Stillwater News Press


December 18, 2009

Jewish residents celebrate Hanukah

The Jewish holiday of Hanukah began at sundown Dec. 11 and lasts until Saturday. Jewish area residents are celebrating.

The holiday dates back to the second century BCE and commemorates the victory of a Jewish guerrilla army against the Syrians and the subsequent rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, said Oklahoma State University Foreign Language Professor Perry Gethner.

The Syrian ruler Antiochus IV essentially banned the Jewish religion, making its main practices punishable by death, Gethner said. A formal resistance movement developed, and after three years of fighting, they defeated the Syrian forces.

The religious persecution was lifted and the Syrian forces were withdrawn. A few years later the Hasmonean family, the leaders of the resistance who came from a priestly family and who had already named one of their number high priest, declared independence from Syria and installed one of their members as king.

“Significantly, the holiday commemorates not the military victory but the survival of the religion,” Gethner said. “The word ‘Hanukah’ means dedication, and it refers to the 8-day rededication ceremony that the Hasmoneans organized after the Temple had been purified and reopened for business.”

Cindy Christopher, a Jewish Stillwater resident, said each family celebrates Hanukah differently, some giving gifts one night or every night, depending on what traditions you grew up with.

“We have lit candles each night this week with my children, Jordan, who is six, and Aiden, who is four. My children each have their own menorah, and they have a lot of fun picking out what color candle they will use,” Christopher said.

The ritual of candle lighting probably dates from the first century CE, in the wake of the disastrous defeat of Jewish forces at the hands of the Romans, Gethner said.

“It symbolized the determination to keep the religion alive and the hope of recovering independence in the future. Eventually rules were set down about the ritual: a separate candle called shamash is used to light all the others; one candle is lit the first night, with an additional candle each successive night; special blessings are recited,” Gethner said.

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