What is Chanukah?
Many Gentiles know little about Chanukah. Perhaps they know that Chanukah falls sometime near the Christian holiday of Christmas, that it lasts eight days, and Jewish People exchange gifts on each of the days. Beyond these glimpses into the holiday, however, many Gentiles wonder what Chanukah is really about.
Chanukah is the commemoration of a miracle that took place long ago in the history of Israel. In the second century BCE, Antiochus IV controlled Israel and much of the Middle East. A historian of the day referred to him as the “Madman,” and much of his madness was at the expense of the Jewish People whom he severely persecuted. His armies traveled throughout Israel forcing Jewish People to worship false gods and massacring thousands who refused. Antiochus IV took over the Temple and desecrated it with idols and sacrifices of pigs.
A Hebrew man named Mattathias and his son, Judah Maccabee, led a revolt against the oppression, subdued armies that far outnumbered them, and regained control of the Temple.
The faithful Jews proceeded to purify the Temple and set out to rededicate it to the God of Abraham. However, there was not enough oil to keep the Temple menorah burning continuously as was commanded by God. They had only enough oil for one day, but this oil miraculously burned for eight days until more could be made and purified. Chanukah celebrates this miracle of lights. For these reasons, Chanukah is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Festival of Dedication.
Chanukah in the history of Israel
Chanukah is an eight-day holiday in which candles are lit in commemoration of the eight days that the one-day supply of oil burned at the Temple rededication. Chanukah was not originally a gift-giving celebration, and the only gifts given were coins. Throughout the history of Israel, it was the Jewish custom to help those who could not afford to celebrate the feasts. The giving of coins was incorporated to provide this charity while maintaining the dignity of those needing help.
Because Chanukah falls close to the Christian Christmas, Jewish children living in largely Christian cultures grew jealous of the gifts their school friends were getting. From this grew the practice of giving a gift of increasing value on each of the eight nights of Chanukah. Along with gifts, Chanukah traditions include eating fried foods (representing the oil) and playing a dreidel game.
Though Chanukah is a much-enjoyed Jewish holiday, it is not one of the biblically commanded feasts of Leviticus 23 and does bear the same weight among holidays for Jewish People as Christmas does for Believers in Yeshua. Yom Kippur and Passover are the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is the holiest day of the Jewish year as it addresses the need of a remedy for the guilt of our sin. Passover commemorates God’s protection and provision for the Jewish People during the Exodus from bondage in Egypt in the history of Israel.
On each of the eight nights of Chanukah, candles are lit and blessings spoken. The candelabrum of Chanukah is called the Chanukiah and has nine branches to hold candles. Eight candles represent the eight-day miracle, and the ninth candle, called the Servant Candle, is used to light the Chanukah candles.
On the first night of Chanukah, a candle is placed into the holder on the far right and is lit using the servant candle. The candle is to burn for at least 30 minutes. On the second night, two candles are placed in the rightmost holders and lit. On each night of Chanukah, one more candle is added to the lampstand. Though the candles are added to the Chanukiah from right to left (like Hebrew writing reads from right to left), the candles are lit in the opposite direction. Candles are lit from left to right as part of the Jewish custom to honor the newest thing first.
Chanukah is a time for remembering God’s goodness and provision, not only throughout the history of Israel but also in each of our lives today. Chanukah reminds us that God is our miracle-working provider who gives us light to live by and has given us the Light of the World, Yeshua the Messiah. Chanukah is a perfect time for rededicating ourselves to Yeshua and remembering that He has overcome the world. He has conquered sin and defeated death for us. The Light of the World has overcome the darkness, and He lives to shine through those who believe in Him. A blessed Chanukah to you all!
Visit the Jewish Voice online store for a number of Chanukah items, including Rabbi Jonathan Bernis’ Chanukah booklet and beautiful Jewish Voice Chanukiah lampstand. For more resources and information about Chanukah, click here.
To learn more about the history of Israel, the Feasts of Israel, Messianic Judaism, and read testimonies of Jews who believe in Jesus, visit our website.
To download our Chanukah infographic, please click here. Be inspired and see key ways to celebrate!