Eight commonly asked Hanukkah questions
1. Why do we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days?
A: When the Jewish Temple stood in Jerusalem, the Syrian-Greeks fought a war against Judaism. They contaminated all the oils in the Temple, preventing the Menorah from being lit. Miraculously, one little flask of oil was found, only enough to last one night, yet it lasted for eight!
2. Why do people place Menorahs near their windows?
A: We are proud of the miracle that God brought for the Jewish people at that time and we want to publicize our Thanksgiving to God to the world.
3. Why are a different number of candles kindled each night?
A: Each additional night the little flask of oil lasted produced a greater miracle. We want to publicize the greater miracle each night by adding an additional candle – one the first night, two the second, three the third, etc.
4. Why do we spin the dreidel on Hanukkah?
A: The dreidel is a four sided top with a letter on each side. These letters, “Nun,” “Gimel,” “Hey,” “Shin,” are an acronym for the words, “a great miracle happened there.” Spinning the dreidel until the letters can’t be seen represents not always recognizing God’s miracle until it comes to a stop, when we have time to think about it.
5. Why do we give gifts on Hanukkah?
A: Actually, there is no source in the Jewish tradition for giving gifts on Hanukkah. However, it has become customary for people to give gifts as a means of encouraging their children to study Torah more often, and to give gifts to others as a token of appreciation on this holiday of appreciation.
6. Where does the name, “Hanukkah” come from?
A: Hanukkah comes from the word, “Chinuch,” meaning “beginning” or “dedication.” After the Syrian Greeks had wreaked havoc on the Temple, the Jewish people worked hard to clean it up and rededicate themselves to it.
7. Why do we eat donuts and potato pancakes on Hanukkah?
A: In order to commemorate the miraculous oil, it is customary to eat foods that are fried in oil. These are called “sufganiyot” or donuts, and “latkes” or potato pancakes.
8. Is there anything else we do to celebrate Hanukkah?
A: The Syrian-Greeks tried to ban the Jewish people from studying Torah. Since the Jewish people (under Judah Maccabee) fought hard for their religious freedom, it is thus proper to strengthen our observance of Torah study, charity, and other good deeds.
Brought to you by Hillel at John Carroll University.