Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):

The Story of Hanukkah

Hanukkah -- one of two holidays added to the Judahite calendar by the rabbis -- celebrates two kinds of miracles: 1) the military victory of the vastly out numbered Judahites against the Greeks; and 2) the spiritual victory of YEHOVAH's values over those of the Greek. It is this spiritual victory which is symbolized by the lights of Hanukkah. While not a commanded part of YEHOVAH's Holy Day calendar, Hanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication, was observed by the Messiah and should be an uplifting time of remembrance and thankfulness for YEHOVAH's salvation of His people Israel.

by HOIM Staff

To understand the origins of what came to be known as The Miracle of Light, history goes back to the reign of Alexander the Great. When Alexander the Great and his armies rolled through the Persian Empire in the latter half of the third century B.C., the lands on which the Judahite people lived came under his control. During his short lifetime, Alexander left the Judahites mostly alone. Under his rule they were an autonomous people, free to practice their religion without interference. This period commenced in 336 B.C.

The roots of the story of Hanukkah reach back to that time, especially the year 323 B.C. -- the year Alexander the Great died. Because he left no children able to lead his empire, Alexander divided it among four of his Generals. But the generals all fought among themselves for control, and in the end, two dominant generals emerged -- Seleucus III and Ptolemy I.

These events were all predicted in Daniel 8:21-22, when Daniel speaks of his vision of a ram and a goat.

The Judahites In Between

By the year 301 B.C., the Persian lands (now called Iraq) of Alexander were split in two empires, with the Seleucid Dynasty controlling the North and the Ptolemies controlled the south. Sitting in between -- the Judahites. For the next 125 years, the Judahites lived more or less on their own in Jerusalem and Judea, which were controlled by the Ptolemies, with little or no interference. Of course, during that 125 years, the Seleucids and Ptolemies were fighting over Jerusalem. In the year 199 B.C., the Seleucids finally won.

The Reign of Antiochus III

In order to relate the story that led up to Hanukkah, we shall start with Antiochus III, the King of Syria, who reigned from 222 to 186 B.C. He had waged war with King Ptolemy of Egypt over the possession of the Land of Israel. Antiochus III was victorious and the Land of Israel was annexed to his empire in 198 B.C. At the beginning of his reign he was favorably disposed toward the Judahites and accorded them some privileges. The Judahites thought times might now improve. The constant battle over their land had ended, and they welcomed the young King Antiochus. But, they were very wrong. While things were better for a little while, they never bargained for the troubles that would be brought on by Antiochus' successor.

The great general Hannibal, having been defeated by the Romans in 202 B.C., went to Antiochus to recover and lick his wounds. While he was there, he advised Antiochus on how to fight the Romans. He convinced Antiochus to invade Greece. When the invasion failed, the Romans declared war on Antiochus, which culminated in a loss in 190 B.C. As was common practice in those days, the Romans made Antiochus pay a great deal of money, both as war reparations and as punishment, because Antiochus had allied himself with Hannibal. The Romans compelled Antiochus to pay heavy taxes, the burden of which fell upon the various peoples of his empire who were forced to furnish the heavy gold that was required of him by the Romans. To make sure that Antiochus paid, they took a hostage, whom they held for 12 years -- Antiochus' son Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

When Antiochus died in 186 B.C., his son Seleucus IV took over, and further oppressed the Israelites of Judea.

Taxing the Judahites

Seleucus IV still had to pay the Romans, so he taxed the Judahites. The Judahites were divided about paying the taxes. The High Priest Onias III objected to paying the taxes, saying it would be a sin to pay money to the Seleucid Empire. Onias' brother, Jason, disagreed, and slandered Onias to the King in order to become High Priest, a position he coveted. (There is some dispute about whether or not Jason was Onias' brother.)

Onias was opposed to any attempt on the part of the Judean Hellenists to introduce Greek and Syrian customs into the land. The Hellenists, therefore, hated him. One of them told the King's commissioner that in the treasury of the Temple there was a great deal of wealth.

The wealth in the treasury consisted of the contributions of "half a shekel" made by all adult Judahites annually. That was given for the purpose of the sacrifices on the altar, as well as for fixing and improving the Temple building. Another part of the treasury consisted of orphans’ funds which were deposited for them until they became of age. Seleucus needed money in order to pay the Romans. In 178 B.C. he sent his minister Helyodros to take the money from the treasury of the Temple. In vain did Onias, the High Priest, beg him not to do it. Helyodros did not listen and entered the gate of the Temple. But suddenly, he became pale with fright. The next moment he fainted and fell to the ground. After Helyodros came to, he did not dare enter again. Evidently, YEHOVAH's Shekinah Glory put paid to Helyodros' attempt to rob the Temple treasury!

Many of the finer details are unclear about this aspect of the Hanukkah story, for the reasons mentioned above, but also because over the years, translations from language to language may have changed what were very similar names.

The Allure of Greek Culture

In 175 B.C., Antiochus IV Epiphanes, having returned after being a hostage to the Romans for 12 years, killed Seleuces IV and took the throne. Jason, Onias' brother, then became the High Priest. Antiochus Epiphanes was not nearly so gracious as far as the Judahites were concerned. He wanted to Hellenize all of his people to create a single, hegemonic empire.

There were now two sets of powerful forces working against the Judahites.

