Friday, December 23, 2016

Chanukah, Being Lit Without Being on Fire, and Vera

tl;dr - this next Jewish holiday is NOT the most important holiday of the year.

Tomorrow night kicks off one of the most misunderstood holidays in the Abrahamic faith: Chanukah (also spelled Hanukkah, say: KHAH-noo-kah, the guttural "H" sound is in the beginning of the word). It's so misunderstood that it's mispronounced and misspelled and all types of losing buzzers go off when it comes to explaining these eight nights of miraculous light.

Let's start at the beginning.

The whole story about oil and light and such, first off, is not even in the Bible to begin with.

Yeah it is, Vera! It's in the Old Testament, right here.

Jews do not have an "Old Testament," Dear Reader. The Christian Bible does, but not the Hebrew Bible.

Oh geez, nitpicking already?  Next time, say so!

*clears throat* As I was saying, the Chanukah story is not found in any of the text of the Hebrew Bible. It is found, however, in a couple of books that have found its home in an in-between of sorts. The books of the Maccabees (say: MACK-ah-bees) are in a set of writings called the Apocrypha. Those books, 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, were actually supposed to be in the Hebrew Bible.  But, for whatever reason, neither book made it into the final cut.  The Maccabees books, however, did make the cut into the Septuagint (say: SEP-too-ah-jint), which is basically the Tanakh translated into Greek, including the Apocrypha.  The Septuagint, originally made for Greek-speaking Jews, ended up being the foundation of the later developed Christian Bible, and is currently used by Orthodox and most Catholic Christians.

So, um, is Chanukah a Jewish holiday or is it a Christian holiday?

Great question!

Because the Maccabees books discuss the importance of how the Jews were able to keep the light on at the Temple with just one container of fuel, it is considered Jewish text. 

Without going into elaborate detail, the Holy Temple had been raided a foreign army (the Seleucid Empire), and it was desecrated.  During this empirical occupation, a bunch of rebels (the Maccabean Revolt) came together and decided to take the Holy Temple back.  It took a few years, but it was a successful campaign to drive the foreign army out in retreat.  Then, the issue of how to ritually purify a holy space with just one container of untouched olive oil was upon the rebels.  To keep any Jewish temple pure, a ner tamid (say: NEHR tah-MEED), or an "eternal flame" remains to symbolize the presence of G-d.  That one container of oil only had enough to fuel the ner tamid for a day.  And this is where "the great miracle happened here" comes about; that oil, somehow someway, was able to keep the Holy Temple consecrated/pure long enough until the rebels were able to bring back more oil to keep the flame burning.  You wanna guess how long that took?  That's right; eight days.

In a way, Chanukah is a fun holiday to celebrate.  It is encouraged to eat fried foods, or foods cooked in oil, because of how the oil kept the Temple lit for eight days.  So lots of potato pancakes, or latkes, and sufganiyot (say: soof-gah-nee-YOHT), or fried doughnuts, are consumed, along with some dairy delicacies.  Chanukah may not have the grandeur of, say, Christmas or Kwanzaa, or even Yom Kippur or Pesach, but it's still a cute little deviance from the everyday to celebrate and remind ourselves why we are Jews.

What about those spinning tops?

Oh, dreidels?

Yeah, those.

Ho ho, you're in for a treat starting tomorrow.

Why is that?

From sunset tomorrow night until sunset December 31, I am going to do a post for each day of Chanukah.  Some of those posts will discuss more about Chanukah, like dreidels and gelt, the symbolism of the nine Chanukah candles, and so on.  Other posts will be reflective on what I have done this past year, and what I am looking forward to in the upcoming year.  Consider this a present from me to you, Dear Reader.

Happy Holidays!

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