Hanukkah is about countering antisemitism: Be aware of Hanukkah Erasure

During the holiday season some schools and colleges ask Jewish students or employees to sing or song, bring a holiday food, or put up a decoration. This is sometimes done in a spirit of inclusivity, education, and anti-racism, which is wonderful.

But all too often schools and places of employment put restrictions on Jewish people; many have been told not to mention what Hanukkah is actually about. This creates the appearance of inclusion, while silencing and erasing the story of Hanukkah. In such cases Jewish people are being manipulated and gaslighted.  This is what all Jewish students, adult, and community leaders need to know:

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday also known as Hag Ha’urim (Festival of Lights). It is a Hebrew word meaning “dedication.”

The background to Hanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great, who in 332 BCE conquered Syria, Egypt and the area today known as Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan. Generously, Alexander then allowed people in the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions. They retained some autonomy. In this time and afterwards, Jewish people were free to live their lives and observe their faith.

More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, came to power He was a Hellenist, advocating that all people should be forced become worshippers of the pagan Greek deities. He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs on the altar.

With antisemites killing Jewish people merely for teaching Torah or keeping kosher, Jews rebelled. They started the first successful war for religious freedom.  Two Jewish groups opposed Antiochus: a nationalistic group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee, and a religious group known as the Chasidim, the forerunners of the Pharisees (no connection to the modern Chasidism). They joined forces. Their revolution succeeded and the Temple was rededicated.

The story of Hanukkah is found in the well known First Book of Maccabees.

There is a later tradition about these events in the Mishnah (the core book of Judaism’s oral law.) Here we read that at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Hellenists. Sacramental olive oil was needed for the Temple’s menorah, which was supposed to burn every evening. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of consecrated oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle.

The Hebrew name Maccabee means “hammer”, and referred first to a leader of the revolt, Judas, the third son of Mattathias. His military attacks were said to be “hammer-like”. The name eventually came to be used for his brothers as well, which accounts for the title of the book.

Hanukkah, as such, is not a “winter festival,” it is not the Jewish Christmas, and it isn’t about foods cooked in oil

An important point in being an anti-racist is listening to voices. Make space to learn from the lived experiences of Jewish people

The following slides come from Antisemitism Stories.

An important point in being an anti-racist is listening to voices. Make space to learn from the lived experiences of Jewish people

Antisemitism StoriesJewish On Campus

Antisemitism TodayPerspectives of Jewish students in schools

“You Don’t Look Jewish”ChallahBackGirls – perspective from Jewish teens

Hanukkah and the Maccabees in Christian art & music

Many people today feel that the story of Hannukah is of concern only for the Jewish community. Readers may thus be surprised that historically it has been the Christian community which has read the book of Maccabees more often, and has been producing art, sculpture and music based on it. In every way, the story of the Maccabees is a part of Western Civilization through both Jewish and Christian culture.  In this article we take a look at the art, music, and sculpture of Hannukah.

Related articles

Hanukkah: All about the holiday

Hanukkah is about countering antisemitism: Be aware of Hanukkah Erasure

Hanukkah in classical art and music

Halakhah of Hanukkah

The laws of Hanukkah,  A Guide to Religious Practice, Isaac Klein, JTS, Conservative Judaism

Practical Guide to the Laws of Ḥanukka according to the Geonic/ Maimonidean Tradition


Thanks for reading! Join us at Coffeehouse Torah Talk, our Facebook havurah (study fellowship.) While you’re here read about Jewish ethics, HalakhahholidaysKashrut (keeping kosher) , Lifecycle eventsMishnah and Talmud studyphilosophy & theologyTefila (prayer)Torah studyTanakh (bible) and Zionism.

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