History of Chanukah

Also spelled hanukkah, means "dedication". This Jewish holiday traces
its roots back more than 2,000 years. At that time the Jewish people
were living under the oppressive government of the Syrian ruler
Antiochus Epiphanies IV, (a rather ironic name) who was a descendant of
Seleucus, the general of Alexander the Great. During his rule he forbade
the reading of the Scriptures, circumcision, Sabbath observance, and a
number of other religious practices. In order to further promote the
"hellenization" of Palestine, he set up in the Temple of Jerusalem an
altar dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter where swine were offered in
sacrifice. This "Abomination of Desolation" caused the Jews to rebel
in what became known as the Maccabean Revolt, and under the leadership
of Judas Maccabee ("the hammer") the Syrians were overthrown, and the
Temple had all signs of paganism removed. The statue to Jupiter was
ground to dust. A feast was instituted on 25 Kislew, 165 B.C. for the
purification of the Temple. The story goes that light of the Temple was
relit with only enough pure oil to last one day, but miraculously lasted
for eight days, until more could be found. The "Festival of Lights" is
celebrated for eight days.

One of the most important Chanukah customs is to light colorful candles
in a menorah or candelabrum with eight branches, one for each night
of Chanukah and one prominent one that holds the candle to be used
to light the others. On the first night, one candle is lit and each
succeeding night another is added so that all eight are alight on the
last night. Because the Chanukah story involved oil, foods fried in oil
are traditional for the holiday. Potato pancakes appear to have come to
us from Russia. There the Jews made "latkes" or pancakes from a great
variety of ingredients, from cheese to buckwheat flour to noodles.
Legend says that women behind the lines, during the Jews' fight against
the Syrians 2,000 years ago, made flat cakes for the warriors because
they could be prepared quickly.

     Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian