Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thursday Thirteen - Hannukah



In honor of the Jewish holiday of Hannukah, the Festival of Lights, which begins Tuesday night (most of the explanations are taken from Judaism 101 to save me writing everything out all over again - yup, I'm informative but inherently lazy). Follow the links for more information.):

1. This year, Hannukah begins at sundown on December 4th. It ends at sundown on December 12th.
2. The word Hannukah is transliterated from Hebrew, so you may see (or hear*) it spelled many different ways: Hannukah, Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hanukah...

3. The Hannukah Story
The story of Chanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. Under this relatively benevolent rule, many Jews assimilated much of Hellenistic culture, adopting the language, the customs and the dress of the Greeks, in much the same way that Jews in America today blend into the secular American society.

4. More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV was in control of the region. He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the
Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the altar. Two groups opposed Antiochus: a nationalist group known as the Maccabees led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the Chasidim, the forerunners of the Pharisees (no direct connection to the modern movement known as Chasidism). They joined forces in a revolt against both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by the Seleucid Greek government. The revolution succeeded and the Temple was rededicated.

5. According to tradition as recorded in the
Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.

6. The Maccabees came from the Modiin area, just about 20 minutes from where I live. Today, Modiin is a bustling city and home to a number of my good friends.

7. The Hannukah Menorah: The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a menorah (or hanukkiah in Hebrew) that holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shammash (servant) at a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. The shammash candle is lit and three brachot (blessings) are recited: l'hadlik neir (a general prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer thanking G-d for performing miracles for our ancestors at this time), and she-hekhianu (a general prayer thanking G-d for allowing us to reach this time of year). After reciting the blessings, the first candle is then lit using the shammash candle, and the shammash candle is placed in its holder. The candles are allowed to burn out on their own after a minimum of half an hour. In many families each child has their own menorah. Here are the ones we used last year - my kids each made their own (and then the school sent home more, we were inundated). The ceramic one belongs to Jay and I. It comes from a pottery collective in Old Jaffa and was a gift from my late mother-in-law the last time she visited Israel. (The weeds flowers in the plastic orange mug were picked by my daughter Maya from the bush downstairs. She LOVES bringing home flowers from that bush. They have no connection whatsoever to the holiday, other than the fact that they bloom in the winter. I just threw that in for extra color.)

8. Each night, another candle is added from right to left (like the Hebrew language). Candles are lit from left to right (because you pay honor to the newer thing first). On the eighth night, all nine candles (the 8 Hanukkah candles and the shammus) are lit. On nights after the first, only the first two blessings are recited; the third blessing is only recited on the first night of holidays.

9. Why the shammash candle? The Hanukkah candles are for pleasure only; we are not allowed to use them for any productive purpose. We keep an extra one around (the shammash), so that if we need to do something useful with a candle, we don't accidentally use the Chanukkah candles. The shammash candle is at a different height so that it is easily identified as the shammash.

10. Hannukah is actually a fairly minor Jewish holiday. It's only become so well known in the West due to its proximity to Christmas. Here in Israel, the gift giving often doesn't go beyond some Hannukah gelt (chocolate coins) or perhaps a few real coins. More serious gift giving is usually kept for Passover.

11. My kids still get a fair amount of loot for the holiday because their relatives send it to them, and because their mom (that would be me) can't get her head around the idea of gifts at Passover instead. We do try to keep things pretty low-key even so. I grew up with the idea of a gift each night (especially for younger children) and really enjoy doing that for my own kids, but the gift is often something quite small, a book, or perhaps a craft to do together. A larger gift is only given the first night and perhaps once after that if the grandparents have gotten involved.

12. It is traditional to play dreidel, a gambling game played with a square top, on the holiday. Most people play for things like pennies, M&Ms or gelt (Las Vegas this is not). The traditional explanation of this game is that during the time of Antiochus' oppression, those who wanted to study Torah (an illegal activity) would conceal their activity by playing gambling games with a top (a common and legal activity) whenever an official or inspector was within sight.

A dreidel is marked with four Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimel, Hei and Shin. These letters stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Hayah Sham", a great miracle happened there, referring to the miracle of the oil.

The letters also stand for the Yiddish words nit (nothing), gantz (all), halb (half) and shtell (put), which are the rules of the game! There are some variations in the way people play the game, but the way I learned it, everyone puts in one coin. A person spins the dreidel. If it lands on Nun, nothing happens; on Gimel (or, as we called it as kids, "gimme!"), you get the whole pot; on Hei, you get half of the pot; and on Shin, you put one in. When the pot is empty, everybody puts one in. Keep playing until your parent is bored stiff one person has everything. You can play a virtual dreidel game here.

13. It's traditional to eat foods fried in oil for Hannukah, since oil is such a significant part of the holiday. Among Ashkenazi (Jews of Eastern European origin), a favorite holiday food is latkes, or potato pancakes. In Israel, the most popular holiday treat is sufganiyot - jelly doughnuts (5 minutes in your mouth, 12 hours in your stomach...).

* I snagged the video from Ima Bimah. Thanks Phyllis *smooch*. If you're looking for some more Hannukah fun check out the Chanukah Countdown party she's got running on her blog this week.(Of course she spells Hannukah wrong differently, but we won't hold that against her, right?)




71 comments:

Holly said...

Wow, a VERY informative post. I like learning and I didn't know most of the background of Hannukah (or is it Channukah?)

Happy TT-13!

Smiles,
Holly
http://theabundanceplace.com/

Lori said...

Great info...thanks so much for sharing. Happy TT.

pussreboots said...

Thank for the refresher course. Happy TT and thanks for stopping by. :D

Sandee (Comedy +) said...

I didn't know most of this. Very well done. Have a great TT. :)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Hey, where's Deborah?? She's one of my favorites. Strong Jewish women, fighting with the Maccabees. Come on. THAT's a role model!

Happy TT and a most joyous Hanukkah to you, my friend!!

Btw, looks like the Tour Manager might wind up in your aisle of the shul... I'll keep you posted. Hopefully I can tag along at some point!

Chelle Y. said...

I always love reading about other people's traditions. Thank you for the lesson.

Yuriko said...

I love your posts! It's so educational because I don't really follow any one religion.. and it's always fascinating to learn of other ones. :)

ellen b said...

I was always a little envious of my Jewish friends in Junior high and High school who got tons of gifts for both Hannukah and Christmas...happy Hannukah to you and TT....

SJ Reidhead said...

Thank you. Excellent post.

the Pink Flamingo
http://thepinkflamingo.blogharbor.com/blog

HomeandHearth said...

Beautiful TT!

My aunt is Jewish, but the only real introduction I ever had to Hannukah was playing with the dreidels she sent every year (my family's Catholic). Thanks for sharing this information :)

Nicholas said...

That was very interesting. Thank you for that.

Shesawriter said...

I kinda knew about the Hannukah Menorah, but I've always wondered about the dreidel and how it's used.

Darcy said...

I really appreciate the info. I had several questions which you managed to answer completely. Cool.

Secret Agent Mama said...

What an interesting read! I learned some new things, too. :D

Secret Agent Mama's Link to her TT! said...

Gave the wrong link in my link area..

Try this one!

Wylie Kinson said...

Thanks for sharing your culture/religion. You've answered many of the questions I didn't know I even had about hannukah. Now I can tell my kids about it without looking like an idiot.

Journeywoman said...

I love this post. I never knew that about how dreidel came to be. Though yeah, we played until my mom and dad said "ENOUGH!" and then ate all our M & Ms.

Happy Chanukah!

Greatfullivin said...

I really enjoyed this. I have always wondered about Hannukah. I have a couple Jewish friends and had a little bit of an idea, but you gave me so much more Thanks.

