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The Feast of Dedication and Lights, which falls on the 25th of Kislev and lasts for eight days. It marks the rededication of the Temple by Judah Maccabee in 165 B.C.E. after his victory over the Syrians who had defiled the sanctuary. Tradition relates that Judah could find only a single cruse of oil which had not been contaminated by the enemy. Although it contained only enough oil to light the menorah for one day, a miracle took place, and it burned for eight. Therefore, candles are lit throughout the holiday, one on the eve of the first day, two on the eve of the second, and so forth, until eight are kindled on the last evening.

A feast of liberation symbolizing the victory of the few over the many and of the weak over the strong, Hanukkah is one of the most joyful Jewish holidays. Gifts are given to children at candle-lighting time, and it is customary to play with a small top, or the dreidel, inscribed with the Hebrew letters N, G, H, and S. These stand for the words, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, meaning, “A great miracle happened there.”

In the synagogue, the Torah is read every day of Hanukkah, and Hallel, or Hymns of Praise, consisting of Psalms 113-118, is chanted. One of the hymns sung after the candles are lit is Maoz Zur (Rock of Ages). The prayer of Al Ha-Nissim (For the Miracles), which recounts the story of Hanukkah, is added to the Eighteen Benedictions and the usual order of Grace after meals.

The story of Hanukkah, which tells of the evil decrees of Antiochus Epiphanes against the Jews and the triumph of the Maccabees over their enemies, is related in the Book of the Maccabees of the Apocrypha. The second book contains the story of Hannah and her seven children who refused to bow before an idol and suffered a martyr’s death at the hands of Antiochus’ henchmen.

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