Friday, 11 December 2009


This evening marks the beginning of the Jewish festival of Hanukka – the eight day festival of lights. The celebration traces its origins back over 2,000 years to when the Seleucid leader, Antiochus IV, invaded Israel and attempted to force the Jews to assimilate into his empire and to renounce their religion and culture. Under the leadership of Judah Maccabee the Jews revolted and eventually drove out the Seleucid armies.

Golden Menorah The Hanukkah celebration of lighting the menorah traces its origin to a miracle that occurred after the victory of the Maccabees. The Temple in Jerusalem had been defiled by the invading Seleucid army. It was traditional to light a special lamp in the Temple, called a menorah, with olive oil, but all of the vials of oil were made impure, with the exception of one. According to Hanukkah history, the one vial of oil burned for eight days until pure oil could be obtained for the Temple. In gratitude, the Jews began lighting small menorahs in their homes to commemorate this miracle and the victory.

This morning on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke about Hanukka and went on to say this:

But there's a beautiful law in Judaism, and it applies to a day like today, Friday. On the Friday of Hanukkah we light two kinds of lights, for the festival and for the Sabbath, both of which begin at nightfall. What if we only have one candle? What do we light it as: a Hanukkah light or a Sabbath light? It can't be both.

The answer is: we light it as a Sabbath light, because the Sabbath light symbolizes peace in the home. And in Judaism, even the smallest fragment of peace takes precedence over even the greatest victory in war.


The first picture above is of a replica of the 7 branch Menorah from the second Temple which stands in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem. The second Menorah is the traditional 9 branch Menorah used to celebrate Hanukkah.

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