The history of the Jewish people has always been one of tremendous struggle and ultimate survival against incredible odds.
Jews living in the second century BCE watched their religion become marginalized as they were forced to live under the rule of the Syrian-Greek Seleucid Empire. In 167 BCE, their temple was dedicated to the Greek god Zeus on the order of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He also banned circumcision and permitted pigs to be sacrificed in the Jewish temple.
Faithful Jews witnessed the practice of their religion be prohibited. They had to accept the Hellenistic lifestyle to survive, and a growing number of them had begun to abandon the traditions of their forefathers.
Judaism was being pushed to brink of extinction through assimilation. Jews began resisting, and a revolt ensued.
His five sons — Eleazar, Jochanan, Jonathan, Judah and Simeon — joined other villagers in killing the remaining Greek soldiers. Mattathias and his sons then went into hiding to build support and strike when the moment presented itself.
The seeds of dissention had been planted. The Maccabean Revolt lasted for several years, with the Jews eventually overthrowing the Seleucid Empire.
They decided to cleanse their temple and start anew. Tradition holds that there only was enough oil to burn a menorah for one day, which would have violated the requirements of the Talmud.
But the oil miraculously lasted for eight days, according to the story. The temple was rededicated, and Judaism survived another attempt to destroy it. For Jews around the world, Hanukkah is a time to recall this moment and celebrate their renewed life as a community of faith.
Hanukkah begins this year at sundown tonight and continues through Dec. 18. While traditionally considered a minor holiday for Jews, it has enjoyed widespread popularity in modern times. Its most cherished symbol is the eight-candled menorah with one candle lit each day of the event.
In an age where every other holiday seems dwarfed by Christmas, Hanukkah is a reminder of Judaism’s importance in human history. It spawned two other great world religions, Christianity and Islam, and remains an integral part of life for numerous people across the globe.
We’re living in a time of destructive social divisions, so let’s work toward experiencing a new Hanukkah miracle: Love instead of hatred and joy in lieu of bitterness. Imagine the world we could create if we focused more on these aspects of our shared history.
Reflecting the determination of the Jewish people to survive and prosper, Hanukkah continues to inspire countless individuals. Those who take comfort in its message deserve to enjoy the blessings this celebration offers.
The Festival of Lights, as Hanukkah is also known as, has held special significance during certain periods of history. For the Jewish people, commemorating this event has always been seen as a passageway to more joyful times.
For Jews living in the second century BCE, it literally meant the difference between the existence and extinction of their culture. For Jews of succeeding generations, it represented moving beyond the horrors of repeated attempts to annihilate them.
Given the public health and economic problems we’ve confronted due to the novel coronavirus, this year has been incredibly challenging for everyone. We encourage people to adhere to safety protocols while commemorating this holiday. May the spirit of Hanukkah give us all hope for happier days in 2021.