Friday, December 15, 2006

Happy Chanukah

Today is the 25th of Kislev, and the first night of Chanukah, the eight day festival of lights, as well as rededication. It is also great for latkes and sufganiyot as well as chocolate coins which go with the dreidel. When I first learned about Judaism at age 10, it was because I bought a fun little book about Chanukah, and learned about Judah Maccabee as well as Antiochus IV, a nasty little tyrant. The story started when Alexander the Great conquered the Southern Kingdom of Judea, and the Judeans were allowed to live and worship in peace as long as they paid taxes to the Seleucids, until 175 BCE when Antiochus IV ascended the throne, and he decided to be a schmuck and started a series of progroms against the Jewish people. In 167, he ordered a temple of Zeus in Jerusalem. As a response Matthias, a priest, and his five sons John, Simon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah started a revolt against the Syrians. The next year, Matthias died and Judah took the lead, as well as earning the name Maccabee (the Hammer), making Judah Maccabee the original Hebrew Hammer :) A year later, the Maccabees won and the Syrians were driven out of Jerusalem. Now, the miracle has nothing to do with the military victory. Instead it is about the olive oil used to light the menorah in the Temple. There was only enough oil for one day, but it lasted eight days, until more olive oil was attained. Another aspect of Chanukah is the dreidel. The dreidel is a top with four sides and a letter on each side, The letters nun, gimmel, hey, and shin stand for Nes Gadol Haya Sham (a great miracle happened there), while in Israel the Sham is repalced with Po, because in Israel, it is more accurate to say the a "great miracle happened here." The purpose of the dreidel was a cover, since the Syrians outlawed Judaism, so when Jewish students were learning, a lookout was posted, so that when Syrain thugs were nearby the students could pull out a dreidel and some money, so they'd appear to be gambling instead of learning the Torah. Nowadays, the dreidel is used as a fun game and the gelt (chocolate or real coins) represent the money that was used for the cover. In some ways history repeats itself as Israel is still menaced by Syria (also Ahmenidinnerjacket could be regarded as a modern day Haman, but let's save that for Purim), though Syria does not rule Israel, as it did during Greek and Roman rule (the Governor was in Damascus while a praetorian praefect ruled over Jerusalem), and while it took two years to kick the Syrians out of Judea. A modern day Maccabee could smash Syria within two weeks, or maybe even during the eight days of Chanukah, which would make for great dramatic effect. This evening, 19 years later, I went to my first Chanukah party, which was very nice and filled with knowledge, fun songs, and great food. While I knew some things about Chanukah and can learn the rest through wikipedia, it is even better to experience it. I hope everyone who reads this post is having a Happy Chanukah, whether you're Jewish or goyim, or somewhere in between :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Happy Hanukkah.