Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
After the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek empire was divided among his generals. Palestine was first administered by the Ptolemies of Egypt, but later they were under the rule of Syria, which was then ruled by the Seleucid dynasty. These followed a policy in which all nations under their control should be fully assimilated into their empire. One king, Antiochus Epiphanes, aggressively pursued this policy, and sought to achieve it by the destruction of local culture and religion. The observance of Jewish laws and customs was made illegal, and the Temple in Jerusalem was made into a pagan shrine.
In the years 165-163 B.C. a revolt was incited by a priest in Modin called Mattathias. Led by his son Judah, called Maccabee (from the Hebew meaning 'hammer'), the revolt was a great success. Antiochus was defeated and all the lands of Judah reclaimed. Although Israel went on to exert increased political power in the region for some one hundred years, the country fell to the Romans in 63 B.C.
Hanukkah, which means 'dedication' is a remembrance of the Maccabee's victory and the cleansing and rededication of the Temple in the aftermath of the revolt. In the Talmud, the story is told of a miracle that took place when a single jar of pure oil (that was needed to light the Menorah in the Temple) lasted for eight days, when under normal circumstances it would have only lasted for one day. It is this that is the background for Hanukkah being known as the festival of lights, and gives rise to the lighting of the hanukiyah, the eight day lamp, or eight branched menorah.
The Customs of Hanukkah
There are two main aspects to the Hanukkah lights. The first, 'pirsumei nisa' means to publicise the miracle, which requires the lights to be put in a place where they can be seen, such as in a window.
The second, 'leshem mitzvah' means that whatever is done to fulfil a commandment should not be used for any other purpose. This means the candles that are lit for the exclusive purpose of the festival are not to be used as a light source. Thus the eight candles are lit with another candle, the 'shamash', which is kept apart from the others.
The order of the lighting of the candles was a matter of debate. Rabbi Shammai recommended that you light all eight candles on the first day of the festival, and then reduce the number by one each succeeding day, whereas Rabbi Hillel suggested that you begin with one candle on day 1, and then two on day 2, and so on. Generally, this is the order that is followed.
The candles should burn for at least 30 minutes. If a candle goes out, there is no legal obligation to relight it, but it is considered a good thing to do, i.e. it is 'hidur mitzvah', an enhancement of the mitzvah.
There are blessings to be said at Hanukkah. They are as follows:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the light of Hanukkah.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has performed miracles for our ancestors in olden times and in our times.
And the Sheheheyanu recited only on the first night:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has given us life and sustained us and brought us to this happy season.
After the first candle of the day is lit, it is the custom to recite the prayer Hanerot halalu, "These lights that we kindle for the miracles, for the wonder, for the salvations, and for the battles You performed...," and sing the hymn Maoz tzur yeshuati, "O stronghold, rock of my salvation".