Hanukkah

Jewish Ministry

Hanukkah

Hanukkah is a word that means “Dedication.” The holiday is also called “The Feast of Lights.”

Hanukkah is an unusual holy day because it is never mentioned in the Jewish Bible. It is mentioned in the books of Maccabees I and II, which are part of a collection of books called the “Apocrypha.” 

Even though Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Jewish Bible, it is mentioned in the Christian New Testament. The New Testament calls it the “Feast of Dedication.” The Gospel of John says that Jesus went to the temple (the place of corporate worship) on Hanukkah. 

Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter.  And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. (John 10:22–23)

There is an irony here. Although Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Jewish Bible, the Jews celebrate it. And, although this holiday is mentioned in the New Testament (as a holiday that Jesus honored), the church does not celebrate it!

Hanukkah celebrates a Jewish victory led by the Maccabees. They overcame the forces of Antiochus Epiphanies who was the King of Syria.

Antiochus Epiphanies was an evil man who persecuted the Jews. He enslaved and massacred Jews. He forbade circumcision, the celebration of the Sabbath, and Jewish dietary laws (kosher laws). The final straw was when Antiochus ordered that an unclean pig be sacrificed in the temple. With that, Judah Maccabee and his brothers led a revolt.

After three years of fighting, the Maccabees liberated the temple on the 25th day of the month of Kislev (the 12th month). They cleansed the temple. When it was time to light the eternal flame over the altar, they only found enough oil to last one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted 8 days until they could get more oil. This is the root of the phrase, “A great miracle happened there.”

To commemorate the great miracle, Jews light the candles of a candelabra (called a “hanukiah” for eight consecutive nights. Jews also play the dreidel game during this celebration. Each of the four sides of the dreidel (or toy-tops) contain the first letter of the four Hebrew words: Nes Gadol Hayah Sham— “a great miracle happened there.”

Although Hanukkah is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar and not even mentioned in the Jewish Bible, Hanukkah is one of the most joyful times in modern Judaism.