Hanukkah - the Festival of Dedication

Hanukkah comes next on Kislev 25- the 9th month. Some do not consider it as a Biblical holy day, but at a deeper analysis we may think otherwise.

The Kanukkah holiday is celebrated as a national feast of thanksgiving for Israel's victory over her enemies. It serves as a reminder of the conflict and struggle between the culture of Israel and of Hellenism, or Greek paganism - man's eternal struggle for religious freedom.

In 175 BCE, Antiochus Epiphanes became King of Syria and ruler over Israel. He caused the Temple to be defiled and sought to force the culture and pagan religion of Greece upon the Jews — he decreed the death penalty for those who refused to comply with his orders. After a time, a revolt began in the city of Modin (168 BCE) when the High Priest, Mattathias, aroused the people to action by destroying pagan idols and altars. His sons, led by Judah, surnamed Macabee, gathered a small fighting force and after three years succeeded in vanquishing the enemy. On the 25th day of Kislev (165 BCE) they entered Jerusalem, reclaimed the Temple, cleansed it, and rededicated it to the worship of the God of the Jewish people.

And what they did was to celebrate Sukkot. It was out of season, but nevertheless a Biblical celebration.

Hanukkiah is the nine branch menorah that it is used during the eight days of the holiday. Even on this one there are two customs on how to light the candles. The school of Hillel says to light one candle on the first night and add one more each night until you have all eight candles lit on the last night, and the school of Shammai says to light all candles on the first night and then one less each day. The ninth candle is called the Shammash –the service candle, and it is used to light all other candles.  

Hanukkah means DEDICATION: This name is given to the holiday because of the rededication of the Temple altar after its desecration by the Syrians. John 10:22 "Then the Festival of Dedication took place in Yerushalayim. It was winter. And Yeshua was walking around in the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) in the area called Solomon's Colonnade." So we can deduce that it was a holy day celebrated by Yeshua and the believers of the First Century.

This holiday is also called, CHAG HA-NEROTH - FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS: This name is to commemorate the miraculous burning of a small cruse of oil for eight days until an additional supply could be obtained. This oil was used exclusively for the lamps of the Menorah in the Temple.

Special HALLEL - Psalms of Praise (120-135) - are recited daily. Also, the hymn MAOZ TZUR - Rock of Ages is sung as an expression of praise to God.

The Dreidel Game - It is a "Put and Take" game employing a spinner with four sides, with the following letters on the sides. Nun - Gimel - Hey - Shin. These letters stand for the words: NAIS GADOL HAYAH SHOM - A GREAT MIRACLE WAS PERFORMED THERE. The legend says that the rabbis were teaching children the Torah and when the Romans came by the Torah were hidden and the children were playing with the dreidel.

Hanukkah Gifts; The practice of giving and exchanging gifts started late in the Middle Ages. This may have been a response to the competing holiday of the same month. – Chanukah is for eight days theirs is just one day. Many religious schools collect gifts from the children and distribute them to needy children or send them to children’s institutions as a Chanukah present.

The special dish that characterizes the feast of Hanukkah is the "latke" or "potato pancake." According to a legend, Judah Macabee, in his hasty pursuit of the Syrians, served pancakes to his famished forces. A more recent addition to the Hanukkah dish is the sufganiot, the Israeli jelly doughnut, another food fried in oil in commemoration of the miracle of oil. The Jews miraculously survived this long eating them every year, so keep up the tradition.

Tu B’Shevat, sometimes called Jewish Arbor Day, is a minor holiday - not Biblical. It is an outdoor festival emphasizing the Jewish love for nature. The name of the holiday comes from the day on which it occurs on the Hebrew calendar, the 15th of Shevat – the 11th month. It is Talmudic:

“There are four New Years. On the first of Nisan is New Year for kings and for festivals. On the first of Elul is New Year for the tithe of cattle. On the first of Tishrei. is New Year for years, for release and jubilee years. On the first of Shevat is New Year for trees, according to the ruling of Beth Shammai; Beth Hillel, however, place it on the fifteenth of that month.” (Talmud - Mas. Rosh HaShana 2a)

In ancient times the Levites who ministered to the Temple were not paid for their services. In order that they might be maintained, the 15th day of Shevat was set aside for the giving of fruit tithes to the Levites and to the poor. On that same day the custom of planting trees was inaugurated probably following an earlier custom mentioned in the Talmud: “It was the custom when a boy was born to plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born to plant a pine tree, and when they married, the tree was cut down and a canopy made of the branches.” (Gittin 57a) In texts from the first centuries C.E., we learn that Tu B’Shevat was the day that separated one agricultural year from the next. Today we celebrate Tu B’Shevat to thank God for the gifts of creation, especially foods that grow on trees and the beauties of nature we enjoy. The holiday also reminds us of our responsibility to care for the earth that God created in order to preserve it for future generations.

In Israel, Tu B’Shevat signals the coming of spring, as flowers begin to appear and the earth reawakens. Throughout Israel’s modern history, school children have celebrated the holiday with planting of trees, hikes, picnics, and dances. Tu B’Shevat is also a day of national pride, when Israelis recall how the early pioneers worked the land and made the desert bloom. It is customary in Diaspora communities to make donations to have trees planted in Israel. – JNF.

Ashkenazic Customs: Ashkenazic communities of Europe developed the custom of eating 15 different fruits on this day, especially the ones that they have not eaten for a log time. Carob was particularly popular, because it could survive the long trip from Eretz Yisrael to Eastern Europe. In some communities, estrogim (citrons) were saved from Sukkot and prepared as preserves for Tu B'Shevat.

Sephardic Customs: The most intriguing Jewish tradition of Tu B'Shevat is the seder, modeled on the Pesach seder and developed by the Kabbalists of Tzfat in the 16th century. These mystics applied their unique spiritual interpretations to the day, calling upon the imagery of the tree to symbolize the human, and connecting the observance of the day with Tikkun Olam (the repair of the world). They claimed that eating fruits improves our spiritual qualities and even expiates the sin of disobeying God by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. The trees tithed on Tu B'Shevat symbolize the Tree of Life, which sends forth roots of divine goodness and blessing into our world.


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Video of the week: The Jewish Festival of Tu B'Av

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