Hanukkah; a transliteration also romanized as Chanukah, Chanukkah or Chanuka), also known as the Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE.
One of the most amazing parts of Hanukkah is in the Book of the Maccabees. It is the story of Hannah and her sons. She loved them very much and they were loyal to HaShem. They would not do what the king wanted them to do and worship idols. One day the soldiers came and took Hannah and her sons away. They brought them to the church where there was an idol of Zeus and ordered them to bow down and worship and say that they accepted Zeus as their god. Hannah and her sons refused. The soldiers killed her oldest son, hoping that when the others saw this they would worship their idol. But they did not. One after the other they were killed as was Hannah. She died declaring her faith in HaShem.
Hanukkah foods include Latkes, Beef Brisket, Kugel, Beets, Challah bread, Rugelach, and Sufganiyot.
Latkes are essentially potato pancakes, that can be paired with sour cream or applesauce. Challah is braided bread made from scratch. Rugelach is a pastry that can be filled with different things like apple butter, nuts, and dried fruit. Sufganiyot is basically the Isreali name for "jelly donut".
Sephardic Jews are originally from the Mediterranean and Iberian Peninsula, hailing from places like Greece and Spain. After the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were expelled from Spain, and so the Sephardic community was dispersed and many ended up in Turkey, and as far as Africa. Where Ashkenazic Jews traditionally spoke Yiddish, Sephardic Jews spoke Ladino, a hybrid of Spanish, Hebrew and a number of other languages.
With the traveling of many Jews around the world, this can cause different traditions to be formed, different languages to be spoken, and different cultural aspects of Jews around the world (such as traditional foods). This variety in location of Jewish people could be the cause of the variety of people that practice Judeaism today.
According to sources, the festival of Hanukkah was instituted in commemoration of the dedication of the Temple by the Maccabeans. The scholars were confronted with the problem as to why the Maccabeans instituted the festival for eight days: "And they kept the dedication of the altar eight days," while the dedication of the Temple in the time of the Solomon, as well as the time of Ezra, lasted seven days.
The Maccabeans were a Jewish rebel army that took control of Judea, which had been a client state of the Seleucid Empire. They founded the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled from 164 BCE to 63 BCE. They reasserted the Jewish religion, expanding the boundaries of the Land of Israel, by conquest, which included instances of forced conversion, reducing the influence of Hellenism and Hellenistic Judaism.
It is well known that the festival of Hanukkah originated during the Hellenistic period. Despite the fact thatit was instituted in a time of which we possess literary sources, students of history have advanced carious opinions on the origin of Hanukkah. Some have suggested that the festival of Hanukkah was originally instituted as an imitation of the festival of Tabernacles and later the character of Hanukkah was changed and was celebrated with the ritual of the Lamp. Others were of the opinion that the festival of Hanukkah was not at all a Jewish festival but was borrowed from the pagan world. A festival of Dionysius, according to some, was in reality the origin of Hanukkah and later was converted into a festival which is known as Hanukkah. These various points of view on the origin of Hanukkah are due to the seeming contradictions among the sources dealing with the festival.
Before the establishment of the State of Isreal, Hanukkah was celebrated by the Jewish community of Palestine as an important national holy day and Zionists of all persuasions participated in the regenerated ceremonies associated with the festival.
Hanukkah was one of the various Jewish traditional festivals which the Zionist movement employed to assert the continuity of Jewish identity and the national right of the Jews to the Land of Isreal.. However, although the secular Zionist groups continued to celebrate the traditional religious festivals, they changed the manner of the celebratin and also reinterpreted some of those festivals, with the aim of replacing their original religious content with new national or social myths.
The dreidel is one of the best known symbols of Chanukah. A four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side, the dreidel is used to play a fun Chanukah game of chance. The letters on the dreidel, Nun, Gimmel, Hey and Shin, stand for the Nes Gadol Haya Sham, which means A Great Miracle Happened There.
The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a menorah (or sometimes called a chanukkiah) that holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shammus (servant) at a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. The shammus candle is lit and three berakhot (blessings) are recited: l'hadlik neir (a general prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer thanking G-d for performing miracles for our ancestors at this time), and she-hekhianu (a general prayer thanking G-d for allowing us to reach this time of year).
The story of Chanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. Under this relatively benevolent rule, many Jews assimilated much of Hellenistic culture, adopting the language, the customs and the dress of the Greeks, in much the same way that Jews in America today blend into the secular American society.