Added to the troubles from the outside were the grave perils that threatened Biblical Judaism from within. The influence of the Hellenists (people who accepted idol-worship and the Syrian way of life) was increasing. Onias, the former High Priest, foresaw the danger to Judaism from the penetration of Syrian-Greek influence into the Holy Land. For, in contrast to the ideal of outward beauty held by the Greeks and Syrians, Biblical Judaism emphasized truth and moral purity, as commanded by YEHOVAH God in the Old Testament or Torah. The Judahite people could never give up their faith in YEHOVAH God and accept the idol-worship of the Syrians.

However, Greek culture was very alluring to many Judahites. Greek philosophy, art, architecture and culture were very seductive to the Judahite people. Many of them began to adopt Greek modes of dress, speech and manner. They also became enamored of the Greek notions of physical beauty and health, to the point where some actually tried to reverse their circumcisions so they would be admitted to Greek health clubs. Just as has happened with the Jews in the United States during the last hundred or more years, many of the Judahite people became assimilated.

In addition, Antiochus really placed enormous pressure on the Judahites to abandon their religion.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes Outlaws Judaism

Antiochus Epiphanes was a tyrant of a rash and impetuous nature, contemptuous of religion and of the feelings of others. He was called "Epiphanes," meaning "the gods’ beloved." Several of the Syrian rulers received similar titles. But a historian of his time, Polebius, gave him the epithet Epimanes ("madman"), a title more suitable to the character of this harsh and cruel king.

Desiring to unify his kingdom through the medium of a common religion and culture, Antiochus tried to root out the individualism of the Judahites by suppressing all the Judahite Laws. He removed the righteous High Priest, Onias, from the Temple in Jerusalem, and in his place installed Onias' brother Joshua, who loved to call himself by the Greek name of Jason. For he was a member of the Hellenist party, and he used his high office to spread more and more of the Greek customs among the priesthood.

Joshua or Jason was later replaced by another man, Menelaus, who had promised the king that he would bring in more money than Jason did. When Onias, the former High Priest, protested against the spread of the Hellenists’ influence in the Temple, the ruling High Priest hired murderers to assassinate him.

Antiochus was at that time engaged in a successful war against Egypt. But messengers from Rome arrived and commanded him to stop the war, and he had to yield. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a rumor spread that a serious accident had befallen Antiochus. Thinking that he was dead, the people rebelled against Menelaus. The treacherous High Priest fled together with his friends.

Antiochus returned from Egypt in 168 B.C., enraged by Roman interference with his ambitions. When he heard what had taken place in Jerusalem, he ordered his army to fall upon the Judahites. Thousands of Judahites were killed. Antiochus then enacted a series of harsh decrees against the Judahites. Judahite worship was forbidden; the scrolls of the Law were confiscated and burned. Sabbath rest, circumcision and the dietary laws were prohibited under penalty of death. Even one of the respected elders of that generation, Rabbi Eliezer, a man of 90, was ordered by the servants of Antiochus to eat pork so that others would do the same. When he refused they suggested to him that he pick up the meat to his lips to appear to be eating. But Rabbi Eliezer refused to do even that and was put to death. If soldiers found a circumcised newborn child, they publicly executed both the baby and the mother.

Antiochus' men went from town to town and from village to village to force the inhabitants to worship pagan gods. Only one refuge area remained and that was the hills of Judea with their caves. But even there did the Syrians pursue the faithful Judahites, and many a Judahite died a martyr's death.

Antiochus required all citizens to worship the Greek Gods and to eat pork -- something to this day forbidden to Israelites. Those who refused were tortured and killed.

There were thousands of others who likewise sacrificed their lives. The famous story of Hannah and her seven children happened at that time.

Hannah and Her Seven Sons

An interesting story is told of Hannah and her sevens sons. Antiochus ordered that they be brought before him. He asked Hannah and her children to worship an idol and eat the meat of a pig. Each refused, and each was tortured and put to death in front of the remaining family members. One by one the enraged Antiochus slaughtered all of Hannah’s sons. As the last one lay dying, Hannah, praying to YEHOVAH God that she be considered worthy in the Kingdom, killed herself.

In 167 B.C. the King built idols to the Greek Gods in the Temple and then sent his officers to have sex with prostitutes in the sanctuary, which he then further defiled by slaughtering a pig there.

The Maccabeean Revolt

It was only a matter of time until the Judahites rose up and started a revolution. In 166 B.C., they finally did, in the person of Judah “The Hammer” Maccabee.

Judea itself was, and still is, rough territory, with deserts and rocky elevations as high as 3,000 feet. As the Kings armies extended their terror tactics to areas outside of Jerusalem, devout Judahites who defied the King’s orders fled to the only place they could be even a little safe -- the mountains.

One day the henchmen of Antiochus arrived in the village of Modin where Mattathias, the old priest, lived. The Syrian officer built an altar in the marketplace of the village and demanded that Mattathias offer sacrifices to the Greek gods. Mattathias replied, "I, my sons and my brothers are determined to remain loyal to the covenant which our God made with our ancestors!"

Thereupon, a Hellenistic Judahite approached the altar to offer a sacrifice. Mattathias grabbed his sword and killed him, and his sons and friends fell upon the Syrian officers and men. They killed many of them and chased the rest away. They then destroyed the altar.

Mattathias knew that Antiochus would be enraged when he heard what had happened. He would certainly send an expedition to punish him and his followers. Mattathias, therefore, left the village of Modin and fled together with his sons and friends to the hills of Judea.

All loyal and courageous Judahites joined them. They formed legions and from time to time they left their hiding places to fall upon enemy detachments and outposts, and to destroy the pagan altars that were built by order of Antiochus.

