The festival commemorates the 164 BCE rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus IV – and the re-establishment of religious freedom for the Jewish people after a period of harsh repression.
(Communicated by the GPO)
Chanukah ("dedication" in Hebrew) is celebrated this year from sunset on Sunday, 6 December, until sunset on Monday, December 14. The festival commemorates both the 164 BCE rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the ruling Seleucid (Syrian Greek) Kingdom, under Antiochus IV – and the re-establishment of religious freedom for the Jewish people after a period of harsh repression. The success of the popular revolt led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers has, ever since, symbolized the Jewish people’s fight for, and achievement of, its liberty and freedom as a nation against overwhelming odds. Chanukah is not a legal holiday in Israel; offices, shops and public transportation will operate as usual; schools, however, will be closed.
The main element of Chanukah observance is the lighting of the eight-branched menorah (or chanukkiah). On the first night, one candle (or oil lamp) is lit, with another one being added on each successive night until the eighth night when all eight are lit. One extra light (the shamash) stands apart from the others and is used to light them. Special blessings are recited when lighting the menorah, which is traditionally placed in a window or doorway where it will be visible from the outside – in order to publicize the miracle of the oil. It is customary to eat foods fried in oil – typically jelly doughnuts or potato pancakes – during Chanukah.
In addition, children are given four-sided tops as toys. In the Diaspora, the sides bear the Hebrew letters that form the acronym: "A great miracle happened there." In Israel, the sides bear the Hebrew letters that form the acronym: "A great miracle happened here." In the State of Israel, Chanukah is marked by a torch relay from Modi’in to Jerusalem and giant menorahs are also lit in public squares.
Chanukah is marked by special prayers and scriptural readings in the synagogue, as well as by a special addition to the regular blessing after meals.
President Reuven Rivlin issued the following message to Jewish communities around the world:
"My dear brothers and sisters in Israel, and around the world. At Chanukah we stand around the lights, watch as they glow, and sing together Maoz Tzur, a song that tells about the many challenges that have risen against the Jewish people in the past. We celebrate the survival of our people and our faith against all the odds. We celebrate the freedom that was won in those days, and that we enjoy today with Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. It is no coincidence that the symbol of the Government of Israel is the Menorah, the symbol of Jewish independence, which lights our path. In each generation we must find that path; to reinforce the bonds between Jews across the world, to share together, to hold high the torch of freedom. To bring light where there is darkness. Just as it was for the heroic Maccabim, the light of the Menorah inspires us all.
"Today, hatred, incitement, and terrorism threaten the whole world. In the face of these threats we need to be firm and strong like a rock – like Maoz Tzur – in our beliefs in freedom, justice, in the values of our tradition and of democracy. So this year as we gather with our families and communities and look at the wonderful lights it is my prayer that we will be reminded of the bonds that we all share, and the important role we all have of being a light unto the nations.
"Our thoughts at this time are of course with those who will be celebrating with a heavy heart; the injured and the families who have lost loved ones in the wave of terror that has struck in Israel, and around the world. To them especially, and to all the Jewish people, I wish a very happy Chanukah. Shalom from Jerusalem."
PM Netanyahu lights the first Chanukah candle at the Western Wall
Copyright: GPO/Kobi Gideon
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Sunday, 6 December 2015) lit the first Chanukah candle with Border Police personnel:
"2,200 years ago, a handful of Jewish fighters arose and defeated what was then a global empire. This was before the rise of Rome. The Seleucid Greek empire was then very strong and – during the reign of Antiochus IV – very cruel. Indeed, the threat was to our unity and our greatness. The Maccabees fought, first of all to restore this [spiritual] independence but they were not satisfied with only that. Part of the people wanted them to suffice with that. But they were not so inclined; they fought to restore their political independence. They understood that without political independence there was no chance of ensuring spiritual independence.
This effort, which undoubtedly ensured the future of our people, also serves as a symbol and an example to peoples in general and to the strength of a people – to strength of spirit. They dispelled the darkness – and we are fighting a great darkness today. The struggle of Israel today, as it was then, in those days at this season, is – first of all – a struggle for our existence, independence and culture but also for all humanity.
Israel is a candle in the darkness. Around us is a great darkness and here in Jerusalem, in the State of Israel, we are lifting the banner of the independence and honor of man, for the right of the Jewish people to live free in its land and in its city, the same city that the Maccabees liberated."