From Figures of Faith: Jewish congregation rabbi talks about the meaning of Hanukkah

Photo by Tomertu/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

FEATURE — For the “From Figures of Faith” series, St. George News reached out to the Interfaith Council of St. George and asked if they had a message about the holiday season they would like to share with our readers.

The following was submitted by Rabbi Helene Ainbinder, Beit Chaverim, Jewish community of Southern Utah and the vice president of the Interfaith Council of St. George. The Beit Chaverim is the only Jewish congregation in St. George. The congregation welcomes Jewish people from all backgrounds and meets at the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, 611 N. 2450 East, St. George, Utah.


Hanukkah is celebrated on the Jewish calendar date of the 25th of Kislev, and it is known as the “Hag Ha’Urim,” the Festival of Lights. This Jewish holiday is not found in the Torah (The Five Books of Moses) because it is an historical event that took place in Judea (Israel) in 165 B.C.E.

The story is found in the collection of literature called the Aprocrypha (“hidden” books). This era was after the death of Alexander the Great and his empire was divided into four countries. Syria (followed the Greek Hellenistic ways) and Egypt. Judea was caught in the middle of the wars between the countries.

Antiochus IV became the king of Syria, and later he named himself: Antiochus Epiphanes (epiphanes being Greek for “G-d made manifest”). Antiochus Epiphanes wanted everyone in his country to follow the Hellenistic ways of the Greeks. The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated and Greek idols were placed inside to be worshiped. The Jewish people would not be assimilated and refused to bow down to idols.

The small city of Modin, a priest of the Jews named Matityahu (Mattathias) of the Hasmonean family, along with his five sons, rebelled against the Syrian-Greeks ways. Mattathias drew his sword and shouted, “All who are with G-d, follow me!”

They fled into the mountains and formed and a small army. Mattathias died shortly after the rebellion started. Judah became the general, and he took command of the small army.

They struck fast and fled into the forest after each attack. This was the first tactic of guerrilla warfare. Judah’s statue is at West Point in New York. Judah was known as Judah the Maccabee (hammerer). The men would shout out their battle cries: “Mi Khamokha ba’alim Adonai! (Who is like You among the gods, O Almighty!)”

Thus the acronym of the chant became the name for the rebels.

Twenty-five years the rebels fought to obtain the victory of the Maccabees over the Hellenistic Syrians. Simeon, brother to Judah, became the high priest and religious leader of the Jewish people.

First, the Jews needed pure oil to rededicate the Holy Temple. They found a small jar inside the Holy Temple to light the menorah (candelabrum). There is a famous midrash (story based on the Torah). I told it to my children and my students during family services, then to my grandchildren and now to you.

The oil should have lasted for one night, but it lasted for eight nights. The midrash is that the oil was made from the dove’s olive branches that Noah received on the ark! Noah saved one small jar of oil. A miracle!

The Rabbis Shammai and Hillel had academies of learning. Rabbi Shammai believed to light all eight candles and then diminish as the days progress. Rabbi Hillel believed to light one candles as the days unfold. Rabbi Hillel’s wisdom was followed. It was as if a lightning bolt woke up the Jewish people to fight for their religious freedom and independence.

The Holy Temple’s menorah had seven branches. Today, Jews kindle Hanukkiot with eight branches and a shamash (helper candle to light the eight candles). The Jews of Judea were a free nation and minted coins for currency.

Today, Jews give gelt (money) or for tz’dakah (righteous actions/charity) or chocolate coins to eat. Jewish people eat food made in oil, such as latkes (potato pancakes) or donuts filled with jelly. Since Jews could not teach Judaism on pain of death, they played a game of dreidels (tops) to fool Syrian soldiers and not get caught.

Lastly, Hanukkah in Hebrew means to study, educate and dedicate. Hanukkah is spelled many ways. Some like “Chanukah” because the Hebrew spelling uses the letter chet (sharp sounding) and not letter Hay (which is silent). Jews read the Book of Judith, who was the brave Jewish woman who slew general Holoferness to help win a battle for the Maccabees. This literature and Tobit were incorporated into the Vulgate (Latin Bible) and are found today in the Catholic Bible.

May the glow of Hanukkah candles warm your heart. May their lights shine over your holidays with peace, happiness and love. May it continue to brighten your year with many blessings.


St. George News will continue to add new messages to the “From Figures of Faith” series over the weekend leading up to Christmas Day. For all faith messages, click here.

Submissions are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • Mike P December 23, 2018 at 9:37 am

    I don’t understand, this has nothing to do with the LDS.

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