The Truest Meaning of Hanukkah

This favorite winter holiday is loved for its frivolities – and the delicious food, warm candlelight and exciting gifts are certainly compelling. But if that’s it, are we missing the point?

November 24, 2016 14:20
2 minute read.

The Truest Meaning of Hanukkah. (photo credit: JWG)

Hanukkah is every Jewish child’s favorite festival. After all, what’s not to love? Its story involves an unlikely band of heroes executing a virtually impossible triumph, the food is among Judaism’s tastiest offerings, and the festive ritual of playing games and exchanging gifts is both exciting and delightful.


But is that all? Often referred to as the “Jewish Christmas”, Hanukkah is sometimes perceived as a commercial or materialistic festival without depth or meaning. It’s easy to forget that the events of Hanukkah warranted a festival of their own complete with the hallel service and added prayers. It’s even easier to leave the holiday’s deeper meaning far away from the color and joy of our celebrations – but its message rings as true now as it did in the Maccabees’ days.


Under invading Greek rule, Judaism was outlawed. Keeping Shabbat and festivals was prohibited; brit milah (circumcision) was forbidden. Animals couldn’t be slaughtered for meat according to Jewish law, and teaching Torah was punishable by death. The Greeks made Judaism a crime – and the “criminals” became repressed and oppressed in their own land.


We know the story: the High Priest’s family, led by Mattitius and his son Judah rose up against the Greek’s tortuous regime. They garnered a small but strong army and meticulously planned and executed a series of military attacks. Eventually triumphant, they reclaimed and rededicated the holy Temple in Jerusalem, where the infamous miracle oil burned for eight days. After years of subjugation, Judaism was decriminalized: the Jews were finally able to freely and proudly practice their religion.


More than a remembrance of burning oil or victory over adversity , Hanukkah is a celebration of national liberty. The Maccabee’s fight was never just about foreign forces inhabiting Jewish land. It was a struggle for the right of self-determination, and the fierce battle for the right to practice and celebrate Judaism. The Maccabees were the original freedom fighters, and their reward was the restoration of both a physical Temple and spiritual existence.


This Hanukkah, let’s think further than the steaming latke or sugary donut in your hand. Look at your Hanukkah menorah. Look at the row of candles flickering in your window and realize: they’re in your window. An irrefutable symbol of your Judaism is displayed, loud and proud, for all to see – and that’s beautiful.

The article was written in cooperation with Judaica Webstore

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