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The Jewish Agency for Israel Department for Jewish Zionist Education Chanukah. History.

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The Jewish Agency for Israel

Department for Jewish Zionist Education




In the year 164 B.C.E, the Greek Empire ruled Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. They imposed many laws upon the Jews, forbidding them to practice their religion, and forcing them to openly defy their teachings.

In one such episode, Mattityahu, a priest from Modiin, rose from the crowd and called all G-d-fearing Jews to gather with him and fight the Greek oppressors. Together with his five sons and only 12,000 people, the Hasmoneans fought the mighty Greek army. In an unbelievable miracle, the tiny Jewish resistance defeated the Greeks and reclaimed their land and the Bet HaMikdash – the holy Temple. When they looked for pure olive oil to light the Menorah, however, all they could find was a small jug that held only enough for one day. In another miracle, this oil burned in the Menorah for 8 days, until new oil could be pressed and delivered. Today, we remember these miracles by kindling Chanukah Lights for 8 days.

A chanukah story

A Chanukah Story

This victory in 164 B.C.E. followed many years of hardships and oppression. At one point, the Greeks placed a siege on Jerusalem, and life became very difficult for the residents.

They had all but lost hope, and were about to surrender to the immoral Greeks when a woman named Yehudit made the first stand against them. She requested to see the Greek commander, Holofernes. Her wish was granted and she was taken to the Greek encampment outside the city. There, she seduced the great commander and promised him victory over Jerusalem if he waited a few more days. During a party, she made sure that Holofernes became very drunk on wine and salty cheese. That night, while he was fast asleep, she decapitated him with his sword. She took his head back to the Jews and, with this new inspiration, they found the strength to push back the Greek forces.

Yet another miracle of the Chanukah story.

The chanukah miracles

The Chanukah Miracles

What is the miracle that we celebrate on Chanukah?

- Finding pure olive oil

- Defeating the mighty Greek army

- The oil lasting for 8 days (instead of 1)

. . .

The chanukah miracles1

The Chanukah Miracles

Although all these are true miracles of the Chanukah story, the real miracle is that of the Jewish survival; the continuation and endurance of the Jews, and their willingness to make a stand against impossible odds, in the name of G-d.

The Greeks didn’t want to destroy the Jews– they wanted to take away what was most important to them: their beliefs and their customs -- their religion. They sought to convert the Jews to the Hellenistic religion of strength and beauty. The Greeks prohibited the Jews from observing their laws, forced them to worship Greek gods, and desecrated the Beit HaMikdash. Had all the Jews acquiesced, they would have been spared a lot of suffering and would have lived in peace among their Greek neighbors. Instead, a group of Jews refused to abandon their religion and their G-d, and stood together to fight the threat. Some fought by continuing to learn in caves despite decrees forbidding it. Others fought by choosing to die, instead of profaning the name of G-d. Still others fought physically, standing up to the mighty Greeks and finally defeating their control.

The Chanukah story stands as an example for persecuted Jews in every generation. It reminds us that there are values for which it is worth fighting and even sacrificing, and that truth always prevails.

The festival of lights

The Festival of Lights

The miraculous light that burned on the Menorah for 8 days.

The light of the Jewish people that refused to be extinguished.

Today we remember the Menorah lights by lighting our own Chanukiot for 8 nights. This special light symbolizes the inner light shining forth from every person, and from the entire nation. When we see this light burning, on a personal level as well as a national level, it reinforces our belief and ability to contend with adversity.

Candle lighting

Candle Lighting

Beit Hillel vs. Beit Shamai

The Gemarah records an argument between these two schools of thought. Beit Shamai ‘s opinion was that we must light all 8 candles the first night, and take away one each night. Beit Hillel claimed that we must start with 1 and add 1 more for every night.

Beit Hillel’s opinion was adopted into law because of the concept, מעלים בקודש ואין מורידים- one should increase holiness, and not diminish it. This means that one may add candles, but not reduce their number.

How many candles are lit, according to both opinions?


don’t forget the shamash!

