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Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chanukah


As part of my religious holiday observance descriptions, I would like to share with you that the Jewish holiday of Chanukah for 2016 begins at sunset on Saturday December 24 and lasts for eight days concluding at sunset on Sunday January 1.
 

Dating the Holiday

Because the Jewish calendar follows the moon and so does not follow the standard solar secular calendar, the dates of Chanukah seem to travel between November and January. For example, last year in 2015, the holiday began on the night of December 6 and ended at sunset on December 14 (the day on which it starts this year). In 2013, Chanukah came at the earliest it had occurred in 133 years starting on US Thanksgiving Day of November 27 and  concluding at sunset on December 5.

In fact, though on the Jewish calendar, the dates are always the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev through the 3rd of the Hebrew month of Tevet.


Holiday Name 


Another point of confusion is the spelling of the name.  Since many sounds in the Hebrew alphabet do not have an equivalent in the English alphabet, there is no accepted way to spell the holiday in English. This carries over even into Hebrew where it already has two spellings: both חנכה or חנוכAs a result, English spellings for the holiday have 12 variations in use today: Chanukah, Hannukah, Hanukah, Chanuka, Chanukkah, Hanuka, Channukah, Hanukka, Hanaka, Haneka, Hanika and Khanukkah. 

The word itself means “Dedication” in Hebrew, which itself is a shortening of chanukat ha-mizbeiach meaning “dedication of the altar” or chanukat ha-bayit meaning “dedication of the house” (in this case, the House of the Lord, the Temple in Jerusalem). In English, the holiday is commonly referred to as the “Festival of Lights” because of the candle-lighting ceremony.

A Minor Holiday


Chanukah is one of the minor festivals in Judaism.  As a result, while the holiday has been celebrated for centuries by Jews worldwide, it does not carry the importance of the Jewish New Year, Day of Atonement, Sukkot or Passover.  Chanukah then is not as important as the Christian Christmas. 

That said, though, it is important to note that Chanukah has become especially significant among Jews living in Christian countries, especially the United States, Canada, France, Australia and Argentina -- even among fairly non-religious or secular Jews --wanting to assimilate into the surrounding culture with an equivalent to the gift-giving season surrounding Christmas. 

Traditionally Jews exchanged gifts on Purim, and actually did not exchange gifts on Chanukah aside from small items for children (chocolate coins, called Chanukah gelt, are an example).  This is still largely the case among Jews in Israel, India and Moslem countries, as well as more traditional Jews in Europe and the Americas.


The History Behind the Holiday

Alexander the Great Mosaic
Naples National Archaeological Museum
Chanukah remembers the freedom from persecution by the Seleucid (Greco-Syrian) Empire in the 2nd century BC (or BCE). The Seleucids had tried to forcibly assimilate the Jews into Greek culture.  After Alexander the Great overthrew Darius III in 330 BC, Greeks ruled the entirety of the former Persian Empire, including what is now Israel. Following Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, his empire split up with one of his general’s Ptolemy I Soter (the “Saviour”) of Egypt, taking over the part of Alexander’s empire that had included Egypt and Israel while another general, Seleucus, taking over what had been Babylonia. The portion under Seleucus became the Seleucid Greek Empire.  Alexander the Great had allowed the free practice of all religions, including Judaism. This tradition of respecting freedom of religion was continued under Ptolemy I Soter. This practice of tolerance, however, was not a priority in the Seleucid Greek Empire.

Antiochus III by Auguste Giraudon
The Louvre, Paris
Ptolemaic Egypt and the Seleucid Greeks fought a series of wars (called the Syrian Wars), as the Seleucids tried to expand to the west. In 223 BCE, Antiochus III the Great ascended to the Seleucid throne, and successfully expanded his empire westward, winning the area that is now Israel, Lebanon and Syria in the Fifth Syrian War (202-195 BCE) taking Jerusalem in 200 BCE. When the Seleucid Greeks ousted the Ptolemaic Egyptians from Israel, the era of religious tolerance began to be erased.

The Seleucid Greeks prided themselves on the universalism of their culture and believed strongly that their values could be promoted throughout the world.  Moreover, most of the peoples the Greeks conquered readily assimilated to Greek culture. Indeed, before the Seleucid conquest of the region and the subsequent persecution of the Jews, the Ptolemaic Greeks had been quite successful in assimilating a large number of Jews. These assimilated Jews were called the Hellenist Jews. The Hellenist Jews gave up their religious practices but maintained and even shared with Greek society as a whole many of their cultural traditions (language, foods, non-religious tales). For Hellenist Jews, Greek culture was seen as progressive and modern.  Greeks and Hellenist Jews alike considered those Jews who held to their faith and did not assimilate to be zealots and unenlightened.  Many of the issues surrounding assimilation to various cultures throughout the centuries have been related to the Chanukah story as a result.
Antioches IV Epiphanes
Altes Museum, Berlin

Antiochus III’s successor as Seleucid ruler was Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215-163 BCE). Antiochus IV Epiphanes (meaning “God’s manifestation”) found that those Jews who refused to assimilate became intolerable. Antiochus IV outlawed Jewish religious practice making it illegal to observe the Jewish Sabbath or circumcise children, and requiring, among other things, that Jews formally recognize the Greek deity Zeus as the supreme deity and dedicated the Temple at Jersulalem to Zeus. The Seleucids also required Jews to sacrifice and eat pigs (which Jews consider unkosher).  Jews who resisted were burnt at the stake, frequently with Torah scrolls wrapped around them to start the fire. In 167 BCE after the Jews resisted with force, Antiochus IV took extreme actions. According 2 Maccabees 5:11-14:

When these happenings were reported to the king, he thought that Judea was in revolt. Raging like a wild animal, he set out from Egypt and took Jerusalem by storm. He ordered his soldiers to cut down without mercy those whom they met and to slay those who took refuge in their houses. There was a massacre of young and old, a killing of women and children, a slaughter of virgins and infants. In the space of three days, eighty thousand were lost, forty thousand meeting a violent death, and the same number being sold into slavery.
As a side note, both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions consider both books of the Maccabees to be part of the Biblical canon. By contrast, neither Jews nor Protestants consider either of the two books of the Maccabees as canonical sources.

