Thursday, December 7, 2023

Hanukkah - Mini Quilt #49/52

A brief history lesson from and a mini-quilt, #49/52 in honor of those celebrating Hanukkah...

Each year, Jews around the world celebrate an eight-day winter holiday known as Hanukkah (also spelled “Chanukah” and several other ways) on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, typically falling in November or December on the Gregorian calendar.

Hanukkah has ancient roots, commemorating the second century B.C.E. reclaiming and rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem following a period of Greek-Syrian occupation and desecration of the holy place, according to ancient Hebrew texts like the Talmud and the books of the Maccabees. In fact, Hanukkah means “dedication.” And like many religious and cultural celebrations and rituals, those associated with Hanukkah have changed over time.

“Hanukkah became more prominent in medieval Europe, when Jews were intermingling with Christians in close quarters,” says Rabbi Joseph Skloot, assistant professor of modern Jewish intellectual history at Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. “Seeing Christians celebrate Christmas with such pageantry, and symbols that are so evocative, Jews sought to exalt their symbols during that same time.”

Over the next several centuries, Jews brought Hanukkah traditions with them as they migrated and resettled across the globe, including to what is now the United States. “Hanukkah in America is a joyful, light-filled festival celebrated by many Jewish families during the darkest days of December,” says Rabbi Douglas Sagal of Congregation B'Nai Israel in Rumson, New Jersey. Here are the origins and meanings behind several Hanukkah traditions, as celebrated in America.

Lighting a Menorah
Back in the second century, after a small band of Jewish warriors known as the Maccabees managed to overthrow the Greek-Syrians and reclaim the ancient temple in Jerusalem, they found a single container of oil: enough to keep the candelabrum (also known as a “menorah” or a “Hanukkiyah”) lit for one day, Skloot explains. Instead, the oil lasted for eight days, in what is now referred to as the “Hanukkah miracle.”

According to Sagal, lighting a menorah has been the primary ritual of Hanukkah for at least 1,800 years. “It appears from early sources that originally, only one candle was lit to mark the rededication of the Temple and the kindling of the sacred menorah,” he explains. “Eventually, it became the practice to light eight candles, one each night of the eight-day festival, to recall the miracle that the sacred lamp oil lasted for eight days.”

Since that shift, menorahs have had nine branches to accommodate the eight candles, as well as one used to light the others.

The candles are added from right to left, but lit from left to right on the menorah, thus always starting with the newest light. The special menorah used for Hanukkah has eight branches, with a ninth place for the candle called shamash from which all others are lit.

The tradition calls for candles with a real flame, though some also use electric ones in public displays, such as in hospitals, for safety reasons.

One of the essential aspects of the celebration, Skloot says, is publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah, when one day’s worth of oil provided eight days of light. “The practice of placing the Hanukkiyah in the window of one's home after it's lit is a way of announcing to the world that this extraordinary miracle took place,” he explains.

And while most Hanukkah rituals take place in the home, over the last decade, Skloot says that some communities have been holding public menorah lighting ceremonies alongside those for Christmas trees.

“This seems to be a particularly American phenomenon,” he notes, “and a sign of the broader acceptance of Jews in American public life.”

With the foundation of Christianity being of the Jewish faith, I find the celebration interesting.  A similar story exists in the Bible in 1 Kings 17... It tells of Elijah meeting a widow and asking for her to feed him...

Then God spoke to him: “Get up and go to Zarephath in Sidon and live there. I’ve instructed a woman who lives there, a widow, to feed you.”

10-11 So he got up and went to Zarephath. As he came to the entrance of the village he met a woman, a widow, gathering firewood. He asked her, “Please, would you bring me a little water in a jug? I need a drink.” As she went to get it, he called out, “And while you’re at it, would you bring me something to eat?”

12 She said, “I swear, as surely as your God lives, I don’t have so much as a biscuit. I have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a bottle; you found me scratching together just enough firewood to make a last meal for my son and me.”

13-14 Elijah said to her, “Don’t worry about a thing. Go ahead and do what you’ve said. But first make a small biscuit for me and bring it back here. Then go ahead and make a meal from what’s left for you and your son. This is the word of the God of Israel: ‘The jar of flour will not run out and the bottle of oil will not become empty before God sends rain on the land and ends this drought.’”

15-16 And she went right off and did it, did just as Elijah asked. And it turned out as he said—daily food for her and her family. The jar of meal didn’t run out and the bottle of oil didn’t become empty: God’s promise fulfilled to the letter, exactly as Elijah had delivered it!

I pray that those that will begin the celebration of Hanukkah at sunset December 7th are blessed with joy as they recall not just the miracle that is at the core of this holiday, but the miracles that are before us each and every day.  

We only need to look around us to see them.  

Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Keep Piecing,


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  1. That was a very thoughtful and enlightening summary of Hanukkah and the quilting too. Thanks for sharing that with us. Thanks for joining Angel Brian's Thankful Thursday Blog Hop!

  2. Thank you Melva, that was important.

  3. Sweet mug rug and thanks for sharing about Hanukkah!

  4. Thank you for sharing the story of Hanukkah. What a rich history the Bible and Jewish writings have! You're so right in that we still are given so many miracles.

  5. Lovely mini quilt, so perfect for Hanukkah. Thanks for sharing on my weekly show and tell, Wednesday Wait Loss.