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Why Menorahs Are Lit During Hanukkah

Written by Zev on November 25, 2008 – 12:00 pm -

The Menorah is a candle holder (candelabra) that is lit during the 8-day festival of Hanukkah – “The Festival of Lights”. Hanukkah takes place on the 25th Day of the Hebrew Calendar month of Kislev, which falls around Christmas time.

Hanukkah marks a divine miracle that occurred in the 3rd century BC, following the defeat of the Seleucid Empire and the recapture of Jerusalem by the Jewish Maccabee army.

During the Seleucid occupation, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was converted into a Pagan temple. When the temple was recaptured by the Maccabees, it was rededicated as a Jewish place or worship. The rededication process required a large quantity of consecrated olive oil for the oil lamps, but only 1 day’s worth was available. Through a miracle, the lamp burnt for 8 days by which time additional consecrated olive oil was prepared. That is why the festival lasts for 8 days.

The Menorah symbolises this miracle – it holds 8 candles, plus a separate candle known as the ‘Shamash’ that is used to light the others. On the first day of Hanukkah, a single candle is lit at sundown. On each successive day, an additional candle is lit. By the final day, all 8 candles are burning. The candles are ritually required to burn for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Many cities with significant Jewish communities honor this religious holiday by placing an electrically illuminated Menorah in a public square.

The following video demonstrates the correct procedure for lighting a Hanukkah Menorah:

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History of the Dreidel

Written by Zev on November 24, 2008 – 12:00 pm -

A dreidel is a toy top used to play games of chance. It is a enjoyed especially by children as part of the festivities for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. The name comes from the Yiddish verb dreyden meaning ‘to turn’. In Hebrew, the toy is known as a ‘Sevivon’.

The dreidel has four sides, each marked with the hebrew letters Nun, Gimel, Hay and Shin. These are the first letters of the Hebrew sentence ‘Nes Gadol Haya Sham’ meaning ‘A Great Miracle Happened There’, referring to the story of Hanukkah.

The dreidel game is interesting in that it appears to be one of the few examples of religiously sanctioned gambling, which is normally frowned upon in Judeo-Christian traditions.

It can be played with real money, but this is often substituted with gold-wrapped chocolate coins [gelt], candy or plastic pieces.

The game requires four players. Each player spins the top in turn. Each Hebrew letter is associated with a specific outcome.

Nun:     Nothing (lose a turn)
Gimel:  Take everything in the prize pool
Hay:     Take half of the prize pool
Shin:    Contribute one piece to the prize pool

The game normally goes for a number of rounds to ensure that everyone has a chance to win a prize.

There is no consensus about the origin of the dreidel game. The least fascinating explanation is that it originated in the last several hundred years in Europe, having evolved from existing childrens games like Teetotum.

A deeper story states that it originated in ancient times, in places where Jews were forbidden from practising their religion. The Jewish people used the dreidel game as a decoy to hide the fact that they were secretly studying the Torah. When inspectors used to come to enforce the ban, Jewish students would quickly hide their books and pull out dreidels and pretend to have been playing games.

The dreidel has been popularised in recent years due to its appearance on TV shows like the Simpsons and South Park. The song “I have a Little Dreidel” has also become popular in the USA and is often sung together with Christmas carols.

Here is a detailed instructional video on Hanukkah Dreidel gameplay:

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