The Hanukkah Story

Hanukkah 2021 starts sunset Sunday, November 28th & ends sunset Monday, December 6.


“Hanukkah” means “Dedication” in Hebrew!

In 198 BC, the powerful King Antiochus III, ruler of the Seleucid Empire, took control of Jerusalem. Initially, the Jews welcomed him because he gave treasures to the Temple.
In 169-168 BC, the son of Antiochus III, Antiochus IV, became ruler of the Seleucid Empire. Antiochus IV was a very wicked man, and he gave himself the name “Epiphanes,” which means “god manifest.” However, the Jews called him “Epimames,” which means “the mad man”!

In 143 BC, after the conquest of Egypt, Antiochus Epiphanes decided to Hellenize the Jews to better control them, and he marched his armies against the towns of Judea. When the soldiers entered Jerusalem, their commander offered the people terms of peace and completely deceived them. Without warning, he launched a fierce attack on the city, dealing it a major blow and killing many of the people. He then plundered the city, set it on fire, and tore down its buildings and walls. They took women and children as prisoners and seized the cattle.

Antiochus Epiphanes sent messengers with a decree to Jerusalem and all the towns of Judea, ordering the Jews to follow customs that were foreign to them. He ordered them not to offer burnt offerings, grain offerings, or wine offerings in the Temple, and commanded them to treat the Sabbath and festivals as ordinary workdays. The Jews were even ordered to build pagan altars, temples, and shrines and ordered to sacrifice pigs and other unclean animals on the altar! They were forbidden to circumcise their sons, or “dedicate” them to God, and ordered to make themselves ritually unclean. Antiochus Epiphanes wanted the Jews to forget the Torah, disobey God’s commands, and worship him instead. The penalty for disobeying the king’s decree was death.

When the Seleucid army arrived in Modi’in, the commander approached Mattathias the Hasmonean and tried to bribe Mattathias to be the first one to bow down to a statue of Antiochus Epiphanes. The commander recognized that Mattathias was a Kohen (priest) and the commander thought that the Jews would follow Mattathias’ example. Before Mattathias could do anything, a Hellenized Jewish man stepped forward to comply with the order. Just as the man was about to bow to the statue, Mattathias thrust the man through with a spear and also killed one of the Seleucidan soldiers. Thus began the Maccabean revolt, which had long been simmering. The revolt was led by the brilliant Jewish military strategist, Judas Maccabee. After fierce fighting, the Maccabees defeated the larger Seleucidan army and delivered Jerusalem!

Unfortunately, the Temple had been deeply defiled, and the altar would need to be cleansed before it could be used by the Jews.

God told us the process that was necessary to sanctify the altar and the Tabernacle:

Leviticus 8:10-11: “Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and so consecrated them. He sprinkled the oil on the altar seven times and anointed the altar and all its utensils, the basin with its stand, to consecrate them.”

Ever since, the Jews have celebrated this time of deliverance and called it “Hanukkah,” or “The Feast of Dedication”!

P.S.: “Chanukkah” and “Hanukkah” are interchangeable! It’s a matter of personal preference.