Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Story Behind Hanukkah

My new "cozy mystery" series--Smoky Mountain Mysteries--has as its heroine a young Jewish woman who is just beginning her career as a college history professor. Because holidays play a major role in her story, I'll be highlighting some of the ways in which she and her friends and family celebrate. I'm starting with what is perhaps the best-known, but least understood, of the Jewish holidays. Here's the historical background:

Sundown on Thursday, December 10, 2020, marked the start of the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. It recalls the events of 167 BC, during which the Greek/Syrian king Antiochus IV tried to wipe out the Hebrew religion and practices of the Jews. His soldiers’ tactics involved much cruelty, the destruction of their holy books and artifacts, and extended to the defiling of the Temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a pig on the altar.

A rebellion led by Judas Maccabeus eventually frustrated their efforts, as the rebels recaptured their holy sites and rededicated the temple. The necessary ceremonies required the temple’s Menorah candles to burn for eight days, but the priests could find only one tiny vial of holy oil to fuel them. In what came to be known as the “Miracle of the Oil,” the vial kept replenishing itself so that the lights burned for the entire eight-day period. The celebration of Hanukkah commemorates the event over an eight-day period, the highlight of which is the lighting of the menorah.

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