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Hanukkah History: Origin of Jewish Festival

Hanukkah is a Jewish festival that falls on the 25th of the Kislev month, according to the Hebrew calendar. The celebration of this festivity continues for eight consecutive days and nights. Hanukkah holiday is also known by the name Chanukah. In Hebrew, the meaning of the word Hanukkah is dedication. This festival is celebrated to commemorate the victory of minority community of Jews over the powerful Syrians in 165 BC. The Syrians forced the Jews to worship the Greek gods. This enraged some of the Jews who revolted against the mighty Syrian army and won. Read on to explore the history and origin of Hanukkah in detail.

Hanukkah History: Jewish Hanukkah Festival Origin History

The history of Hanukkah can be traced back to the rededication of the holy temple of Jerusalem by the Jews, by emerging victorious over the Hellenist Syrians in 165 BC. The Greek god of Syria, Antiochus, ordered the Jews to worship the Greek god and prohibited Jews from practicing their rituals. Even their holy temple was seized in 168 BC and was dedicated to Zeus. Not much time later, the angry Jews decided to fight back and restore the dignity of their holy temple. The fighting began in a village close to Jerusalem, known as Modiin.

The seeds for Jewish revolt were planted when Jews asked by a Greek officer to bow to an idol and eat a pig’s flesh, which is forbidden by the Jewish religion. This enraged one of the Jews who killed the officer and went into hiding with his family. There, he was joined by the rest of the Jews, who were willing to fight against the Greeks. This group of Jewish warriors ambushed the Greeks whenever they sensed opportunity. Soon, Judah Maccabee, the third son of Jewish priest Mattathias and the leader of the Jewish revolt; went to the holy temple with his soldiers.

In the temple, Judah found many things broken or missing. The temple was cleaned and repaired by Maccabee and his soldiers and then, a big dedication ceremony was held there. The Maccabees also wanted to light the golden menorah in the temple, but they could only find a small flask containing oil, which was enough to light the menorah for a day. However, the oil lasted in the menorah for eight days, quite miraculously. Later, this led to the tradition of lighting menorah on Hanukkah, for eight days.

Interpretations of the Hanukkah Story

Some modern historians offer a radically different interpretation of the Hanukkah tale. In their view, Jerusalem under Antiochus IV had erupted into civil war between two camps of Jews: those who had assimilated into the dominant culture that surrounded them, adopting Greek and Syrian customs; and those who were determined to impose Jewish laws and traditions, even if by force. The traditionalists won out in the end, with the Hasmonean dynasty—led by Judah Maccabee’s brother and his descendants—wresting control of the Land of Israel from the Seleucids and maintaining an independent Jewish kingdom for more than a century.

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