Significantly, the Jews were the only religion among the peoples that Antiochus conquered that he persecuted.  For example, after his conquest of Babylon, Antiochus III actually rebuilt many of the temples and infrastructure that had been destroyed.  Hellenic culture – generally considered one of the most enlightened in history – regularly incorporated values of other cultures into its own. 

The Focus of the Celebration

Chanukah celebrates the victory in 166 BC (or BCE) of the Hasmonean Jews – led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers – over the Seleucid (Greco-Syrian) Empire. However, as Judaism disdains war and therefore would not condone a holiday over a military event, the holiday focuses instead on the “dedication” (in Hebrew “Chanukah”) of the Temple in Jerusalem, which the Seleucids had desecrated by converting it into a center of idol-worship. 

The Menorah Lighting

The miracle of Chanukah occurred with the rekindling the menorah (candelabra) in the Temple. The Jewish Talmud explains that when the Maccabees removed the idols of Greek gods from the Temple and attempted to light the six-branched menorah in the Temple, they could find only enough consecrated oil to light the holy lamp for one day. The miracle came when – as Jewish belief holds -- the oil continued to burn for eight days until new consecrated oil could be obtained.  Hence, today Jews celebrate the holiday by lighting one candle on an eight-branched candleholder (called a menorah or chanukiya) each night for eight nights.

Chanukah Traditions
Potato latkes

Several traditions are associated with Chanukah.  During religious services, special psalms and prayers are recited as well.

Eating special foods is also part of the holiday. These include eating items made in oil such as potato pancakes called latkes. These are served with an accompaniment of sour cream or of something sweet (usually apple sauce or sugar). The latke itself is not particular Jewish in origin. The potato pancake made in the same manner as the Jewish latke is considered the national dish of Belarus and remains a traditional dish in Luxembourgish, German, Austrian, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Slovak, Russian, Ukrainian and Latvian cuisines. Other cuisines (notably, Irish, Indian, Persian, Swedish and Swiss) have variations of potato pancakes but differ from the compact patty of those just cited above including the latke.
For a recipe on how to make latkes, please see Sunset.com's "Perfect Latkes" at
Sufganiyah being injected with jelly
Another traditional food cooked with oil are special doughnuts called sufganiyah (plural: sufganiot).  Sufganiot are round doughnuts that are deep-fried in oil. While still hot, the sufganiyah is then injected full of jelly. The dough has a spongy texture which is where the doughnut gets its name (sfog in Hebrew means "sponge"). Although more spherical in shape, the sufaniot are very similar to the Polish pączki
For a recipe with photos on how to make sufganiyot, please see eGCI Forum: Sufganiyot at

The significance for both latkes and sufganiyot is that they are made in oil. In this way, they are both meant to recall the oil that burned in the lamps for eight days. 

The giving out of gelt (or chocolate candies made to look like coins) comes as a reminder that the Seleucids had confiscated all the possessions of the Jews.  It is from the giving of gelt that the tradition of gift-giving was developed in Christian countries as an assimiliative gesture to Christmas.

Songs

The song Ma'oz Tzur (often translated as "Rock of Ages") is a traditional song of the holiday. A common English translation is

Rock of Ages, let our song, Praise Thy saving power
Thou amidst the raging foes, Wast our sheltering tower
Furious they assailed us, But Thine arm availed us
And thy word broke their sword, When our own strength failed us.
And thy word broke their sword, When our own strength failed us.

Another popular song in both Hebrew and English is Mi Y'maleil? or Who Can Recall. A common English translation of this song begins:

Who can tell of the feats of Israel
Who can count them?
In every age a hero arose to save the people.
Who can tell of the feats of Israel
Who can count them?

In every age, a hero or sage came to our aid.

For the Jews of Yemen traditionally Chanukah was a sort of Jewish “trick-or-treat” time when children would go door to door collected wicks for the oil-burning menorahs used there. People would then give the children wicks along with candy and fruit. If the children received no wicks and treats, they chanted that these people were misers (the trick equivalent).

The Dreidel

Dreidels
Another tradition is to play with a four-sided top called a dreidel.  On the sides of the dreidel are the Hebrew letters of the first words of the four-word Hebrew phrase that translates: “A great miracle happened there.”  In Israel, the fourth letters on the dreidel are different than elsewhere as the phrase translates as “A great miracle happened here.”

As always, I welcome your comments and input. 

Happy Chanukah!

Want to read more?

You may wish to read more about the general background to the holiday at



History Channel's http://www.history.com/topics/hanukkah

Jason Miller (December 30, 2011), "The Hanukkah Spelling Confusion," http://blog.rabbijason.com/2011/12/hanukkah-spelling-confusion.html

1 comment:

  1. Mazel Tov....enjoy the days and thanks for the explanations!

    ReplyDelete