Nov. 27—Local rabbis agree that while Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish religion, it is an important, highly festive and joyous eight-day celebration of lighting candles, singing, sharing meals, and commemorating triumph over religious persecution.
Also called the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah begins this year at sundown on Sunday, Nov. 28, and ends at sundown on Monday, Dec. 6. The dates for the holiday change slightly each year as the Hebrew calendar, which is lunar and 11 days short of the solar calendar, sets the exact eight-day period.
The holiday is observed in honor of the miracle of a single day's oil lasting for eight days.
According to Rabbi Jeffrey Glickman of Temple Beth Hillel in South Windsor, Jews were living in the land of Israel and life was good for them until, over time, a lot of Jewish customs became assimilated with Greek culture. He said a small army called the Maccabees — a group of Jewish rebel warriors — revolted against ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes who outlawed Jewish practice in the second century B. C. and changed the customs allowed in the Jewish temple.
HOLIDAY"S MEANING: Hanukkah commemorates the miracle of a single day's oil lasting eight days.
HOLIDAY"S IMPORTANCE: When Jewish customs became assimilated with Greek culture during the second century B.C., a small army revolted and eventually regained control over their temple. They needed to re-light the menorah, had enough oil for it to stay lit for one day but a miracle occurred and the oil lasted for eight days.
HOLIDAY CUSTOM: Candles are lit on a menorah in a public place or are placed in the windows of people's homes so everyone else can see the light shining.
The Maccabees eventually regained control over their temple and built a new altar to offer sacrifices in keeping with Jewish law, Glickman said. As part of the rededication, they needed to re-light the menorah, described in the Bible as the ancient Hebrew lampshade set up by Moses in the wilderness and later in the temple in Jerusalem. The menorah's source of fuel was olive oil.
According to the Talmud — the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish religious law and Jewish theology — there was only enough oil to last a single day but a miracle occurred and the menorah stayed lit for eight days instead.
"It is one of the most heartening of all stories," Glickman said. "The light increases every day and, even in the darkest time of the year, we know the light will come back."
During the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Glickman said Hanukkah reminded us that there is always light and it will grow, even though we don't always see it.
Thus, celebrating through light is the major theme of this Jewish holiday. Glickman said candles on the menorah are lit in a public place or are placed in the windows of people's homes so that everyone else can see the light shining.
"It's a powerful part of the holiday because we assert we are proud to be Jewish," he said.
Rabbi Randall Konisburg of Beth Sholom B'nai Israel in Manchester said the light gets bigger and bigger as one candle is lit each night of Hanukkah. This corresponds to the miracle of oil burning for eight days.
"The first day, the oil burned really bright," he said. "It got smaller and smaller but never really ran out."
As time went on, Konisburg said, the Maccabees were more and more surprised by the remaining light.
"We are lighting candles during the darkest days of the year. This goes back to Adam and Eve, who were living in Eden and realized the days were getting shorter and shorter."
They started lighting lights, he said, so the world would not seem to be converting back to chaos.
Beth Sholom B'nai Israel in Manchester will light its menorah outside after dark every night at 5:30 p.m. except Friday, Dec. 3, when it will occur at 3:45 p.m. All are welcome to join the festivities at the synagogue, located at 400 East Middle Tpke in Manchester.
He said the importance of the holiday also involves anti-assimilation. "
It's OK to be different," he said. "You have the right to follow your own path."
At Temple Beth Hillel, located at 20 Baker Lane in South Windsor, on the Friday night of Hanukkah — Dec. 3 — at 6:45 p.m. people are invited to bring their own menorahs and gather at the synagogue to light them. Then the lights will be turned off and with candlelight only Glickman will retell the story of Hanukkah.
Glickman said other Hanukkah customs include meals cooked in olive oil and often giving small presents to children.
He said the custom of giving gifts dates back to the second century when children played a role in the revolt because they could more easily enter the city and their families gave them coins to buy provisions.
Presents are not a huge part of the holiday, however, and Hanukkah should not be compared with Christmas just because it occurs during the same time of year, Glickman said.
"This is a holiday that's easy to celebrate — you don't have to leave your home, you don't have to fast," he said. "It's about lights and is just lovely."
The major Jewish holidays occur in the fall and spring, Glickman and Konisburg said.
They are the High Holy Days, which honor the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement; and Passover, which occurs in the spring and celebrates God's dramatic deliverance of Israelites out of Egypt after 400 years of slavery.
"Those are huge, life-affirming concepts that are preserved in holidays," Glickman said.
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