Thursday, December 1, 2011

Did Yeshua (Jesus) Celebrate Hanukkah?

In Christianity, there are a number of holidays and calendar observances: Christmas, Easter, Advent, Lent, and some denominations have special feasts or masses for different saints. In addition, we also have civil holidays. In America, we have Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, and so on. Yeshua (Jesus) and his original Jewish followers would not have observed any of these, however.
Leviticus 23 lists the "appointed times of the LORD" -- that is, the holidays of the Bible. These Biblical Holidays form the basis for the Jewish calendar. However, one well-known Jewish holiday not listed in the Old Testament is Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Old Testament because it commemorates an event that transpired after the Old Testament was written.

A Brief History of Hanukkah

  • King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judea and deported the Jewish people to Babylon.
  • The Babylonian Empire was overthrown by the Persians.
  • King Cyrus of Persia permitted the Jews to return to their land. However, they did not gain independence; they remained a vassal state of Persia.
  • Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and gained control over the Land of Israel. He permitted the Jews relative freedom as a part of the Greek Empire.
  • When Alexander died, his empire was divided among his four generals
  • Israel was included among the eastern/Syrian provinces ruled by a king named Seleucus. It was then called the "Seleucid Empire."
  • Generations later, the king of the Seleucid Empire was called Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
  • Antiochus became angry that the Jewish people refused to adopt a Hellenistic culture and religion.
  • Antiochus banned the practice of Judaism, including thing like studying the Torah (the books of Moses), circumcision, and eating according to the Bible's dietary laws (keeping kosher).
  • Antiochus defiled the Holy Temple by burning the scroll of the Torah and sacrificing a pig. He also set up a statue of Zeus. 
  • He stole the golden menorah (seven branched candelabrum) that God commanded to remain lit in the Sanctuary.
  • This oppression eventually led to a revolt. A small band of rebels fled to the mountains.
  • The rebels were led by a man of priestly lineage and his sons. They were nicknamed "Maccabee," which means "hammer."
  • Miraculously, this small band of rebels was able to defeat the powerful Seleucid army against all odds.
  • The Maccabees set to cleansing and re-dedicating the holy Temple for God.
  • They built a provisional menorah to replace the one that was stolen. The menorah must be lit using pure, sacred olive oil. 
  • They only had enough of this oil to last one day. It would take eight days to procure more pure, sacred olive oil.
  • A miracle occurred and the menorah remained lit for a full eight days, until the new oil was brought.
  • The Maccabees, who assumed leadership over the Jewish people, established the annual celebration of Hanukkah to commemorate this event. 
  • Hanukkah is a Hebrew word meaning "dedication," referring to the re-dedication of the Temple and altar.

Celebrating Hanukkah

Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday celebrated by:
  • Re-telling the story of the Maccabean revolt
  • Lighting a special menorah called a hanukkiah on each of the eight nights
  • Eating food cooked in oil - in modern times, this is typically latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts)
  • Playing games - a traditional game is dreidel, a simple game of chance played with a spinning top.
  • Singing fun songs and hymns and reciting special blessings and prayers
  • Giving small gifts to children, such as coins, candy, or trinkets.

Hanukkah in the New Testament

Hanukkah is mentioned in the New Testament:
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. (John 10:22-23 ESV)
The "Feast of Dedication" is Hanukkah. It appears that Yeshua made special effort to be in the Temple on that holiday, even though there is no requirement to do so.

Messianic believers and Hanukkah

Should Messianic believers in Yeshua celebrate Hanukkah? We have compelling reasons to do so:
  • The Maccabean revolt was a miraculous event of God's intervention on behalf of his people. It is something to be thankful for!
  • If it were not for the revolt and the miraculous victory, the Jewish people would have been absorbed into Hellenism. There would be no people of Israel for the Messiah to come to. As some people have said, "Without Hanukkah, there would be no Christmas!"
  • The message of Hanukkah is that we should stand strong and trust in God in the face of religious persecution and maintain our faith and identity.
  • For Messianic believers who are Jewish, celebrating Hanukkah is an important part of your God-given national identity and keeps you connected to your people.
  • The New Testament implies that Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah. As his disciples, we should seek to be like him.

Hanukkah 2011

Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. On the civil calendar, this changes from year to year. This year, the first night Hanukkah will be celebrated on the night of December 20, 2011 and will last through the day of December 28.

How to spell Hanukkah

Since Hanukkah is a Hebrew word, its correct spelling is with Hebrew letters: חֲנֻכָּה‎. This can be rendered in Roman (English) letters in almost infinite number of ways. Some examples are:
  • Hanukkah
  • Chanukah
  • Chanukkah
  • Hanuka
  • Hanukka
Some people prefer to use a spelling that has eight letters. No matter how you spell it, the correct way to pronounce it is the same. The first sound is a constricted "H" sound. (The CH should never be pronounced like "chicken" or "Chevy.")

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