Defining Hanukkah (quickly)

Happy Hanukkah (or Chanukkah).

The little Jewish holiday that could.

It’s so hard to explain what Hanukkah is about (I mean in a short and meaningful way). So I checked some “definitions” (looking for one to adopt):

From “an 8-day Jewish holiday beginning on the 25th of Kislev and commemorating the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem after its defilement by Antiochus of Syria.”

Okay, but a little too dictionaryish.

From Judaism 101: “Chanukkah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev.


From “The Talmud tells us that beginning with the 25th of Kislev, eight days of Chanukah are observed, during which no eulogies are delivered, nor is fasting permitted. For when the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they defiled all the oils, and when the Hasmoneans (the Maccabees) defeated them, they searched and found only one remaining jar of oil with the seal of the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest). Although it contained only enough oil to burn for one day, a miracle occurred, and the oil burned eight days. A year later the Rabbis designated these days as Yomim Tovim (Holidays) on which praise and thanksgiving were to be said. (Tractate Shabbat 21).”

Solid, but too long…

From “Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, begins this year on Sunday night, December 21. The eight-day festival is a celebration of Jewish national survival and religious freedom.”

Pretty good, without too many words.

From My Jewish Learning: “Hanukkah, or the Festival of Rededication, celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its defilement by the Syrian Greeks in 164 BCE. Although it is a late addition to the Jewish liturgical calendar, the eight-day festival of Hanukkah has become a beloved and joyous holiday. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and takes place in December, at the time of year when the days are shortest in the northern hemisphere.”

Not bad, but no mention of religious freedom.

I’ll keep looking….

ADD: Rabbi Chaim Z. Ehrenreich of the Chabad Jewish Enrichment Center in Chestnut Ridge suggests the Chabad Jewish Enrichment Center website: “Chanukah — the eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of Kislev 25 — celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materialism.”

Very interesting. This paragraph goes for the Big Themes. It draws you in. But you have to read on to get the lyrical details:

“More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully¬† Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G-d.

When they sought to light the Temple’s menorah, they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled.”

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.