How many candles are lit on Hanukkah?
This custom takes place from November 28th. until December 6th, 2021.
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an important festival of Judaism that begins every year on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislew (November / December) and lasts for 8 days. During the festival, the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem in 164 BC is to be held. Be thought of by Judah the Maccabees. It recalls the struggle of the Jews for religious independence and against the oppression by Antiochus IV. Epiphanes and his laws for the Hellenization (adoption of the Greek cult of gods and the Greek way of life) of Judaism from 175 BC. The name Hanukkah means consecration and the actual religious act consists of lighting the eight-armed candlestick, the menorah, and is therefore also called the festival of lights.
The lighting of the Hanukkah lights on the menorah is done in a fixed manner and is intended to remind of the miracles that occurred at the time of the rededication of the temple. The first miracle story is about the fact that the supply of pure, consecrated lamp oil, which should only last for one day, burned for a whole eight days. The real miracle, however, is about the victory of the defeated Maccabean rebels against the Greco-Syrian army under King Antiochus. After a three year war, Judah and his men succeeded in achieving victory and achieved the seemingly impossible: the preservation of Judaism as a monotheistic religion and the protection from the influence of the Greek idol worship.
The menorah is the mostly festively decorated Hanukkah candlestick with eight arms. It consists of a middle branch that has 4 arms on each side and thus eight candle holders. However, the middle branch does not have any light. The candles of the candlestick are lit with another light, the shamash, since the actual Hanukkah lights are only intended to remind of the Hanukkah miracle. This means that they must not be used for lighting or lighting other lights.
The lights are lit both at home and in the synagogue; in both cases the lighting is a ceremony. At home in particular, it is very festive and solemn. The lighting takes place in the evening when it has got dark and the first stars can be seen in the sky. Since it is a family celebration, all family members should be gathered together. The lights must be on for at least half an hour, so it makes sense to celebrate the lighting before dinner so that the candles can burn while you eat. But then the lights have to be turned off again, as they will be re-lit the next evening. It is also important that the usual lighting must be switched on, as it is stipulated that the Hanukkah lights must not be used for lighting. But who can light the lights now? Unlike other Jewish festivals, it is not just the father of the family who is responsible for this. The children are also allowed to light the candles if they are able to recite the Hebrew blessings by heart. Even if work is carried out normally during the eight days (except of course on the Sabbath), the usual activities and housework are omitted during the time when the lights are on. Even the mother of the family is relieved of chores during this time.
The lighting of the menorah
On the first evening of Hanukkah, the first light is lit and every evening another flame is added until all eight lights of the menorah are burning on the eighth and last evening. On the second day the new light is lit first before the light of the previous evening is lit again. So this sequence runs through to the last day: first the new light, then the lights from the previous evening.
The following blessings are said when lighting:
- "Baruch ata adonai elohenu melech haolam ascher kidschanu bemizwotaw weziwanu lehadlik ner schel chanukkah" - "Praise be to you, Eternal, our God, King of the world, who you sanctified us by your commandments and ordered us to light the Hanukkah light"
- "Baruch ata adonai elohenu melech haolam she`assah nissim leawotenu bajamim hahem basan hase" - "Praise be to you, Eternal, our God, King of the world, to whom you performed miracles to our fathers in those days at this time"
On the first evening of Hanukkah, a third blessing is also said:
- "Baruch ata adonai elohenu melech haolam Schehechejanu wekijemenu wehigianu lasman hase" - Praise be to you, Eternal, our God, King of the world, to whom you have given us life and preservation and have allowed us to reach this time "
Hanukkah is also in the foreground in worship and prayers at this time. Every morning one reads the Hallel (Psalm 113 to 118) in the morning prayer or in the daily prayer and reads daily from the Torah in the synagogue, namely the numbers 7.1 to 8.4 spread over the eight days. However, during Hanukkah days, voluntary fasting and funeral speeches are not allowed, and normal penitential prayers are not said.
The Hanukkah customs
Since the eight days of Hanukkah do not represent real holidays in themselves, i.e. they are not work-free, you still try to use the time in the evening while the lights are on for yourself and your family. In this way, different customs that are typical of Hanukkah gradually emerged.
After lighting, the whole family gathers to sing together. The song "Rock of the Times" is important and other typical Hanukkah songs are sung. This is an attempt to strengthen the festive mood, similar to what Christians do at Christmas.
The Dreidl game
In the evenings, people like to play together. In addition to card and board games, there is a very popular (luck) game: playing with the Dreidl.
The Dreidl is a top with four sides, each with a Hebrew letter: n, g, h and s. These letters stand for the Hebrew proverb "Nes gadol haja sham" - "A great miracle happened there".