Mattathias and His Army of Judahites

Mattathias and his sons hid in the hills of Judea. Together with others that dared to defy Antiochus, he created an army of Judahites who refused to give in to Antiochus. They had all fled and left behind all their possessions, vowing to die in battle rather than allow Antiochus to continue. They formed legions of soldiers and used guerrilla warfare techniques to attack Antiochus' forces.

We don't know exactly how large this Maccabee army was, but even the most optimistic estimates put the number at no more than 12,000 men. This tiny force took on the fighting Seleucid Greek army of  more than 40,000 men.

It wasn't just a numerical superiority that the Greeks had. The Greeks were professional soldiers with superior equipment -- including a herd of war elephants that were the tanks of the ancient world. The Judahites were vastly outnumbered, poorly trained and poorly equipped (not to mention, they had no elephants!), but what they lacked in training and equipment they made up in fighting spirit encouraged by the belief that YEHOVAH God was fighting their cause.

Mattathias, who was already an old man when he started the war, died in 166 B.C., less than a year after he started the war. His middle son, Judah, took over, and proved to be a masterful tactician and leader. He continued to wage war against the Syrian armies, defeating ever-more powerful attacks against the Judahites.

Antiochus sent his General Apolonius to wipe out Judah and his followers, the Maccabees. Though greater in number and equipment than their adversaries, the Syrians were defeated by the Maccabees. Antiochus sent out another expedition which also was defeated. He realized that only by sending a powerful army could he hope to defeat Judah and his brave fighting men.

An army consisting of more than 40,000 men swept the land under the leadership of two commanders, Nicanor and Gorgiash. When Judah and his brothers heard of that, they exclaimed: "Let us fight unto death in defense of our lives and our Temple!" The people assembled in Mitzpah, where Samuel, the prophet of old, had offered prayers to YEHOVAH God.

Most of the battles took place in the foothills leading from the coastal plain (Tel Aviv) to Jerusalem. The Greeks tried to march their armies up the natural canyons that lead into the mountain areas -- the stronghold of the Judahite army. There were only a few places where the Greeks could ascend and this was where the Maccabees chose to take them on.

After a series of battles the Judahites were able to re-conquer Jerusalem and the war was won.

The Origin of the Word, “Maccabee”

Judah acquired the name “Ha Maccabee.” There are two schools of thought about the meaning of the word “Maccabee.” One maintains that it is derived from the Aramaic word "maqqaba", which means hammer. The other school of thought holds that it comes from the first letters of the Old Testament passage Exodus 15:11 “Mi kamokha ba'elim YHVH” (Who is like unto thee, O LORD), the first letters of which are MKBE or Maccabee.

The Miracle of Light

In 165 B.C., the Maccabees reclaimed the city of Jerusalem and the Temple for the Judahite people! They entered the Temple and cleared it of the idols placed there by the Syrian vandals. Judah and his followers built a new altar, which he dedicated on the twenty-fifth of the month of Kislev. We read of this in the Book of Maccabees:

"Early in the morning of the 25th day of the ninth month which is the month of Kislev...they [the priests] rose and offered sacrifices, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offerings which they had built...it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals....So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days..." (I Maccabees 4:52-56).

Since the golden Menorah had been stolen by the Syrians, the Maccabees now made one of cheaper metal. When they went to light it, they found only a small cruse of pure oil bearing the seal of the High Priest Onias. It was sufficient to light only for one day. By a miracle of YEHOVAH God, it continued to burn for eight days, till new oil was made available. While not mentioned in the Book of Maccabees, this miracle is found mentioned in the Talmud:

"...and when the royal Hasmonean House gained the upper hand and vanquished them [the Greeks], [the Hasmoneans] searched and found only one flask of oil...with the Kohen Gadol's [High Priest's] seal, and it contained only [enough oil] to burn for one day. A miracle occurred and it burned for eight days" (Talmud, Shabbat 21b).

That miracle proved that YEHOVAH God had again taken His people under His protection. In memory of this, the Judahite sages appointed these eight days for annual thanksgiving and for lighting lamps.

Hanukkah -- one of two holidays added to the Judahite calendar by the rabbis -- celebrates two kinds of miracles: 1) the military victory of the vastly outnumbered Judahites against the Greeks; and 2) the spiritual victory of YEHOVAH's values over those of the Greek. It is this spiritual victory which is symbolized by the lights of Hanukkah.

After Hanukah

The brightness of the first Hanukah light had dwindled down. But the holy fires on the altar burnt again in the Temple, from morning to morning, as prescribed by the Law. The priests were again busily officiating in the old customary ways, and day in, day out they prepared the offerings. Order and peace seemed established.

The Judahite farmer longed to return to his land after two years of hardship, privation and danger in the victorious Judahite army. It was high time to break the ground and to till the soil, if the barley was to grow and ripen in time for "Omer-offering" on Passover. The Judahite farmers had left their ploughs to rally about the heroic house of Mattathias. The first victories had drawn even the hesitant into the ranks of the enthusiastic Judahite rebels, led by the sons of Mattathias. Farmers had forsaken their land, merchants and tradesmen their stores and shops. Even Torah students had emerged from the four walls of the Temple to join the fight against the oppressors.

But the songs of victory, which had filled the reclaimed Temple with praise and gratitude for the merciful YEHOVAH God, had ceased. The goal of the battle seemed reached, and Torah again was supreme law in Israel.

The rededication of the Temple, however, did not end the fight. A Greek garrison remained stationed in Jerusalem in the Acra fortress and the Greek armies besieged Jerusalem and attempted to re-conquer the city.

