What is the origin and history of Hanukkah?

Hanukkah, which means “dedication” commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BC after the Maccabean Revolt.

What is the origin and history of Hanukkah?
Yoav Nachtailer

The eight-day Jewish holiday begins on the 25th Kislev, which is 11 December this year, is also known as the Festival of Lights. The festival is celebrated with the lighting of one new candle on the menorah each night as well as traditional foods, games and gifts. The holiday although minor in religious terms has major cultural significance as an alternative to Christmas.

The history of Hanukkah

Although there are alternate versions of how the Hanukkah came to be the events for its creation took place in the second century BC when Judea was occupied by the Seleucid Empire. Originally the Jews were allowed to practice their religion but The Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes upon assuming the throne changed that policy. The Jewish religion was outlawed and its practitioners were ordered to worship the Greek gods instead.

To enforce this, In 168 BC, he sent in his soldiers and massacred thousands of people in Jerusalem. He went on to desecrate the holy Second Temple, placing an altar to Zeus offering a sacrifice of pigs, seen as a filthy animal in the Jewish tradition. The citizens of the city rebelled under the leadership of Mattathias and his five sons. Upon the death of Matthatias his son Judah Maccabee took over. After a three-year struggle the Jews managed to expel the Seleucid Empire from Jerusalem.

In an alternate version there was a clash between two factions of Jews, one adopting the new ways and another traditionalist group that wanted to impose the old ways.

Second TempleModel of Jerusalem in Second Temple Period

Judah ordered the Temple to be purified and restored. A new altar was installed and dedicated on 25 Kislev (the 9th month of the Hebrew calendar falling in November – December of the Gregorian calendar). The menorah was to be lit and kept burning every night.

Why does the celebration last eight days?

There are again varying ideas of how this came to be. The miraculous version is that the menorah was ordered to be kept burning every night but there was a shortage of oil for the lamp. However the flame kept burning for eight nights until a new supply of oil was obtained.

Another says that due to the fighting the Jews had been unable to celebrate the festival of Sukkoth a seven-day celebration of feasting. Taking advantage of the rededication Judah ordered that the celebration last for eight days and be celebrated every year thereafter.