Hanukkah, Israel's Festival of Lights

by Joseph H Hunting

Apart from the seven holy convocations known in Scripture as the Feasts of Jehovah, there are other annual memorials such as Purim, Tisha B'Av and Hannukah.

Whilst Israel still observes these memorials, in Bible times it was obligatory for all the males in Israel to go up to Jerusalem three times each year to observe the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. It is interesting to note that the Feast of Dedication, or Hannukah, is mentioned in the New Testament. "And it was at Jerusalem the feast of dedication, and it was winter. And Yeshua walked in the Temple in Solomon's Porch" (John 10:22-23).

The origin of this celebration, also known as the Festival of Lights, occurred during the Syrian rule over Israel and in the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes in the year 165 BC. The event which is recorded in the book of Maccabees in the Apocrypha tells of the desecration of the Temple when a sow was offered on the altar and Jews were compelled to worship Zeus.

At a village called Mod'in in the Judean hill country the Maccabean family organized a revolt against Syrian tyranny and after a series of brilliantly led campaigns they recaptured Jerusalem and cleansed the temple of all that had defiled it. On 25th Kislev (corresponding to December) the Temple was rededicated to the worship of the God of Israel but only one cruse of oil, sufficient for only one day's burning, was found to relight the Menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum that stood in the Holy Place. To the priest's astonishment the Menorah burned for eight days, during which time fresh supplies of oil were procured.

Year after year the rededication of the Temple was observed as recorded in the New Testament until the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Since then for centuries the event was commemorated by Jewish families in the Dispersion by placing eight oil lamps side by side and a lamp was lit each day until all eight were burning on the eighth day. When wax candles were introduced during the early nineteenth century the practice of using oil lamps was gradually replaced by the use of candles, and then the eight-branched Menorah which is so popular today was introduced.

This year Hannukah will be observed for eight days from December 12th as Jewish families round the world observe one of the most beautiful memorials, the Festival of Lights.