Jeff Green | Dec 13, 2007
Feature Article - December 13, 2007 Back toHome Feature Article - December 13, 2007 Hanukah: not the best holiday for cholesterol levels
Hanukah is the Paris Hilton or Britney Spears of Jewish holidays. It isn’t really important but it is shiny, it’s in the right place at the right time and it gets a lot of press.
Most of the major Jewish holidays take place in the early fall, including the Rosh Hashonah (New Years) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) which in are the “High Holidays”. They are followed in quick succession by the Harvest Festival Sukkot and the celebration of the completion and re-commencement of the year-long reading of the Torah (old testament) which is called Simchat Torah. For students in Jewsish schools, these holidays result in at least a day off from school each week for a month.
The other major Jewish holiday is Passover, which coincides with the Easter Holiday in Christianity, the Last Supper having been a Passover “seder” or dinner.
Hanukah comes in the vicinity of the winter solstice, a time when many cultures and religions celebrate light, and it is indeed the Jewish Festival of Lights.
The major ritual of Hanukah is the lighting of candles on eight consecutive evenings. The Shammas candle is used to light one other candle the first night, two on the second, and one more is added on each night, until the eighth night when all eight candles are lit on the Hanukah Menorah (Candelabra).
Hanukah is perhaps the best known of the Jewish Holidays in North America, probably because it takes place at roughly the same time as Christmas, and it includes a tradition of gift-giving, making it suitable as a kind of Jewish Christmas for retailers who are keen to capture another market for seasonal gifts. There are even coloured glasses available that when worn, make Christmas tree lights look like the star of David.
Hanukah, which translates as “re-dedication” is based on a historical event, and has been told and re-told in Judaic accounts over the centuries.
In about 200 BC, the land of Judea, which was located roughly where Israel is today, was under the rule of the Egyptians, under King Ptolemy. Ptolemy was defeated by Antiochus III of Syria, who established good relations with the Jews and the Jewish leadership in Judea. However, when Antiochus was defeated by the Romans, he was forced to pay heavily, and people living in the Syrian Empire, including the Judean Jews, were heavily taxed as a result. At the same time, there were internal divisions between Jews as some were influenced by the Syrian world view, which was based on the Hellenic ideals of outward beauty, in contrast to the Jewish emphasis on morality and devotion to God.
Antiochus III died and was replaced by his son Seluecus IV. He was less favourably inclined towards the Jews. When Seleucus died his brother Antiochus IV took over and matters turned very dire for all observant Jews. Antiochus was dubbed a “madman” by a historian of the time, and he is known in Jewish histories as Antiochus the Cruel.
Under Antiochus IV, the army eventually attacked the Jewish neighbourhoods, killing many, and forcing the survivors to flee to the surrounding hills. There they raised an army, called the Maccabee army, under the leadership of “Judah the Strong”. Judah and the Maccabees eventually unseated Antiochus and conquered Judea.
When Judah and the Maccabees came to the ancient holy temple in Jerusalem, a site that is contested to this day, they found it full of Hellenic statues, which ran counter to everything Judaism stood for. They were determined to clean out the temple and re-dedicate as a Jewish holy site. To do this they needed to light a new candelabra with consecrated oil, and keep it lit day and night. The problem was they had only enough consecrated oil to light the candle for one day, and it would take eight days to make new oil.
The oil lasted eight days instead of one, and that is known as the Hanukah miracle, and is the source of the Hanukah ritual of candle lighting for eight days.
Another Hanukah ritual is eating fried foods. Normally careful eaters are encouraged to cast off the shackles of low cholesterol diets and eat either Latkes (potato pancakes) and apple sauce or “Sufganiot” deep fried doughnuts, often jelly filled, or both.
Other Hanukah traditions include spinning a top called a dreidle, which is also a gambling game, and the giving of Hanukah gelt.