Chanukah (חנוכה), also known as the the festival of lights or feast of dedication, is an eight night festival that recalls the miracle of the oil – when during the Maccabee revolt (167 to 160 BCE) the second temple was rededicated. According to tradition there was only enough sanctified oil to last for one night but when lit it burned for eight nights, long enough to get new supplies of sanctified oil.
Rabbi Pete Tobias wrote this interesting article about Chanukah and the Maccabees in the Jewish Chronicle this week.
When Is Chanukah?
Chanukah starts on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev – usually falls sometime between late November and late December in the secular calendar. This year, in the secular calendar, Chanukah starts in the evening of Tuesday 16th December and ends in the evening of 24th December.
One of the most visible elements of Chanukah is the on the nine-branched Menorah (מנורת) or Chanukiah. On the first night of Chanukah we light one candle, the second night two candles, and so on until the eighth and last night when all eight candles are lit. The ninth branch of the Menorah is for the Shamash – the helper or servant candle used to light other candles.
Food, Gelt and Dreidels
Chanukah, like other Jewish festivals, is also associated with specific foods, especially doughnuts and latkes or foods cooked in oil.
Other traditions associated with Chanukah include the giving of Chanukah Gelt (money) – often in the form of chocolate coins to children. Various reasons are given for the custom of giving sums of money (usually small amounts) including the custom of giving teachers thank you gifts, as reminder of the fact that you should not count money in the light of Chanukah candles, or as a reward for being studious – especially in studying Torah.
Another tradition has it that when the study of Torah was banned, students hid the fact that they were studying Torah by pretending that they were gambling. Hence Chanukah is also associated with the gambling game of spinning the Dreidel (spinning top).
This year WLS will hold its Chanukah party on Friday 19th December – we start with the lighting of Chanukah and Shabbat candles at 5:30 pm. We will continue with a chavurah supper (please bring food to share either vegetarian or permitted fish), games and other activities, and a short service – all ending about 7:30 pm.