The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, the Hebrew word for “dedication,” commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C. Known as “The Festival of Lights,” Hanukkah also celebrates the miracle of the oil following the Maccabean Revolt, led by Judah Maccabee against the oppressive Greek rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, prophesied about in the Book of Daniel, was extremely hostile to the Jewish nation — outlawing their religion and commanding them to worship Greek gods. He even ordered an altar to Zeus to be erected in the Temple where they sacrificed pigs, an unclean animal in the Jewish faith. Foretold by Daniel as the “abomination of desolation,” these incredibly offensive acts caused the Jews to rise up and expel them from Israel.
Judah Maccabee then ordered a cleansing of the Second Temple and rebuilt its altar. He also relit the menorah, a gold candelabrum with seven branches to signify knowledge and creation, which was intended to be kept burning every night. While there was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the flames flickering for a day, the candles continued burning for eight nights which allowed them enough time to find a fresh supply. This miraculous event inspired the Jewish leaders to proclaim an annual eight-day festival.
This history is not recorded in the Torah as the events occurred after the last book of the Minor Prophets. However, this festival is referenced in the New Testament when Jesus attends a “Feast of Dedication.”
The modern Hanukkah celebration centers on the lighting of a nine-branched menorah, or “Hanukkiah” in Hebrew. Lit after sundown, the shammash –– which means “helper” and is the tallest one in the center –– is first and is then used to light the rest of the candles. On each of the festival’s eight nights, another candle is added to those lit on the menorah, and blessings are typically recited during this ritual. People of Jewish faith usually display the menorah prominently as a reminder to others of the miracle that inspired the holiday.