One man, though, realized that the time for a return to normal living had not yet come. Israel could not yet afford to relax; it would have to stand ready and prepare to carry on the fight against the overwhelming odds of the enemy. This man was Judah Maccabee. His name was upon everyone's lips and in every Judahite heart. He was admired as a hero, as a man with the heart of a lion and the simple piety of a child; as the one whose mighty armies fought and conquered, yet who never failed to pray to YEHOVAH God, the Master of all battles, before he entered the fray.

It was not the spirited warrior's joy that made Judah Maccabee stay in camp. His heart, too, longed to return to his former peaceful life, to Modin, the quiet town of priests, which held the grave of his adored father. Bloodshed and battle meant a hard and unwanted profession for the men of Judea, who preferred peace to strife. Yet this was no time for relenting. Not only had he to stay, but with all the persuasion of his magnetic personality he had to hold back his comrades-at-arms. His own reasoning and his two wise brothers, Simeon and Jonathan, told him that only the first phase of this war of liberation had passed.

Hard and desperate times were yet to come. Clever enemies merely needed an extended lull to prepare new assaults with more troops and better equipment. And there were enemies all about Judea, besides the defeated Syrians. The neighboring countries begrudged the dazzling victories of the small Judahite armies. They would much rather have seen the people of Judea oppressed and humiliated, than armed and spirited, a threat to their own lands. Whence had come the sudden source of strength, courage and fortitude? What was there in this nation that made history in proud seclusion and isolation from other nations? Old hatred was revived. The descendants of Edom, the Idumenas, the Ammonites, the Philistines and Phoenicians, they all revived their ancient jealousies.

Messengers arrived from Gilead. The pagan people joined forces to destroy Judea. From Galilee came the bad news of similar evil intentions and active preparations in Ptolomais, Tyre and Zidon. The messengers found Judah Maccabee already at work. Fortifications had to be thrown up around Zion. Towers, walls, battlements and moat had to be constructed opposite the fort still held by their worst enemies, the Hellenistic Judahites, under the leadership of the false priest Menelaus. These hated everything Judahite, and lived in the hope of the return of the Syrian masters. Judah Maccabee prepared Jerusalem against them and against imminent assault by the troops of Antiochus. Under his supervision the Judahite people worked feverishly to refill their arsenals and turn the whole country into a stronghold.

Once this most important task was accomplished, Judah Maccabee led his freshly trained troops to the aid of the regions and villages harassed by the spiteful neighbors of Judea. He drove the Idumeans from Hebron, which they had annexed, and he punished the people who had acted with hostility towards the Judahite settlers. Then he led his army across the Jordan River against the Ammonites. Their capital fell before the furious onslaught of the Judahite troops, and so did their fortress, Yaeser.

Judah's brother Simeon led an army north to aid the plagued Benjamites of Galilee. He defeated the enemy and cleared the Benjamite land. At his urging, a great many of the Judahite settlers who had fled to Jerusalem, returned to rebuild in safety what had been destroyed during the years of weakness. Judah Maccabee and Jonathan joined forces and marched against Gilead, where they were met with the toughest resistance. By Shavuot, this campaign was successfully concluded. It took 25 years of fighting and a great many casualties on both sides until the Selucid Greeks finally reached a peace agreement with the Judahites under Simeon (the last survivor of the five sons of Mattathias) in 142 B.C.

"In [that] year, Israel was released from the gentile yoke; the people began to write on their contracts and agreements: 'In the first year of Simon, the great High Priest, general and leader of the Jews'" (I Maccabees 13:41-42).

Judea was again free, and all the regions captured by the neighboring nations had been recovered. Celebrations and festivity transformed Jerusalem and the Temple, hardly half a year after the victories over the Syrian armies. The Judean people expressed their joy and gratitude to YEHOVAH God in the form of psalms and offerings. For He had restored glory and liberty to the Judahite and Benjamite lands.

The Traditions of Hanukkah

According to Jewish sources today, Hanukkah spreads holiday cheer in every Jewish household. Hanukkah traditions, however, are strictly followed to celebrate the festival:

[*] One of the very important Hanukkah traditions is lighting the nine-branched candelabrum or Menorah. One candle is lit on each night of the eight-day festival. Three Jewish prayers are chanted before the candles on the Menorah are lit. According to the Hanukkah tradition, an extra candle is used to light the rest of the candles of the candelabrum.

[*] The extra candle is called as the "Shamash" or the "servant candle", the single candle located at the middle of the candelabrum.

[*] After all the lights are kindled, Hanukkah songs are sung as part of the Hanukkah traditions.

[*] Traditional Hanukkah food is cooked during the festival with oil as the key ingredient. Jelly doughnuts, yeast doughnuts, potato/vegetable fried latkes, pancakes, deep fried puffs and roasted chicken are some of the most common foods served during the festival.

[*] Decorative Hanukkah centerpieces are placed on the dining tables.

[*] Gift giving is another popular Hanukkah tradition. Gift giving is one of the important Hanukkah traditions. Children receive small gifts from their parents. People eagerly send Hanukkah gift baskets and Hanukkah flowers to their near and dear ones, which is their way to say "Happy Hanukkah"!

[*] During the festival, Jews decorate their houses with wooden dreidels and the Star of David.

[*] All through the eight days of celebrations, people engage themselves in various activities such as singing Hanukkah songs, Hanukkah prayers, playing Hanukkah games, and making Hanukkah crafts.

Are These Traditions Legitimate?

