t Christmas have such a classy palette?

I’m sure everyone recognizes the dreidelsโ€”the four-sided tops I’ve included in the masthead and in the main background. As Sheryl says, they’re “little tops with letters on them. actually a gambling game. pretty lame, but when you’re a kid you win boatloads of pennies or chocolates.” FactMonster explains the game like this:

Long a favorite Hanukkah toy, the dreidel once had a serious purpose. When the Syrians forbid study of the Torah, Jews who studied in secret kept spinning tops?sivivons, or dreidels?on hand. This way, if they were found studying, they could quickly pretend that they had only been playing.

Outside of Israel, a dreidel has the Hebrew letters “nun,” “gimel,” “hay,” and “shin” on its four sides. These letters stand for “Nes gadol haya sham,” which means, “A great miracle happened there,” referring to Israel. An Israeli dreidel has the letter “pay” rather than “shin.” This stands for “poh,” meaning “here”?”a great miracle happened here.”

The Hebrew letters also represent Yiddish words that tell how to play the dreidel game. Each player starts with the same amount of candies, chocolate coins (gelt), or other tokens, and puts one in a pot. Players take turns spinning the dreidel, waiting to see which letter lands face up. Nun is for “nisht,” nothing?do nothing. Gimel is for “gants,” whole?take the whole pot. Hay is for “halb,” half?take half. Shin is for “shtel,” to put in?add to the pot. The game ends when a single player wins all the tokens.

The candelabra-type contraption in the header is not actually a menorah, as we Gentiles might think, but is a Hanukiya. Menorahs have seven branches and, according to our resident Jew, are actually not used in most homes. Hanukiyas (hanukiyot?) have nine branches: the center candle, the shamash, is used to light the other eight. Also according to The Jewish Wonder, since Jews aren’t supposed to do work by sacred light, and the other candles are indeed considered sacred light, one could always claim to be working by the light of the shamash. ๐Ÿ™‚

The quote at the top of the page, “We kindle these lights for the miracles and the wonders,” is actually one translation of part of the prayer said after lighting the hanukiya:

We kindle these lights For the miracles and the wonders
For the redemption and the battles Which You performed for our forefathers.
In those days at this season Through Your holy priests.
During all eight days of Chanukah These lights are sacred
And we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them
But only to look at them In order to express thanks and praise to Your great Name
For Your miracles, Your wonders, and Your salvations.

โ€”excerpt from Hanefesh.com

Another important thing to keep in mind is that, apart from study and worship, Jews do not write the Name of God, and there are some Names that are not even spoken. Because of this belief, I was careful to incorporate a quote that did not include any Name of Godโ€”it may seem trivial, since no real hard-core Jews are likely to visit my little corner of the web, but I wanted to observe the spirit of the occasion, rather than just designing a pretty webpage around a new color palette.

So, we all get to learn a little about our neighbors and have a new design, too. How keen!

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