Leslie Dicken said...

Wow, great description of the holiday! My kids do look forward to Hanukkah every year, but I think it's just for that one present for 8 nights thing. LOL! Although lately they've started really enjoying playing dreidel too!
HAPPY HANUKKAH!

Phyllis Sommer said...

lol --- great post and thanks for the linky love! i'm glad you liked the leevees video...they are too funny. happy chanukah!

WorksForMom said...

Wow, this was so informative and interesting to read. Thanks!

Leah said...

A good piece on this event. Very interesting. If I can only pick one, I'll try to remember #3. It does explain the Hannukah story briefly well.

Serina Hope said...

This was very informative. Thanks for sharing!!

Denise Patrick said...

Wonderful TT! I learned something today. Thank you.

Happy TT!

Robin said...

SJ Reidhead (Pink Flamingo) - I tried to visit your TT but I can't seem to get the page to load. Your whole blog is loading VERY slowly.

Gattina said...

A very interesting post ! I always love to read about other religions or uses in other countries.
The Hannuka candle holder reminds me of the once they now use in Germany for Christmas they are put in the windows as ornaments. Since a few years it came up in Belgium too. From the first sunday in December on we light one candle on the advent's wreath until four candles are lightened that means that Christmas is there. So I think are quite some things, Christians have taken over from the jewish religion.

Darla said...

Very interesting and informative! Thank-you!

Tempest Knight said...

Wow! Great TT! Very informative indeed. :)

Adelle said...

Great post! It's always interesting to learn about different traditions. Thanks for sharing. Happy T13!

jayedee said...

happy tt!

tanabata said...

I really enjoyed learning about Hannakuh and some of the traditions you observe. Thanks for sharing!

Head Gaggler said...

That was wonderful and informative, as always. I love your menorah! We have a tradition in my house that we get a new menorah each year. We started buying them and now we get them as gifts. I have so many the kids use different ones each night.

LA Day said...

Wow! Lots of info.
Great TT

Joyismygoal said...

Golly thanks, that answered a lot I dfid not know wonderful message

Believer in Balance said...

What a wealth of information!

Vixen said...

I love it when people do their TTs about stuff I don't know much about. I love to learn new things and TTs have turned out to be a tremendous source if new info!

Happy TT

Lesley said...

Thanks for the info! I only had a vague idea of what is a part of Hannukah before.

Happy Hannukah!

Space Mom said...

Um, do your dreidels really have the Shin and not the Pei?

I thought in Isreal, the dreidels have the
"a great miracle happened HERE"

Anyway, Hag Sameach!

i am the diva said...

That's a great list!! very informative. I love learning about other religions and traditions.

My TT is up Here

Robin said...

Actually, ours have both ;-). The ones we buy have a "peh" (here) and the ones grandma sends have a "shin" (there). You're right of course though, I should have pointed out the difference, as a matter of interest if nothing else LOL. Good catch N.

She Became a Butterfly said...

thank you for sharing that!! it's great to learn about other religions!

Nap Warden said...

Well that is informative...I gotta admit, I don't know very much about Hannukah. Happy TT!

L^2 said...

Well, I don't feel completely uneducated. :-) I actually knew most all of this, though I didn't realize Passover was a more major holiday than Hannukah. Wonderful TT!

Xakara said...

Thanks for all the information. It's been years since someone broke it down for me so the refresher was nice.

Thanks for visiting me as well. :)

Happy TT

~X

DS Writer said...

Happy Chanukah from Pittsburgh! May you continue to radiate lots of light!

Malcolm: said...

I like how informative you are with your TTs about the Jewish faith. I had no idea that Hannukah was a minor holiday. Your comments about sufganiyots made me laugh. Happy Hannukah to you and your family!

amanda rae said...

nice list! learned a few things.

happy tt!

-a

Sassy Lucy said...