Let's take a look at the lighting of the nine-branched Hanukkah menorah. Jewish tradition says that one candle is lit on each night of the eight-day festival. But, is this true -- did the menorah at the rededication of the Temple really have candles?

Menorah Candles

While the lighting of candles certainly conveys the historicity of the event, the fact is that candles were not used in the nine-branched menorah until many centuries after the rededication of the Temple. Contrary to most modern designs the ancient seven-branched Menorah and the Hanukkah menorah did not contain or hold anything resembling seven or nine candles, since candles were unknown in the Middle East until about 400 A.D. Many people erroneously conclude that the use of candles in religious services had its beginning in the sanctuary erected by Moses in the wilderness. Was there not a golden candlestick in the first apartment? It is true that an unfortunate translation describes the seven-branched lampstand as a "candlestick." But, as the Jewish Encyclopedia notes, there were no candles in Jewish religious services until comparatively modern times (volume 6, pages 517-518). This includes Hanukkah.

So where did the use of candles in religious services in both Judaism and Christianity come from? Taken from pagan festivals and rituals, candles insidiously found their way into Jewish and Christian worship as they lost the simplicity and devotion of apostolic times. Lactantius, himself a convert from heathenism, understood clearly the place of candles in heathen worship. The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (volume 3, page 188) goes on to say:

"We may take it as established beyond dispute that there was no ceremonial use of candles...in Christian worship or in churches for the first three centuries. Up to that time the spiritual simplicity of worship as well as the strong antagonism to heathen customs which characterized the early days still continued, and found expression in occasional protests against the corrupting effect of heathen customs."

However candles, along with many another accessory of heathen worship, found their way into the church (and synagogue and Jewish homes) in the days of the great apostasy. Jerome wrote of the practice of burning candles during the reading of the Gospel throughout the Eastern churches. By the end of the fourth century, according to Chrysostom, candles burning on the altars of churches was a usual sight. Candlemas, a "Christianized" pagan festival, was dedicated to Mary. This ancient feast required the purification of the whole house in anticipation of the return of the sun, and by lighting candles and torches in memory of Ceres searching for Proserpina.

These historic explanations of the use of candles in Jewish and "Christian" services reveal their origin in heathen worship. Along with other pagan customs they were adopted by Rome and, in these later years, have found their way into the synagogue and Protestant church services.

However, this doesn't take away from observing Hanukkah -- the reason for the observance should be kept in mind without the lighting of candles. There are LED Hanukkah menorahs available where the battery powered lights can be turned on from from one LED to the next for the eight days of the feast.

The Middle Candle Called "Shamash"

While the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah lasts for eight days, the candelabra that Jews use to observe this feast has nine candles -- why nine? According to Jewish sources there are eight candles for the eight nights of Hanukkah and a ninth candle called the "Shamash." They claim that they need an extra candle in order to light the actual Hanukkah candles since it is forbidden to light one candle from the next since that would, they claim, be demeaning to the rabbinic command to keep Hanukkah. Therefore, to avoid this, they have an "attending" candle named the Shamash since this word, to them, literally means "the attendant." To back this up, they point out that the beadle (officer of the synagogue) is also called a Shamash because he is the synagogue attendant.

Therefore, they say, we have an "attending" candle. Even after lighting the candelabra the Jews don't extinguish the Shamash; instead they place it in close proximity to the other candles. This way, if one of the eight candles blows out -- or if a candle is needed for any other task -- they will use the Shamash instead of one of the eight candles.

But that's not all. In order to differentiate between the eight Hanukkah candles and the Shamash, they make sure that they are at different heights. In other words, the Shamash is placed either above or below the other candles. Thus, they say, a pedestrian on the street would be able to tell which candles are the Hanukkah candles and would quickly be able to determine what night of Hanukkah is being observed.

This is all very well and good, but quite irrelevant since we have shown above that candles were never used during this feast in ancient times, and were introduced into the Hanukkah celebration from pagan sources! But even more insidious -- "Shamash" was the name of the Akkadian sun god! According to the New World Encyclopedia,

"In Mesopotamian religion Shamash was the Akkadian name of the sun god, corresponding to Sumerian Utu. In mythology, Shamash was the son of the moon god Sin (known as Nanna in Sumerian), and thus the brother of the goddess Ishtar (Sumerian Inanna), who represented the great 'star' of Venus. In early inscriptions, Shamash's consort was the goddess Aya, whose role was gradually merged with that of Ishtar. In later Babylonian astral mythology, Sin, Shamash, and Ishtar formed a major triad of divinities, which still today plays an important role in astrological systems, though under different names.

"In addition to being the god of the sun, Shamash was also the deity of justice. An inscription left by King Hammurabi indicates that his famous law code was inspired and promulgated at Shamash's command. In some cases, Shamash was seen as governing the entire universe and was pictured as a king on his throne with his staff and signet ring.

"Shamash is depicted as overcoming darkness and death. In the Epic of Gilgamesh he assisted the hero's victory over the monster Humbaba, guardian of the deep forests of Lebanon. Like the later Apollo, he made his daily journey through the heavens, either on horseback, in a chariot, or on a boat. His main cult center in Sumer was the city of Larsa, and in Akkad his primary temple was in Sippar. In Canaanite tradition, the sun god was Shemesh, the "torch of the gods," but was described as female. The worship of Shemesh/Shamash was also practiced among the Israelites, although it was forbidden by the prophets and biblical writers."

