And it was in the ninth year of [King Zaddekiah’s] reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth (day) of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, came, he and all his legions, upon Jerusalem, and encamped upon it and built forts around it. And the city came under siege until the eleventh year of King Zaddekiah. On the ninth of the month [of Av] the famine was intense in the city, the people had no bread, and the city was breached. (The Second Book of Kings 25:1-4)
The Talmud (Megillah 9a-b) relates that King Ptolemy II, the Greek king who ruled Egypt, placed 72 Jewish elders into 72 separate rooms and instructed each of them (individually) to translate the Torah into Greek. Translating any text from one language…
“A person should never discriminate among his children even to the extent of a thread [garment] weighing only two weight-measures of silk, similar to that which Jacob gave to Joseph but not to the other brothers” (Shabbat 10b).
Chanukah is neither directly ordained in the Torah (like Rosh Hashana, Passover, etc.) nor mentioned in any other biblical text (as Purim is in the Book of Esther). The Books of Maccabees are not included in the Biblical canon, because these events occurred after the sages had declared the Tanach (complete Hebrew bible) closed to further additions (around 250 B.C.E.). Writings, such as the Books of Maccabees, which have historical import but are not included in the Tanach, are often referred to as Sfarim Chitzonim (external books) or by the Greek term Apocrypha (hidden books).
Have you ever heard of Yehudit (Judith), the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, who saved her city, Bethulia, from destruction at the hands of the Syrian-Greek general Holofernes?
Chanukah always overlaps with at least one Shabbat (if not two), and since Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev and lasts for eight days, the holiday always coincides with the celebration of Rosh Chodesh(the new month of) Tevet. (Today, 30 Kislev, and tomorrow, 1 Tevet, are both Rosh Chodesh.) This is significant, because both Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat were loathed by the Syrian-Greeks and their observances were outlawed.
The desire for scholarly children was actually one of the motivations for the custom of giving Chanukah gelt (money). In modern times, money has been replaced by Chanukah presents. What is the connection between Chanukah lights, intelligent children and gelt?
The menorah, the symbol of the holiday of Chanukah, is actually a misnomer! “Menorah” is the name of the great seven-branched candelabra that was built in the wilderness following explicit Divine directions. It was used first in the Tabernacle and later stood in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Around the year 167 B.C.E., the Syrian-Greek rulers of Judea tried to force the Jews to assimilate into Hellenic culture. They summoned the Jews to the town squares where they were forced to worship idols or to sacrifice a pig before the idol.
Here’s a quiz:
What is the primary mitzvah of Chanukah?
a) Eating latkes (potato pancakes)
b) Giving Chanukah gifts or gelt (money)
c) Publicizing the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 days
d) Playing Dreidel