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Home » Chanukah

Chanukah: A Basic Overview

Submitted by on November 4, 2005 – 8:40 pmNo Comment | 2,777 views

The Chanukah Story

In the year 3616 (around 140 BCE) Syrian Greek King Antiochus Epipanes engaged the Jewish nation in war. He marched into the holy city of Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple. For six long years Antiochus’ army raped, pillaged and decimated the Jewish nation both spiritually and physically.

A small but brave band of Jews, led by the High Priest Matithyahu and his five sons, the Macabees, revolted against the occupying forces. The ensuing battle ultimately brought about a miraculous victory for the Jewish people. The Macabes recaptured Jerusalem and entered the holy temple for the first time on the Twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev.

The priests wanted to reestablish the Temple ritual and rekindle the Menorah (candelabra). However, a thorough search of the Temple produced only one small jar of ritually pure olive oil, required for the kindling of the Menorah.

They lit the Menorah with that small jar of oil and the oil lasted miraculously for eight full days. This miracle greatly uplifted and inspired the nation for it communicated a message of hope, illumination and joy from on high.

Law and Customs


  1. Every year on the Twenty-fifth of Kislev we commemorate this miracle by lighting small Menorahs (candelabras) in our homes.We light the Chanukah candles for eight days, on the first day we light one candle, on the second day we light two, etc.
  2. It is customary to eat foods fried in oil during the holiday to commemorate the miracle that was connected with oil. It is also customary to eat dairy foods during Chanukah to commemorate the story of Yehudis, sister of Matisyahu.A royal edict decreed that every Jewish bride was required to sleep with the Syrian Greek Governor on the night before her marriage. Yehudis approached the governor’s tent to ostensibly spend the night with him
    She brought along dairy foods and invited him to join her in repast. Having eaten his full he was thirsty and she offered a jug full of wine. He drank and, predictably, fell asleep. She pulled a knife from under her robes and slay him.
  3. During this holiday we play with a Dreidel, a spinning top. One of the cruel decrees prohibited the Jewish people from studying Torah. Jewish children gathered in mountain caves to study but when patrols passed by the children would immediately hide the scrolls, produce spinning tops, and proceeded to play.Dreidels today have four Hebrew letters inscribed on them that form an acronym for the Hebrew words “Nes gadol Hayah Sham” translated as “A great miracle occurred there.” In Israel the word “There” is replaced with the words “Here”
  4. This has always been a very popular holiday, especially amongst the children. It is customary to distribute Chanukah Gelt (gifts and treats) to children so that they too will appreciate the beauty of the holiday.


How to Celebrate Chanukah

Kindle the Menorah on each of the eight nights of Chanukah. Kindle one candle on the first night of Chanukah and add a single candle per day as you go along, i.e. on the second night, light two candles on the third night, three etc.

Use olive oil or paraffin candles, large enough to burn until half an hour after nightfall. The first candle on the first night should be placed on the right side of the Menorah and make your way towards the left side of the Menorah as you go along. Always kindle the new candle first and move back to the candles that you have already kindled during the previous nights.

Use a Shamesh (service candle) to kindle the lights and then place it in its special place on the menorah.

Before the kindling of the Menorah recite the following three blessings:

  1. Ba-ruch A-toh Ado-noi E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ha-olom A-sher Ki-de-sho-nu Be-mitz-vo-sov Vi-tzi-vo-nu Le-had-lik Ner Cha-nu-kah.

    Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, king of the universe, who has sanctified us by his commandments, and had commanded us to kindle the lights of Chanukah.
  2. Bo-ruch A-toh A-do-noi E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ha-olom She-o-so Ni-sim La-avo-sei-nu Ba-yo-mim ho-heim Bi-zman Ha-zeh.

    Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, king of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in the days of old, at this season.
  3. The following blessing is said only on the first evening (or the first time one kindles the lights this Chanukah)

    Bo-ruch-A-toh A-do-noi- E-lo-hei-nu- me-lech Ha-olom She-he-che-yo-nu Ve-ki-yi-mo-nu Ve-hi-gi-o-nu Liz-man Ha-zeh.
    Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, king of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us and enabled us to reach this season.

The lights should burn at least thirty minutes, and preferably fifty minutes. On Friday evening the Chanukah lights are kindled before the Shabbat lights and they should last till thirty minutes after nightfall.

On Saturday night one should recite Havdalah before kindling the Chanukah Lights. In the Synagogue the order on Saturday night is reversed.

All members of the family should be present at the kindling of the Chanukah lights. Young boys and girls may kindle their own menorahs. Students and singles that live in a dormitory or in their own apartments should kindle menorahs in their own rooms.

The Chanukah lights are kindled either in the front window or in a doorway. In the Synagogue the Menorah is set up against the south wall.

Mourning the Destruction of the Temple

There are a series of four fast days that commemorate the destruction of the holy Temple. The first one falls shortly after the conclusion of the Chanukah festival, on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tevet. This fast begins at sunrise and ends at nightfall.

On this day the Babylonian army laid siege to the holy city of Jerusalem. The siege lasted for two and a half years and ended with the ultimate destruction of the temple.