That's an understatement! YEHOVAH God vehemently condemned the worship of pagan gods by the Israelites and it was one of a number of reasons why He caste His people from His sight. It appears that more than a little paganism has crept into the present-day Jewish observance of Hanukkah! The ninth light or candle (the Shamash) is a later perversion by the rabbis since, in ancient times, the lamps used by Israelites to observe Hanukkah in their homes had eight holes for lighting.

Ancient Hanukkah Lamp

Now let's take a look at the wooden dreidels.


With the arrival of Hanukkah comes the reemergence of dreidels from closets, drawers and cupboards. These tops are a beloved part of the holiday -- but where did they actually come from?

Like many things in Jewish history, the story that most Jews have heard about dreidels as children is entirely mythological. There were no dreidels in ancient times, and the tops were not used as a way to conceal Torah study from the Greeks. In fact, the dreidel originally had nothing to do with Hanukkah, or even with Jews, at all.

Although its exact origins are lost to history, a top that would later evolve into the dreidel was brought from Ireland (or perhaps England) to Germany during the late Roman period. Men would gamble with a top known as a “teetotum” in bars and inns. Originally the letters on the teetotum corresponded to the first letters of the Latin words for “nothing,” “half,” “everything” and “put in.”

The game was particularly popular around Christmas time, and whirled its way to other parts of Europe.

A Wooden Dreidel

Germany also appears to be where Jewish children caught wind of the game and -- like the Christmas-inspired gift-giving that has been incorporated into Hanukkah festivities -- adopted it, transforming it into a holiday pastime.

In Germany the teetotum evolved into the “trendel,” and soon featured the German letters which corresponded to the game’s rules. When the Ashkenazi Jews [1] adopted the trendel they transliterated the letters into the Hebrew alphabet to represent Yiddish words: shin, for shtel arayn (put in); nun, for nit (not, i.e., nothing); gimmel, for gants (whole, i.e. everything); and hey, for halb (half). The letters were simply a mnemonic device to help players remember the rules and to determine who would gain or lose money after each spin.

The word trendel would eventually become "dreidel" (literally meaning “a little spinning thing”) in most Yiddish dialects, although other regional terms such as goyrl (destiny), and varfl (a little throw) would remain in wide use until the Holocaust.

When dreidels reached non-Yiddish-speaking Jewish communities, these Jews did not understand the meaning of the letters and began to seek explanations. Some felt that the four letters might correspond to the four ancient nations that tried to destroy Israel -- Babylon, Persia, Greece and the Roman Empire. Others noticed that the value of the four letters according to gematria, Jewish numerology, was 358, the same as the value for the four letters in the Hebrew word Moshiach, or Messiah.

Neither explanation became as popular, however, as the explanation that the four letters were an abbreviation of the Hebrew words nes gadol haya sham (a great miracle happened there). This explanation didn’t become popular until after the game had begun to be associated with Hanukkah. The linkage of the four Hebrew letters on the top to the story of Hanukkah is apparently the origin of the legends about the dreidel being used to hide the study of Torah shortly before the Maccabean revolt.

After the emergence of the Zionist movement, the name of the dreidel was not only changed to sevivon in modern Hebrew (a word coined by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s son at the age of five) but the dreidel itself was altered. On most Israeli dreidels the shin has been replaced with the letter peh, so that the Hebrew abbreviation corresponds to nes gadol haya po (a great miracle happened here). Because of the change, the original Yiddish mnemonic device was disrupted. Meanwhile in America, where the dreidel usually retains its original shin, the Yiddish words that correspond to the letters on the top have been largely forgotten.

The Star of David

Today, the Star of David is the most popular and universally recognized symbol of the Jewish People. In his seminal work entitled the Star of Redemption (1912), Franz Rosenzweig framed his philosophy of Judaism around the image of the Jewish star, composed of two conceptual "triads," which together form the basis of Jewish belief: Creation, Revelation, and Redemption; God, Israel, and World. On the popular level, Jews continue to use the Jewish star as it was used for centuries: as a magical amulet of good luck and as a secularized, though pagan, symbol of Jewish identity.

With Jewish emancipation following the French Revolution, Jews began to look for a symbol to represent themselves comparable to the cross used by their "Christian" neighbors. They settled upon the six-pointed star, principally because of its heraldic associations. Its geometric design and architectural features greatly appealed to synagogue architects, most of whom were non-Jews. Ironically, the religious Jews of Europe and the Orient, already accustomed to seeing hexagrams on kabbalistic amulets, accepted this secularized emblem of the "enlightened" Jews as a legitimate Jewish symbol, even though it had no religious content or scriptural basis.

In the 19th century, Jews almost universally adopted the Star of David as a symbol of their race -- only decades after the Rothschilds adopted this symbol in 1822 as their family coat of arms. Since the Rothschilds were Kabbalists, they adopted this powerful magic symbol for their coat of arms in order to claim its inherent occult power as their own.

"Why and how did the six-pointed star -- the pagan occult symbol -- become connected with the MODERN state of Israel? It was adopted as the family crest or shield by the Rothschild family during the 19th century. The Rothschilds bought a great deal of property in Israel, from the Turks and Arabs, and were amongst the major supporters of the Zionist movement in the early decades. The influence of the Rothschilds and their heavy financial support of Israel, led the Jewish nation to adopt the so-called 'Star of David' as their own symbol as a nation" (William F. Dankenbring, The "Star of David" is Pagan!). 

