What is Hanukkah About?
Hanukkah is about way more than giving Jewish holiday gifts and eating delicious treats like potato latkes. It’s easy to lose track of the real meaning behind the holidays when so many new holiday traditions are always being created. But let’s take a moment and remember what Hanukkah is all about: it’s a Jewish holiday celebrating the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greeks, who were trying to wipe out the practice of Judaism.
The Greeks had taken over the Jewish temple and dedicated it to the worship of Zeus and other gods for several years. The temple had even had pigs sacrificed in its midst, obviously a particularly painful slight for the Jews who had worshiped there.
In 167 B.C.E. Antiochus, the Syrian-Greek emperor, made observing Judaism a crime. It was punishable by death! He ordered the Jews to worship his Greek gods, and had his soldiers approach Jewish townspeople to get them to bow down to an idol, and then eat the flesh of a pig. As you can well imagine, this outraged the Jews, of course. One of their High Priests, Mattathias, refused to bow down. He and his five sons began attacking the soldiers, setting off a large battle.
When eventually they won this battle, the Maccabees (as they came to be called) rededicated the holy Temple in Jerusalem. It had to be purified with ritual oil burned in the temple’s menorah. There was only enough oil to last one day as the Eternal Flame, but it miraculously burned for eight days. Thus, the 8 days of Hanukkah!
Do you know what the word “Hanukkah” actually means? This Hebrew word means “dedication,” since this Jewish holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple. One of the funny things about this holiday is its many spellings. Is it Hanukkah? Chanukkah? Or Hannukkah? Since it’s transliterated, it really doesn’t matter! But however you spell it, this is one Jewish holiday everyone loves to celebrate. Because Hanukkah is all about the miracle of the oil, we use oil in our cooking. The delicious fried foods we make to celebrate include donuts, “sufganiyot,” and potato latkes.
So this year, follow our recipe for delicious potato latkes and while they’re crackling in the pan, take a moment to reflect on the real meaning of Hanukkah: the re-dedication of the temple, and the miracle of the survival of Judaism!