Candle lighting1

Candle Lighting

Blessings / ברכות

We recite three blessings the first night, and two every other night. They are;

ברוך אתה ה', אלוקינו מלך העולם, אשר קידשנו במצוותיו, וציוונו להדליק נר של חנוכה

ברוך אתה ה', אלוקינו מלך העולם, שעשה נסים לאבותינו, בימים ההם בזמן הזה

And on the first night only we add;

ברוך אתה ה', אלוקינו מלך העולם, שהחיינו, וקיימנו, והגענו לזמן הזה

Laws halachot

Laws – Halachot

  • Where do we place the Chanukiah, and why?

    • Outside, or by the front window, in order to publicize the miracle.

  • Between what times can we light Chanukah candles?

    • From sunset until the last person in town has gone to sleep.

  • From which side do we start lighting?

    • From the right side, (so from outside it looks like the left).

  • For how long must the candles burn?

    • At least half an hour into the night.

Laws ctd

Laws [ctd.]

  • Which do we light first on Friday night – the Shabbat candles or Chanukah candles?

    • Chanukah candles first – otherwise, it’s already Shabbat!!

  • What is the Shamash and why do we use it?

    • It is a helper candle. We use it to the light all the candles, because we may not use the Chanukah candles for any reason: even to light the others.

Laws ctd1

Laws [ctd.]

  • What should not be done while the candles are burning (the first half hour)?

    • One should not do any work; it is preferable not to eat.

  • How many Sifrei Torah [scrolls] are taken out on Shabbat Chanukah, and what is read?

    • Two. [This year there are 2 Shabbatot on Chanukah (Day 1, Day 8)] From the first, we read Parshat HaShavua / the weekly portion, and in the second we read about the offerings of the Princes and tribes at Chanukat HaMishkan / the Inauguration of the Tabernacle, in the Sinai Desert (Bamidbar 7; 7-8)

Chanukah traditions

Chanukah Traditions

There are many traditions associated with Chanukah;

Playing dreidle (סביבון)

Eating oily foods, like Latkes,( (לביבות, and Jelly Donuts, .(סופגניות)

Giving Chanukah gelt

(chocolate money)

Eating dairy foods to remember

the story of Yehudit

Lighting the Chanukiah using olive oil

That everyone should have their own Chanukiah

The dreidle


The Jews


A little spinning top


When the Greeks would come looking to catch Jews who were learning Torah


In front of the caves where Torah was being learnt.


The Greeks would see the children playing Dreidle, and would turn away, believing that no Torah was being learnt there.

סביבון The Dreidle /

The dreidle1

סביבון The Dreidle /


1 – Everybody is given small change, or Chanukah gelt, and one coin from each person is put in the middle

2 – One person starts and spins the driedle. The letter it lands on dictates what action to take.

3 – Next person!

The letters:

Nun – נס/ miracle – do nothing

Gimmel – גדול/ big – you get all the money!

Hey – היה / was – you get half the money

Shin/ Peh* – שם/ there // פה / here – put one coin in the middle

נס גדול היה שם \ פה

* In Israel there is a Peh on the dreidle because the miracle happened “here”. In the Diaspora, the Shin reminds people that it happened “there” – in Israel.

To infinity and beyond

To Infinity and Beyond

There is a concept of glorifying the Mitzvah, of doing things beyond what is asked, and we apply this to Chanukah.

For that reason, on Chanukah it is customary to light the Chanukiah with olive oil – in order to glorify the mitzvah of lighting candles.

This also explains why it is preferable that each member of the family have his or her own Chanukiah – the more Chanukiot there are in the window, the greater the publicity of the miracle – pirsuma danissa.

To infinity and beyond1

To Infinity and Beyond

On Chanukah, we should apply this

idea of “going beyond” to our own lives.

We should reflect on our actions and think about how we can take them to the next level.

We should examine the light within and work on making it shine just a little bit brighter.

We should take advantage of this Festival, not only to remember the story of the Macabees, but to take our own lives

to infinity and beyond


Happy Chanukah

חג חנוכה שמח


Created by

Naomi Goldberger and Shalhevet Laloum


The Jewish Agency of Israel

The Dept. for Jewish Zionist Education

Chanukah 2006

חנוכה התשס"ז

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