The actual game then proceeds as follows: A stake is paid into a cash register, which consists of either nuts or money. The Dreidl is turned, and depending on which side is facing up with which letter, an action takes place in which you either win or lose something:
- g stands for whole, which means the whole cash register can be used
- h stands for half, which means that half of the cash register can be used
- s stands for bet, which means that you have to bet again
- n stands for nothing, that is, nothing may be taken, but nothing is lost either
In order to create a festive mood among the children, they came up with something special. On the one hand, the children are allowed to leave the Torah lesson one hour earlier than usual during these eight days in order to have more free time to play. On the other hand, the custom of distributing Hanukkah money to the children gradually developed. This money can either be "real" money or just Hanukkah coins, similar to chocolate coins. The main purpose of this is to show the children how important it is to share.
Nowadays, Hanukkah is more and more considered a Jewish Christmas. That is why it is now not uncommon to give presents to children.
As with other customs, there are some typical foods on Hanukkah. A very popular Hanukkah delicacy is latkes, a type of potato pancake that is baked in plenty of oil to commemorate the miracle of lamp oil. A simple recipe for this specialty is as follows:
5 large, floury potatoes
1 large onion
¼ cup of matzo or wheat flour
salt and pepper
Oil for frying
Grate the potatoes and drain them in a colander. Also grate the onions and mix well with the potatoes and eggs. Then add flour and spices and stir well. Heat plenty of oil in a pan and add a tablespoon of the mixture for each potato pancake and bake until golden brown on both sides.
In Israel there is a relay race with a torch. The run begins in the city of Modi'in, which is about 25km from Jerusalem. In this city began around 175 BC. The revolt against the Hellenization under Antiochus and was the center of the revolt. From there the torch is brought by relay runners to Jerusalem, where a huge menorah is then lit in front of the official residence of the President.
In 332 BC Alexander the Great conquered the entire Middle East and after his death the empire would be divided among his successors. The Jewish state at that time was called Judea and became a province of the Kingdom of the Seleucids. The center of this empire was in Syria. Different nationalities lived in Judea and the Seleucid area, there were many different customs and ways of life. Until 175 BC When King Antiochus IV. Epiphanes ascended the throne, the Greco-Syrian rulers were open to this multicultural society and everyone was free to pursue their own way of life and religion. Antiochus wanted to establish Greek culture and pagan beliefs. In order to promote this so-called Hellenization, he passed laws that made Greek culture binding for all residents. Many ethnic groups, including some Jews (the so-called Hellenistic Jews), adapted, but the majority of Jews persisted in their beliefs and customs. Antiochus therefore began to use force and to introduce prohibitions, for example, was now prohibited. the observance of the Sabbath and the circumcision of male offspring. He also tried to force the Jews to eat pork. In addition, he desecrated the great temple in Jerusalem and converted it into a place of worship for the Greek god Zeus.
Violence and the death penalty were the order of the day for devout Jews, a condition that no one wanted to accept any longer. An 80-year-old priest named Mattatias finally started the uprising in the town of Modi'in: he defended himself against the Greco-Syrian soldiers who wanted to force the people to worship idols, killed them and shouted with the words “Everyone who is loyal to the Lord stand up, join me! ”to revolt. His appeal did not fail to have an effect. Many gathered and formed a kind of underground army. When Mattathias died, his son Judah became the commander. He was distinguished by courage and skill. He became famous as a brave and strong leader. That is why he got the name of the Maccabees. This name either means hammer (which suggests its strength) or it is the abbreviation for "Mi kemocha ba'elim adonai" - "Who is among the gods like you, oh Lord!", The battle cry of the Maccabees army.
However, after three tough years of war and significant losses, the Maccabees managed to defeat the Greco-Syrian forces and conquer Jerusalem. Under Judah, the city was freed from all pagan symbols and idols and the temple area was again consecrated to the one God Yahweh. On the 25th of Kislew, Judah and his men entered the temple and wanted to light the temple candlestick again. However, there was only one vessel left with pure, consecrated oil, which should only last for a day. However, the menorah burned for 8 days until fresh oil was prepared again. During those eight days the temple was rededicated. Hanukkah is celebrated in memory of this second consecration of the temple and the won cultural war against Hellenism, the newly won autonomy and intellectual independence of Judaism. The miracles, small and large, that happen every day, should be remembered.
- De Vries, S.Ph .: Jewish rites and symbols. Marix Verlag, Wiesbaden 2005, 123-131
- Petuchowski, Jakob j .: Holidays of the Lord. The world of Jewish festivals and customs. Herder, Freiburg 1984, pp.107-121
- Hanover, Joyce: Lived Faith. The festivals of the Jewish year. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 1986, pp. 80-88
- Lowenstein, Steven M .: Jewish life - Jewish custom. International Jewish Folk Traditions. Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf / Zurich 2002, p.151 f.
- Lau, Israel M .: How Jews live. Faith-everyday-festivals. WBG, Darmstadt 2005, pp 218-224
- Golzio, Karl-Heinz: Basic knowledge of Judaism. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2000, page 54 f.
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