FEAST OF DEDICATION
FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
Most historians believe that Hanukkah is
a belated celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles a.k.a.
Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. The Feast of Hanukkah is translated
to mean "establishing or dedication" (of the Temple in Jerusalem). It is also called the Festival of Lights or Feast of Dedication.
It is celebrated on the 25th day of Kislev, which is roughly in November or December. In 2008 Hanukkah occurred from sunset December 21 to December 29.
period of Hanukkah is symbolic of the seven days of creation plus the eight-day
representing eternity. During the Maccabean revolt, the Temple was desecrated, making it impossible to
celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. Hanukkah was patterned after at the Feast of Tabernacles;
and thus was called the Feast of Dedication. Hanukkah is not a Sabbath-like holiday. It is not specifically mentioned in the book
of Maccabees, but alludes to their rest from their fighting on the 25th day of Kislev. There was also reference
to the relighting of the altar fire by Nehemiah, which occurred on the 25th day of Kislev.
In addition to
the daily “Amidah prayers” and “Hallel Psalms”, an additional thanksgiving benediction was added to
in the Amidah prayers which states: "We thank you also for the miraculous deeds and for the redemption
and for your mighty deeds and saving acts."
The last day of Hanukkah
is known as Zot HanukJah from the statement in the book of Numbers 7:84 "this was the dedication of the altar".
This day symbolizes the final "seal" of the high holy season of Yom Kippur, aka the Feast of Atonement,
and is considered a time to repent out of love for God. Thus one would hear the salutation during
this period: "May your name be written in the book of life"; which was a traditional greeting on the Yom Kippur
165 B.C. the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful. The Temple was liberated and rededicated and
the Festival of Hanukkah was instituted.
from the Hebrew word for "dedication" or "consecration", marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem
after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus IV
name "Hanukkah" is interpreted in many ways.
Some scholars say
the word was derived from the Hebrew verb "חנך" meaning "to dedicate" or to "educate."
On Hanukkah, Jews mark the rededication of the House of the Lord.
that the name can be broken down into "חנו", from the Hebrew word for encampment, and the Hebrew
letters כ"ה, which stands for the 25th day of Kislev, the day on which
the holiday begins. Hence, the Jews sat in their camp, i.e. they rested from fighting, on the 25th day of Kislev.
Hanukkah is also the Hebrew acronym for "ח' נרות והלכה כבית הלל" meaning "eight candles as determined by House of Hillel".
story of Hanukkah is alluded to in the book of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees of the Septuagint; but Hanukkah is not specially mentioned. Rather, a story similar in character, and obviously older in date, is the
one alluded to in 2 Maccabees 1:18 et seq which relates the relighting of the altar fire by Nehemiah. This was due to a miracle which occurred on the twenty-fifth of Kislev. That appears to be given as the reason
for the selection of the same date for the rededication of the altar by Judah Maccabeus.
The 25th day of Kislev is the day on which
the holiday begins. Hence, the Jews sat in their camp, i.e. they rested fighting, on the 25th day of Kislev.
reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for the "lighting of the house
within", but rather for the "illumination of the house without," so that passers-by
should see it and be reminded of the holiday's miracle. This is why lamps are set up at a prominent
window, or near the door leading to the street.
A number of historians
believe that the reason for the eight day celebration was that the first Hanukkah
was in effect a belated celebration of the festivals of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. During the war the Jews were not able to celebrate Sukkot/Shemini
Atzeret properly. The combined festivals also last eight days, and the Sukkot
festivities featured the lighting of lamps in the Temple (Suk.v. 2-4). The historian Josephus mentions the eight-day festival and its customs, but does not tell us the origin of the eight day lighting custom. Given
that his audience was Hellenized Romans, perhaps his silence on the origin of the eight-day custom is due to its miraculous
nature. In any event, he does report that lights were kindled in the household and the popular name of
the festival was, therefore the "Festival of Lights" ("And
from that time, to this, we celebrate this festival and call it Lights").
It has also been noted that the number
eight has special significance in Jewish theology, as representing transcendence and the Jewish People's special
role in human history. Seven is the number of days of creation, that is, of completion of the material cosmos, and also
of the classical planets. Eight, being one step beyond seven, represents the Infinite. Hence,
the Eighth Day of the Assembly festival, mentioned above, is a festival for Jews only according to Jewish Law (unlike Sukkot, when all peoples were welcome in Jerusalem). Similarly,
the rite of brit milah (circumcision), which brings a Jewish male into God's Covenant, is performed on the
eighth day. Hence, Hanukkah's eight days
in celebration of monotheistic morality's victory over Hellenistic humanism have great symbolic importance.
to the daily prayers; "We thank You
also for the miraculous deeds and for the redemption and for the mighty deeds and the saving acts wrought by You”.
An addition is made to the "hoda'ah"
(thanksgiving) benediction in the Amidah, called Al ha-Nissim ("On/about the Miracles"). This addition refers to the victory
achieved over the Syrians by the Hasmonean Mattathias and his sons. The same prayer is added to the grace
after meals. In addition, the Hallel Psalms are sung during each morning.
The last day of Hanukkah is known as Zot
Hanukkah, from part of the verse in the Book of Numbers 7:84 which reads "Zot Chanukat Hamizbe'ach".
This was the dedication of the altar, which is read on this day in the synagogue. According to the
teachings of Kabbalah and Hasidism, this day is the final "seal" of the High Holiday season of Yom Kippur, and is considered a time to repent out of love for God. In this spirit, many Hasidic Jews wish each other "Gmar chatimah
tovah", "may you be sealed totally for good", a traditional greeting for the Yom Kippur season.