The festival of Chanukah begins this year on 12 December and lasts for eight nights. Chanukah celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jews around the world will gather to light candles, play traditional games, and eat festive foods. Traditionally a minor festival, Chanukah has gained more prominence in modern times, as its message seems more and more relevant in our modern world.
At the time of the Chanukah story, Judea was ruled by the (Syrian-Greek) Seleucid Empire. Jews were encouraged to assimilate into the culture of the empire, Hellenism. The Seleucids looted the Temple in Jerusalem, and forbade Jews from practicing their religion. The Temple was used to worship Greek gods. While some Jews adopted Greek customs, others would not. They rebelled, and after much fighting, liberated the Temple.
The Jews wished to rededicate the Temple. However, the sources tell that when they searched for oil to light the menorah in the Temple, they only found enough for one day. Miraculously, this oil lasted for eight days. For this reason, Jews light candles on a menorah for eight nights during Chanukah.
Ultimately, Chanukah is about the importance of staying true to one’s beliefs, and of respecting the beliefs of others. It was only when they outlawed Jewish customs that the Seleucids faced a rebellion. Against all odds, those Jews who stood by their traditions triumphed against the might of the Seleucid Empire. While they remained faithful to their religion, the traditional Jews still learnt from the Greeks: Hellenistic methods of analysis and literary rhetoric profoundly influenced Jewish texts.
The Hebrew word ‘chanukah’ literally means ‘dedication’. This Chanukah, we can all take the time to reflect on the story. We can accept others without seeking to change them, and learn from each other where we can. Let us rededicate ourselves to our values, and accept the values of others.