The Jewish holiday, Hanukkah

Fredy Winkler

The Jewish holiday, Hanukkah—which falls in December—occurs on the 25th of Kislev, according to the Jewish calendar, and lasts eight days. It is celebrated in remembrance of the dedication of the temple in 164 BC, after it was defiled three years before when the Seleucids, who ruled over Israel at that time, sacrificed a pig on the altar. The Seleucids tried to force the Hellenistic culture onto the Jews. There were even some Jews, including high priests, who supported the Hellenization of the Jews.

The armed resistance began when the Seleucids attempted to prohibit circumcision and observance of the Sabbath. In the first Book of Maccabees, 1:15-28, there is a report of how the priest, Mattathias, resisted the order to worship heathen gods by killing a Jew who was doing that, along with a Seleucid government official. Afterward, he fled with his five sons and a group of likeminded people to the desert of Judea, where they then led the resistance fight. Some say that God must have supported this fight, which appeared all but impossible at the beginning, so that three years later the temple in Jerusalem could be rededicated.

According to Biblical regulations, when something has become unclean, it must be cleaned for seven days, and then on the eighth day is considered clean again.

The Hanukkah Menorah Candelabra has become a symbol for these events. The eight lamps stand for the eight days, and the ninth lamp, the so-called shamash, or “servant,” remains lit so that the other eight lamps can be lit from it, because in earlier times there were no matches. Another tradition says that the ninth lamp, which is always higher than the other eight, stands for a pitcher of sacred oil that was supposedly found as the temple was being cleaned. According to the story, the amount of oil in the pitcher should have only lasted for one day, but it miraculously lasted eight days, until the priests could once again prepare more sacred oil. It should be noted that this miracle is not reported in either of the two Books of Maccabees.

Hanukkah is not a holy celebration, like Sukkot, for example, in which the first and last days are holy days, and like a Sabbath with its strict rules. It is thus more of a folk festival and is today mostly celebrated for children, as a day when they don’t attend school.

“Power corrupts,” so they say, and that occurred later in the Maccabees. They elevated themselves to high priests and kings in one person, which was something that they didn’t deserve, in the opinion of many, and led to opposition among the people. Many historians believe that this opposition was the foundation of the Essene movement, which we know about from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

There is of course another aspect to the story. If the Seleucids had succeeded in destroying the Jewish people and their temple with their Hellenistic culture, then the promise of the Messiah coming to His people and His temple could not have been fulfilled. Thus, we can say, God must have supported the fight of the Maccabees, so that the necessary circumstances for the Messiah to come would be present. It wasn’t until after Jesus, the Son of God came and fulfilled everything that was written about Him, that the temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed, as God prophesied in Daniel 9:26.

News from Israel - 12/2018

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