(Miriam Alster/Flash90)
chanukah jerusalem

Part one of our series on Chanukah, miracles, and Israel’s triumphs despite insurmountable militaristic odds.

What is Chanukah?

The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication.”  In the 2nd century BCE, during the time of the Second Temple, the Greek king of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochus Epiphanes, sought to pull Jews away from Judaism, with the hopes of assimilating them into Greek culture.

One of the biggest obstacles in gaining the loyalty of a newly conquered people is overcoming their indigenous beliefs and practices. So, Antiochus outlawed Jewish observance ― including circumcision, Shabbat, and Torah study ― under penalty of death.

Some of the Jews began to assimilate into Greek culture, taking on Greek names and marrying non-Jews, slowly eroding the foundation of Jewish life.



The final blow came when the Greeks ordered the Jews to sacrifice a pig to a Greek god on the altar in the Temple. This ultimate desecration of Israel’s most holy place sparked a revolt against Antiochus’ army. Led by Matitiyahu, and later his son Judah the Maccabee, this small band of pious Jews used the only method they had at their disposal – guerrilla warfare – to oppose the mighty Greek army.

Maccabees vs. the Greeks: Insurmountable Odds

Antiochus sent thousands of well-armed troops to crush the rebellion. After managing to hold them off for three years, the Maccabees beat insurmountable odds and miraculously succeeded in driving the conquerors from their land. This victory was unimaginable given the huge difference in numbers and weaponry at their disposal.

When the Jewish fighters entered Jerusalem, they found the Holy Temple a total mess, desecrated with idols. The Maccabees cleansed the Temple and re-dedicated it on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, to which December frequently corresponds.

When it came time to relight the seven-branched Menorah, they searched the entire Temple, but found only one jar of pure oil bearing the seal of the High Priest. They knew it would take eight days for more pure oil to be prepared and brought to the Temple, but the faithful group lit the Menorah anyway. Their trust in G-d and faithfulness to their people was rewarded with a miracle: The one small jar of oil burned for eight days, until a new supply of oil could be brought.

Eight Days of Miracles

From that day forward, Jews have observed the holiday of Chanukah each year. We celebrate for eight days, in honor of this historic victory and the miracle of the oil. We light candles or oil lamps every night for eight nights, sing special songs of praise and thanks to G-d, and eat special foods.

In honor of the great miracles of Chanukah, United with Israel brings you a several part series that looks at the miracles Israel has experienced in modern times.

Next in the Series: 1948 – The Miracle of Birth

If you are looking for a special Chanukah gift, our Israel Boutique offers beautiful and meaningful presents that will bring the light of Chanukah into someone special’s life and help support the Jewish people.

Author: Penina Taylor, United with Israel

Chanukah articles


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