The Pagan "Star of David"

The Star of David (Magen David) is a pagan symbol for a pagan, gentile people [2] who usurped the role of YEHOVAH God's chosen people and who, as a result, have brought down YEHOVAH's condemnation upon themselves! The Ashkenazi Jews fulfill the prophecies of the "Synagogue of Satan" found mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

Hanukkah Gift Giving

It is a fact that most Jews around the world barely acknowledge Hanukkah. The American Hanukkah -- with its decorations and gift exchanges and excess -- is closely tied to Christmas. What's interesting is that Hanukkah has become a big-deal commercial holiday in America for many of the same reasons that pagan Christmas has -- it's really a great way to sell more goods to consumers!

Dianne Ashton's book Hanukkah in America: A History [3] explains that by the 19th century,

"the rising consumer economy and expansion of department stores embraced and promoted the new Christmas customs."

Prior to that time Christmas celebrations (where they occurred at all) often included alcohol consumption and the firing of muskets in the streets. As the way people celebrate Christmas shifted over time, so too did the Jewish celebrations of Hanukkah. In short, they both became more commercial. Ashton writes that:

"Further blurring the holiday boundaries, Jewish merchants -- from the wealthy Strauss family that owned R. H. Macy's to the many small shopkeepers such as Sam M. Lederer, who owned a modest dry-goods store -- used Santa Claus images in their advertising each December. These customs turned Christmas into what one Reform rabbi in Philadelphia called a 'universal Volkfest' with secular spirit. He thought that Jews should participate in those customs to 'knit [themselves] with the rest of rejoicing humanity into a bond of social brotherhood.' A reformer in St. Louis, Missouri, agreed. He suggested that Christmas was only an adaption of Hanukkah, because both are joyous, light-filled, winter rededication to religion; his own children enjoyed Christmas."

According to Ashton,

"One of the things that happens after World War II in the 1950s in the U.S. is that Jewish child psychologists start writing about how to keep Jewish kids psychologically healthy during Christmas and they start promoting gifts. Rabbis in the 1950s start promoting gifts. People were really concerned about Jewish children being happy to remain Jewish in December, especially post-Holocaust when Judaism must have seemed negative in a lot of ways....People were trying to find ways to make Jewish kids happy to be Jewish."

It seems, Ashton explains, that many Jews started to adopt the elements of Christmas -- trees, shopping, Santa -- that surrounded them, even when they were celebrating Hanukkah.

Many international Jews find this scenario puzzling and see it as a contamination of Judaism. There's even a movement among some Jewish groups to de-emphasize Hanukkah gift-giving. "The gift-giving makes the festival something that is tremendously anticipated, especially by children," said Rabbi Daniel Schiff of a Pittsburgh-area Reform Synagogue several years ago, according to an old article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's the Christianization of the Jewish calendar, because our principal, focal time of the year should be the New Year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur."

As we have seen, Hanukkah is a real holiday for those of us descended from Israel -- but it's a MINOR holiday. Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Old Testament, and is only mentioned once by name (Feast of Dedication -- John 10:22) in the New Testament. Celebrating it to great excess -- with decorations and gifts of toys, etc. -- would be like celebrating Arbor Day with decorations and presents!

Those of us descended from Israel, and who understand the pagan origins of Christmas and everything associated with it, don't feel the need to make a big deal out of observing Hanukkah. The real observation of Hanukkah involves commemorating freedom and the hand of YEHOVAH God  in saving His people Israel from the pagan influences at the time of the Maccabees.


It is perhaps easy to overlook the Messianic expectation connected with a festival that celebrated the rededicating of the Temple, but clearly there were many zealous Judahites who were waiting for the arrival of the greater son of David (Mashiach ben David) to remove the Roman control of Judea and rule over YEHOVAH's people Israel. After all, this was the great Zionist ideal repeatedly envisioned by the Old Testament prophets. One day YEHOVAH God would send the Messiah to destroy Israel's enemies and establish YEHOVAH's Kingdom upon the earth. Israel would then be exalted above the oppressive nations and universal peace would finally reign. The wolf would lay down with the lamb and YEHOVAH God would wipe away all tears of mourning. The words of the Hebrew prophets would finally be fulfilled and Jerusalem would become the capital city of the entire world. Even some of the Messiah's own disciples, who attached great significance to the Temple, could not understand why Yeshua said that YEHOVAH God would later abandoned it altogether and that it would be destroyed (Matthew 23:37-24:2).

But notice that it was precisely at this time -- during the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah -- that the Messiah chose to butt heads with this popular, idealized and nationalistic Messianic expectation. We need to remember that the Messiah did not come to establish the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God BEFORE he came to save a remnant of YEHOVAH's people Israel who would be able to inherit it. Messiah ben Yosef, the great Suffering Servant, must precede Messiah ben David, the reigning King of Israel. And that, of course, meant that the Messiah first came to sacrifice himself as an atonement for his Father's people Israel. How could there be a kingdom without true subjects? Or what good would there be to be a King without a kingdom? But in order to have a kingdom, the heart of YEHOVAH's people must be transformed and their human nature regenerated by the power of YEHOVAH's holy spirit. The Messiah was born to die for his Father's people Israel -- and his sacrifice was the doorway into the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God.

To better understand the Messiah's "Hanukkah Sermon" delivered to the zealots at the Temple, it would be good to review some of the context given in the apostle John's gospel. Earlier in the year the Messiah had offered "Living Water" to the Judahites during the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) -- John 7:37-44. While in Jerusalem the Messiah announced that he was the Light of the World (John 8:1-12). When challenged by the religious authorities, the Messiah stated that the validity of his claims were established through his Father (John 8:13-30) and he went on to make a statement that has been erroneously taken to mean that he pre-existed before his human birth (John 8:52-59) [4]. As he left the Temple, the Messiah authenticated his message by healing a man who was blind from birth (John 9). He then began openly teaching that he was the Good Shepherd who would "lay down his life for his [Father's] sheep" (John 10:1-18).

