1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hanukkah

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HANUKKAH, a Jewish festival, the “Feast of Dedication” (cf. John x. 22) or the “Feast of the Maccabees,” beginning on the 25th day of the ninth month Kislev (December), of the Hebrew ecclesiastical year, and lasting eight days. It was instituted in 165 B.C. in commemoration of, and thanksgiving for, the purification of the temple at Jerusalem on this day by Judas Maccabaeus after its pollution by Antiochus Epiphanes, king of Syria, who in 168 B.C. set up a pagan altar to Zeus Olympius. The Talmudic sources say that when the perpetual lamp of the temple was to be relighted only one flask of holy oil sufficient for the day remained, but this miraculously lasted for the eight days (cf. the legend in 2 Macc. i. 18). In memory of this the Jews burn both in synagogues and in houses on the first night of the festival one light, on the second two, and so on to the end (so the Hillelites), or vice versa eight lights on the first, and one less on each succeeding night (so the Shammaites). From the prominence of the lights the festival is also known as the “Festival of Lights” or “Illumination” (Talmud). It is said that the day chosen by Judas for the setting up of the new altar was the anniversary of that on which Antiochus had set up the pagan altar; hence it is suggested (e.g. by Wellhausen) that the 25th of Kislev was an old pagan festival, perhaps the day of the winter solstice.

For further details and illustrations of Ḥanukkah lamps see Jewish Encyc., s.v.