Hanukkah and World Peace

Hanukkah began last evening, making today the first full day of Hanukkah 2023. Most folks know Hanukkah as a Jewish holiday in late November or early December. Like the Christian Easter, the date shifts from year to year. The date for Hanukkah is based on a fluctuating date on the Jewish calendar.

Praying for Peace and Respect

In response to the recent spike in attacks on our Jewish neighbors in this country, I have chosen to shed a little light on this Festival of Lights being commemorated by faithful Jews around the world. this coming week. May they find strength, hope, and ways to achieve peace from their celebrations.

I am not condoning the Israeli attacks on Gaza, nor justifying the atrocities inflicted on the Jewish people by the Hamas October 7 attacks that started the current surge of horrific, heartbreaking tragedies. I am advocating for less blaming and conclusion-jumping about who’s innocent and who’s guilty. This is the latest eruption in a conflict between two ethnic and religious groups dating back thousands of years.

The best way I know to end violence is to learn more about those we so easily vilify as enemies. Until we understand their perspectives, we are doomed to keep repeating cycles of violence and bloodshed.

Five Alarm Fire of Disrespect

To that end, I invite you to consider a recent speech by Senator Chuck Schumer about the many ways people of Jewish heritage and faith have worked for peace and justice in our global village over the decades. You can hear it on YouTube or read it in a press release. This is not about politics as much as it is about choosing to actively work for peace or passively allow violence and prejudice to dominate our interactions. In Schumer’s speech, he refers to the current uptick in violence against Jewish neighbors in our country as a “Five Alarm Fire.”

History of Hanukkah

The term ‘Hanukkah’ comes from a Hebrew word meaning ‘Dedication.’ The eight-day festival is connected to the rededication of the Second Temple in ancient Israel. In 586 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the first temple, built under the reign of King Solomon in 1000 BCE.

The events that inspired Hanukkah took place during another turbulent time, around 200 BCE.  According to I Maccabees (a book contained in some Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testament scriptures), Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded Judea, intending to convert the Jews to Greek ways. He outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered Jews to worship Greek gods. In 168 BCE, his soldiers invaded Jerusalem. They massacred thousands and desecrated the Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls.

Celebrating Victory

Led by Mattathias and his son Judas Maccabeus, the Maccabees were the first Jews fighting to defend their religious beliefs rather than their lives. After a three-year struggle, the Jews defeated Antiochus. Judas Maccabeus ordered the temple restored. After they purified it, they installed a new altar and dedicated it to Kislev 25.

Judas proclaimed the dedication of the restored Temple should be celebrated every year for eight days, beginning on that date. In II Maccabees, the celebration is compared to the festival of Sukkoth, which the Jews could not celebrate when Antiochus invaded them.

Remembering Through Commemoration

Although not mentioned in the books of Maccabees, the traditional practice of lighting candles at Hanukkah likely started relatively early. The Talmud describes the miracle of the Temple oil. According to the Talmud, when Judas Maccabeus entered the Temple, he found only a small jar of oil that Antiochus had not defiled. There was only enough oil in the jar to burn for one day. But it miraculously burned for eight days until they could find new consecrated oil. That established the precedent for the festival lasting eight days.

Some information for this article came from history.com.

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