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How to Understand the Hanukkah Story

Get to know the story behind the festival of lights to better understand this Jewish holiday.


  • Step 1: Know the background Get the background information -- in 332 BCE, Alexander the Great of Greece conquered Jerusalem, leading to an extended period of foreign rule, during which Jews were mostly free to practice their religion as they pleased.
  • Step 2: Recognize the ruler Understand the impact of Antiochus IV, who came to power in 175 BCE. Rather than promoting religious tolerance, he forced Jews to give up their practices and defiled their holy Temple in Jerusalem by offering a pig as a sacrifice.
  • Step 3: Learn about the uprising Learn about the uprising. In 167 BCE, an elder named Mattathias started a revolt against Antiochus when he refused a Greek soldier's order to make a sacrifice to the Greek gods and killed the soldier instead.
  • Step 4: Witness revolution Find out what happened next: Mattathias hid out in the mountains with other rebels, including his sons. One of his sons, Judah, became the leader of this group, known as the Maccabees. The Maccabees began a guerrilla war against the Greeks, eventually driving them out of Israel around 165 BCE.
  • TIP: After the Greeks left Israel, the Jews began a period of self-rule under the Hasmonean dynasty.
  • Step 5: Discover the miracle Discover the miracle. The Maccabees rededicated the Temple and relit its menorah, a sacred candelabra, with oil blessed by a high priest. Though there was only enough liquid to burn for 1 day, the menorah stayed lit for 8, a miracle that became the foundation for the Hanukkah celebration that continues today.
  • FACT: The Hanukkah story is not specifically mentioned in the Torah.

You Will Need

  • Knowledge of history

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