It is at this point that John tells us that "at that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the Temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews [Judahites] gathered around him and said to him, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly'" (John 10:22-24). In light of the Messiah's earlier teaching to the Judahites, it is not surprising to hear his reply: "I told you, but you do not believe" (John 10:25). He then went on to say that the works he did in his Father's Name bore witness about his identity, but they could not believe, since they were not part of YEHOVAH's flock. Only YEHOVAH's sheep (those called out from Israel) can hear the voice of the Good Shepherd -- and only they are able to follow him:

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one" (John 10:27-30).

Upon hearing this, the Judahites wanted to stone the Messiah for blasphemy, since they once again erroneously thought he was claiming to be divine.

Only those who were truly YEHOVAH's people (the "sheep", the called-out ones of Israel) received the Messiah's message and chose to follow him. Instead of overcoming evil with evil, the Messiah would overcome evil by laying down his life for the sheep as the promised Lamb of YEHOVAH God -- so that the saints of Israel could become inheritors of YEHOVAH's eternal kingdom. The Messiah's message wasn't the answer the zealots wanted to hear, but it was the answer they needed to hear.

So what, if anything, does this imply about the present-day follower of the Messiah and the holiday of Hanukkah? Should Christian-Israelites celebrate this festival -- or should they reject it because it is generally associated with Judahite nationalism and later rabbinical tradition and perversion?

The "spirit of Hanukkah" (not all the pagan customs and traditions associated with it) agrees with other teachings of the New Testament. The word Hanukkah itself means "dedication" -- a word that shares the same root as the Hebrew word chinukh that means "education." Just as the Maccabees fought and died for the sake of YEHOVAH's Torah truth, so we must wage war within ourselves and break the stronghold of apathy and indifference that the present world system engenders (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 6:11-18). We must take time to EDUCATE ourselves by studying YEHOVAH's Word the Bible, for by doing so we will be rededicated to the service of the truth and enabled to resist assimilation into the corrupt world around us.

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world..." (I John 2:15). The "cleansing of the Temple" is a matter of the heart, chaverim. The enemy is apathy and the unbelief that it induces. We are called to "fight the good fight of faith" and not to conform to this present age with its seductions and compromises (I Timothy 6:12, Romans 12:2). The Messiah channels YEHOVAH's light to us -- the very "light of life." The light of the truth is the light of YEHOVAH God's word (Psalm 119:105, 130). YEHOVAH gives us the victory through the spirit of Truth since it is the love of the truth that brings us to salvation (II Thessalonians 2:10-12). What does this mean to you who claim to know the Messiah and his message? How does this impact you as his follower in this darkened age?

The basic message of Hanukkah is eschatological and full of hope. This evil world is passing away and one day soon the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God will be established upon this earth. We live in light of this blessed hope (Titus 2:11-13). The world's rulers are "on notice" from YEHOVAH God Almighty: their days are numbered and they will surely face the judgment of the LORD God of Israel (Psalm 2). We must stand against Satan and his cohorts by refusing to conform to the world around us (Ephesians 6:11-18). Now is the time. "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). True followers of the Messiah are part of his temple -- members of his body -- and during this season we should heed the call to rededicate our lives to him and to our Father, YEHOVAH God.

So let us celebrate the true Light of the World -- Yeshua our savior and Messiah and elder brother. Let your light shine, chaverim! Let's put away the sin that so easily besets us in rededication to the hope of our resurrection and entry into the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God to bring peace and prosperity to this sick and dying world! Remember the stand of the Maccabees and the sacrifices they made to ensure that YEHOVAH's truth would not be abandoned to the paganism of the nations of their time.


[1] The name Ashkenazi derives from the Biblical figure of Ashkenaz -- the first son of Gomer, son of Khaphet, son of Noah, and a Japhetic patriarch in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10). Therefore, Ashkenazi Jews are NOT descended from Israel and are not Semites. See our article, Could the Modern "Jews" Be Israel? for more information.

[2] This has got to be the biggest identity theft that has ever taken place -- and the greatest deception ever pulled on the world by a people! Read our article, The TRUE Synagogue of Satan! for the eye-opening details.

[3] Hanukkah in America: A History, by Dianne Ashton. New York University Press, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.

[4] John 8:58 means that the Messiah was planned in YEHOVAH God's great design for His people Israel. The "I AM" of  this verse retains the meaning John assigned to it at its first occurrence -- "I am the Messiah." It is also possible to translate the Greek, "Before Abraham comes to be [in the resurrection] I am already alive." Thus the Messiah proved his superiority to Abraham by alone being resurrected on the third day. Abraham will rise from death at the future resurrection when the Messiah returns (I Corinthians 15:23). Ego eimi ("I am he") is what the Messiah said, and is the same as what the blind man said in John 9:9. The Messiah means in every case "I am the Messiah" as the first and explanatory occurrence in John 4:26 demonstrates. The Messiah did not say "I am the self-existing one" (Ego eimi ho ohn). These are the words of the One God in Exodus 3:14.


Hope of Israel Ministries -- Courage for the Sake of Truth is Far Better Than Silence for the Sake of Unity!

Hope of Israel Ministries
P.O. Box 853
Azusa, CA 91702, U.S.A.

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