art by Laya Crust
Hanukkah 25 Kislev – 2 Tevet
illustration , inspired by the North French Miscellany, 1280
Today I’m going to write the history of Hanukkah, but stay tuned for a latke recipe that I will post in the next couple of days.
Hanukkah is a holiday commemorating the uprising of the Jews against the Greeks in 168 B.C.E. The story begins when the Seleucids conquered Phoenicia and Palestine (Israel). They allowed the Jews to carry on their religion and practices with complete freedom. The Jewish Kohen Gadol, Simon, had supported the King Antiochus III in the war so Antiochus III was very generous to the Jews, even making a large contribution to the temple in Jerusalem and allowing them to govern themselves.
By the time Antiochus IV came to power in 175 BCE the Jewish religious leadership had changed. Jason, brother of the high priest of Jerusalem wanted his brother’s position. He bribed Antiochus IV for the position of high priest. As well as giving the king money, Jason promised to build a gymnasium in Jerusalem and establish a Greek constitution in the city. Obviously Jason wanted to hellenize the Jewish city. Judaism was still observed and the Temple used as it always had been, so it seemed that Jason’s hellenizing innovations didn’t change how the Jews observed their religion and new Greek additions didn’t bother many Jewish citizens.
In 170 a Jew named Menelaus bribed Antiochus IV for Jason’s position as High Priest and indeed Menelaus was appointed as High Priest. What goes around comes around. In the same year Antiochus IV plundered the Temple and two years later rededicated the Temple of Jerusalem to Zeus. The practice of Judaism was outlawed on pain of death and officials were sent into the countryside to oversee the introduction of Greek religious practice.
The persecution of the Jews was recorded in the Books of Maccabees 1 and 2. Interesting fact- the word “macabre” has its root in “Maccabee” because of the tales of torture and hardship.
There were rumblings of resistance among the Jews. Under the leadership of Mattathius, a priest from Modi’in, the resistors started to use guerilla tactics against the large, well organized Greek armies. When Mattathius died in 165 BCE his son Judah the Maccabee took over. His small band of fighters consistently defeated the royal troops.
In late 164 BCE Judah and his men managed to seize the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and purified the Temple. It was rededicated to Gd on the third anniversary of its dedication to the Greek god Zeus,on the 25th of Kislev.
The holiday lasts eight days. Some say it is an echo of the length of Sukkot. The popular reason is given for the eight day length is that only one cruse of pure oil was found for lighting the rebuilt Temple menorah. The oil should only have lasted one day but it lasted for eight days- the length of time it took to create new, ritually pure olive oil.
So- that is the history of Hanukkah. The illustration at the top of the page was inspired by The North French Miscellany, from France, 1290. The miscellany is a collection of texts including the “chumash” (5 books of Moses), prophets, writings, 5 megillot, Pesach Haggadah, prayers, legal texts and poetry by Moses ibn Ezra. There are 49 illustrations, most of them to do with Biblical stories, set in rondels or a circular form. The miscellany is found in the British library- one of the fantastic pieces in its collection of Jewish manuscripts.
For a nice Hanukkah treat watch this: