Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is the eight night festival that begins on the 25th of Kislev. Historically, Hanukkah was a public festival commemorating the conquest by the Maccabees of the Greeks and the re-dedication of the Temple in 165 BCE. The Hebrew root of the word “Hanukkah” means “to dedicate.”
Since the Maccabees were not able to celebrate Sukkot during the war, they chose to celebrate their victory and the re-dedication of the Temple for one week, parallel to the length of Sukkot. In the Talmud, the rabbis transformed the holiday of Hanukkah to a home based festival. Central to the holiday was each family’s responsibility to light a hanukkiyah, a nine branched candelabra, in the doorway or window of their home publicizing their dedication to Judaism.
The rabbis also added the miracle theme to the holiday of Hanukkah. In tractate Shabbat 21 in the Babylonian Talmud, the rabbis relate that after their triumph, the Maccabees rededicated the Temple but only had enough oil to last one night. A miracle occurred and instead of burning one night, the oil burned for eight nights.
Today, Hanukkah is still primarily a home based festival in which the blessings are recited and the hanukkiyah is lit, with one new candle added each night. Children and adults alike delight in the beauty and the incremental increase of the light each night. Hallel, an especially joyful prayer service praising God (traditionally recited on the pilgrimage holidays and Rosh Hodesh) is recited during the morning service every day of Hanukkah. There is also a special Torah reading every day of Hanukkah.
At B’nai Jeshurun, in addition to Hallel and the special Hanukkah Torah readings recited during morning minyan and Shabbat morning services, group candle lightings at BJ and in the homes of BJ members are organized and the BJ rabbinic fellows prepare kavannot (meditations) to add meaning to each night of Hanukkah. Every year fresh and inspiring ways to commemorate Hanukkah take place during the festival season including the Hag Habanot, an annual women’s celebration from the North African Jewish community, and the children’s Hanukkah play.
Thursday, December 12 | 7:00PM | Community House
Join BJ and Lab/Shul for a series of live podcast recordings and lively conversations celebrating and exploring the growing diversity of the American Jewish family. Register now for session two: “Merry—um, Happy Holidays!”: Chrismukkah and other Compromises.
Saturday, December 14 | 5:00-7:00PM | Rabbi Rachel Cowan Chapel & Middle Room
With the timing of the holidays this year, we are doing an early Hanukkah havdalah and wine tasting event, co-hosted by BJ’s Aviv (20s & 30s) and Young Families groups. No matter the weather, we’ll stay warm by drinking delicious wines paired with delectable treats. Gather with friends old and new as we come together for a musical havdalah. 20s and 30s, get to know our families with young children. If you’ve got ’em, send your kids to our on-site babysitters while you relax with a glass of merlot and get to know other folks in their 20s and 30s.
Friday, December 20 | Following the Kabbalat Shabbat Service | Community House
Join Rabbi Adina Lewittes for a pre-Hanukkah dinner unlike any other! Refine your palate with an olive oil tasting, sample an olive oil-infused specialty cocktail, and enjoy (and bring!) delicious food for the season. Try your hand at dreydel and compete for great prizes!
Saturday, December 21 | Following Kiddush | Rabbi Rachel Cowan Chapel
As the days are at their shortest and we encounter extended darkness, we look toward the celebration of Hanukkah, in which light narratives and rituals abound. What role does the power of light play in our tradition?
Join Marshall T. Meyer Rabbinic Fellow Deborah Sacks Mintz for an an exploration of both classical texts and contemporary poetry, as we unpack this central seasonal theme.