First thank you for your visit to my ridiculous T13 today, and then a big thank you for this extremely informative post...I learned quite a bit, and I always enjoy learning. I do have "The Driedl" song stuck in my head now though :)

Marilyn said...

That's fascinating... Thank you for posting this. I knew some of it, but most of it was brand new to me.

Mom not Mum said...

I love learning about other religions.

Michael - Lover of Amy said...

It's funny to me the elements of the list that popped out at me. As a Greek (1/4, 3rd generation in USA) I apologize for defiling the oil. And reading about the dreidel, gotta love a holiday that includes an opportunity to gamble.

The Gal Herself said...

This is great! I'm going to have to bookmark it for later reference. (It's too much to absorb all at once!) Thanks for sharing -- and thanks for visiting my TT.

Cathy said...

Thanks for the lesson. I thought I knew a lot about it, but I didn't!

Scribbit said...

Happy Hannukah Honey (and if there aren't enough H's in there for you, just add a few more). Hope your holidays are happy. :)

cajunvegan said...

Educational and timely ~ thanks for sharing.

Stop by my Coulda Woulda Shoulda NaBloPoMo edition and vote for tomorrow's entry.

J. Lynne said...

Always educational! :)

Milan - zzz said...

Fabulous post! This is the kind of TTs I'm eager to find/read. Sadly there are no many.
(I've added you on my google-reader :))
Cheers from Serbia!

http://sleepwalk.wordpress.com/

Robin said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it Milan, I really enjoy yours about Serbia too.

Jo said...

Wishing you a happy, happy hannukah my friend, when it comes!

Lea said...

This is such a great post Robin... when I talk about our mixed household traditions, I know exactly where I'll be able to link!!! Thank you so. I love the Hannukah story and tradition that is the foundation for this time... I will tell you sometime about one of my first Hannukahs and the "joke" lighter... oh my husband dear...

Allison said...

Thanks for the TT holla!

I love your picture! I wish my kitchen looked that nice! Maybe when we OWN our OWN home! :-| As if that will ever happen :-S

Eimi said...

I love your TT Robin! It is always good to teach others and remind ourselves what Chanukah and any part of the culture is.

Kelley said...

That was awesome! I have always wondered but then never got around to googling or whatever.

Thanks so much!!!

Kelley

http://magnetoboldtoo.wordpress.com

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Thank you for all this info! It'll help so much when I talk to the kids about this holiday.

Tink said...

Very interesting list! I didn't know all of that, love to learn more about other religions.
Thanks for visiting my magic quotes TT!

Jen said...

I need to teach the boys dreidel; they have no Jewish friends to teach them. Sad. And I absolutely, positively love latkes and will not make them. I have tried and I screw them up every single time. Now I just wait til I go home and hit some favorite restaurants and get them made for me. ; )

Lulu said...

My most favorite TT this week! Wow...it's amazing how little I know about Hannukah. I so enjoyed learning about the meaning of the menorah! Thank you for sharing!!

Fourier Analyst said...

i am so please that you wrote this and so sorry I did not see it sooner. It came at the begiining of a rather bad/busy time for us and I am just now catching up with all my regular reads. I so enjoy getting what is truly a different perspective on the world which is what your blog offers me. And yet we are so similar in so many ways I feel there is a real, although "virtual" connection! That to me is the real power of blogging and I am so glad I found yours!

Felisol said...

Dear Robin,
Thank you for reacting so soon.
i have bookmarked this post and will read it over again.
It is a shame to be so ignorant..
Now; time for hiking.
From Felisol

Felisol said...

Hello, Robin,
I wish you all a peaceful celebration.
From Felisol

Mojo said...

You know what's really remarkable is that I actually knew more about Passover than Hannukah until I read this (courtesy of dating a Jewish girl for a while and spending Passover with her and her family). I really had only a vague idea. So I'm more educated now than when I got up this morning.

I call that a good day.