On the 25th of Kislev are the days of Chanukah, which are eight… these were appointed a Festival with Hallel [prayers of praise] and thanksgiving. -Shabbat 21b, Babylonian Talmud (The Oral Law). For clarification, the Talmud is a collection of Rabbinical interpretations of the written Torah.
In Hebrew, the word Hanukkah is written חנכה or חנוכה. It is most commonly transliterated to English as Chanukah or Hanukkah, the latter because the sound represented by “CH” (as in “loch”) does not exist in the English language.
Hanukkah is one of the best known Jewish holidays, because it usually falls around the same time as Christmas (except this year, 2013) although the exact dates vary each year because of the Hebrew lunar calendar. Many sadly think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas. It is ironic that this holiday, which has its roots in a revolution against assimilation and the suppression of Jewish studies and practices, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on the Jewish calendar.
Hanukkah is not a Biblical feast yet it is. Of the nine major feasts, this is one of two, the other being Purim, that did not begin with Moses. Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Tanakh (Old Testament), as it commemorates an event which took place during the time between the closing of the Tanakh, and the writing of the New Testament. This was when there were no prophets to Israel, and there were over 400 years of silence. However it is observed by Rabbinic Jews based on the Talmud (Oral Law) traditions.
Yet Hanukkah is a Biblical feast in two ways. 1) The events that brought about the Feast of Chanukah were predicted prophetically by the Book of Daniel (8:9-14; 11:21-35). The New Testament, though written after the time of Antiochus and the Maccabees, makes allusions to the book of Daniel that show similar events would occur again. (Matthew 24, Revelation 13:14).
2) Jesus Himself joins in this particular feast by observing it showing that it is legitimate. John 10:22 “At that time the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) took place at Jerusalem. It was winter.”
Hanukkah celebrates a victory over an oppressor, and the miracle of light that would not be extinguished when a few drops of oil miraculously burned for eight days and nights in 165 B.C.E. Throughout the ages, Hanukkah has signified the miraculous triumph of the weak over the strong, the pure over the impure, the righteous over the wicked, and powerfully shows God’s grace in the Hanukkah story, and in the message of His grace coming down to us in the form of a servant, a light, our Messiah, our Savior.
Traditions: The only religious observance related to Hanukkah is the lighting of candles on the Menorah. On the first night of Hanukkah, a single candle is lit on the far right side of the menorah. Each night, an additional candle is added from right to left. The newest candle is always lit first. There is a 9th candle, the Shamash (servant), which is a different height or set apart from the others. That is the candle used to light the others.
A lit menorah is often placed in a window to publicize the miracle of God’s grace represented by the menorah, and illuminated candles, with attention to the Shamash. The direction of the candles should be correct as seen from the outside looking in at it. In our home we light two menorahs, an electric one for the window, and a regular one with candles for inside our home.
Jesus as the Shamash
On the Hanukkah Menorah, the Shamash candle lights all the others. The Shamash stands above or separate from the other candles. It is called “the servant”. This is strikingly similar to Jesus, who as the light of the world, came as a servant, and is the one who brings light to each individual’s life. Light to shine out to a darkened world (Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”), and the light of eternal life in the Kingdom of God (John 8:12 “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”).
The Tanakh predicts this light in Isaiah 9:1 “The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light; those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, light shone upon them.” In John 10:22-24 we read that Jesus was at the Temple during the “Feast of Dedication” (Hanukkah). “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” During a holiday of remembering a miracle, Jesus pointed out that the works that He did attested to His claim to be the long-awaited Messiah (John 10:37-38).
Other Traditions Include: Eating foods fried in oil (best known is latkes [potato pancakes]), playing with the dreidel (a spinning top) and the giving of Hanukkah gelt (money) in the form of chocolate coins, and a small amount of real money or another small gift. Some families give a small gift each night of the holiday. Others give a larger gift on one of the nights. Different families, different variations on the tradition.
Blessings over Hanukkah Lights: On all eight nights, the following two blessings are recited. The first praises God for commanding us to light the Hanukkah lights.
Traditional: Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam Asher Kiddeshanu Be-mitsvotav Ve-tsivanu Lehadlik Ner Shel khanuka Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.
Messianic: Baruch Ata Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha-olam, ah-sher nah-tan lah-nu cha-gim, min-ha-gim, oo-mo-ah-dim l’sim-cha, l’hag-deel et da-at Adonai, v’liv-not oh-tah-nu b’emunah ki-do-shah v’na-ah-lah.
Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has given us holidays, customs, and times of happiness, to increase the knowledge of God and to build us up in our most holy faith.
The second blessing praises God for performing miracles for our ancestors (Traditional and Messianic are the same)
Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam She-asa Nissim La-avoteynu Ba-yyamim Ha-hem Ba-zzman Ha-zze
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.
A third blessing, is included only on the first night to mark the first time the Hanukkah lights have been lit this season.
(Traditional and Messianic are the same)
Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam She-hekheyanu Ve-kiymanu Ve-higgi’anu La-zzman Ha-zze
The Concept of Re-dedication: 2 Chronicles 7:5 “And King Solomon slaughtered the sacrifices of cattle, twenty-two thousand, and sheep, one hundred and twenty thousand, and they dedicated the House of God, the king and all the people.” The Hanukkah celebration is a wonderful time for us to either dedicate, or rededicate, our lives and our homes to God. Joshua 24:15 “as for me and my household, we shall serve the Lord.” What does dedicating your life to God mean to you?