When was the first Hanukkah?

Answered by Ricardo McCardle

The first Hanukkah occurred in the year 164 B.C. during a time when the Land of Israel was under the oppressive rule of the Syrian Greeks. The Jewish people, led by the Maccabees, rose up against this foreign occupation and fought for their freedom and the right to practice their religion.

Prior to the events of Hanukkah, the Greeks had not only conquered the Land of Israel, but they had also desecrated the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. They had erected idols and pagan symbols within the holy sanctuary, completely disregarding the sacredness of the site to the Jewish people.

Furthermore, the Greeks sought to eradicate Judaism entirely by banning the practice of the religion. They forbade the observance of Jewish traditions, rituals, and laws, and imposed harsh penalties on those who refused to comply. Jewish people were forced to abandon their beliefs and conform to the Hellenistic way of life.

However, a group of brave Jewish fighters known as the Maccabees refused to submit to the Greek oppression. Led by Judah Maccabee, they launched a revolt against the Syrian Greeks and fought for their religious freedom. The Maccabees were initially a small band of rebels, but their determination and perseverance allowed them to gain support from other Jewish people who were also longing for liberation.

After several years of guerrilla warfare and battles, the Maccabees successfully defeated the Syrian Greeks and reclaimed the city of Jerusalem. The highlight of their victory was the recapture and purification of the desecrated Jewish Temple. The Maccabees cleansed the Temple and rededicated it to the service of God.

According to Jewish tradition, during the rededication of the Temple, only a small amount of purified oil was found to light the menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum that symbolizes the divine light. Miraculously, this small quantity of oil lasted for eight days, the time it took to produce new oil. This event is celebrated during Hanukkah, and the lighting of the menorah serves as a reminder of the miracle and the resilience of the Jewish people.

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated over eight nights. Each night, one additional candle is lit on the menorah, until all eight candles are aglow. Special prayers, songs, and blessings are recited, and families gather to enjoy festive meals and exchange gifts. Traditional foods, such as potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly-filled doughnuts (sufganiyot), are also enjoyed during this time.

Hanukkah holds great significance for Jewish people around the world. It serves as a reminder of the triumph of good over evil, the preservation of Jewish identity and faith, and the importance of religious freedom. The story of the first Hanukkah continues to inspire and unite Jewish communities, as they remember and honor the brave Maccabees who fought for their beliefs and the celebration of their heritage.