Hanukkah, Hanukah, Chanukah

Hanukkah begins at sunset Saturday, December 8, 2012 and ends at nightfall Sunday, December 16, 2012

burning hanoukia

The War on Christmas verses the Spirit of Christmas Series at AskMarion – 8

The Miracle(s) of Hanukkah

A story is told about a father asking his daughter what she learned in religious school. She answers excitedly: “The rabbi told us the story of how the Jews escaped from Egypt and the evil pharaoh. It was amazing. There was this giant airplane that flew down, and thousands of Jews raced on board, and it pulled away just as Pharaoh’s armies were chasing it, and then all the Egyptians got in their airplanes, but the Jewish airplane shot down the Egyptian ones with UZI submachine guns, and all the Egyptians drowned in the ocean!”

“Wow! Did the rabbi really say that?” the dad asked.

“Not exactly … but you’d never believe the story that she told!”

It is hard to believe the stories of miracles that seem so pervasive in Jewish tradition. Many of us don’t take them literally. Yet Hanukkah seems to be all about celebrating a miracle. In fact, the major mitzvah (commandment) of Hanukkah is “to publicize the miracle…”

Maimonides says: “The mitzvah of lighting a Hanukkah lamp is a very well-loved mitzvah and one needs to be very careful to do it in order to proclaim the miracle and to add praise to God and gratitude for the miracles God did for us.” (Laws of Hanukkah 4:7)

What is the miracle we are supposed to publicize? Actually, it depends on which source you consult. If you look at the Books of Maccabees, books that are not part of the Hebrew Bible, the miracle is the military victory of the Maccabees over the Greek-Syrian army. Why is Hanukkah eight days then? According to these Books of Maccabees, either because it is a delayed celebration of Sukkot (the harvest festival) or because the Hasmoneans entered the Temple with eight iron spears which they covered with wood and lit for eight days.

If, on the other hand, you read the Talmud, you discover: “On the twenty-fifth of Kislev commence the days of Hanukkah which are eight … For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oil in the Temple and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest, but it contained sufficient oil for only one day’s lighting. Yet a miracle occurred there, and they kindled [light] for eight days because of it. The following year these days were appointed a Festival.”

Why two different versions? The Books of Macabees, written closer to the time of the military victory, describe the Jewish people as independent, living under their own sovereign rule. They tell the story of a civil war between Jews who wanted to be more like the Greeks with whom they lived, and those Jews, like the Macabees, who resisted assimilation. The Macabees were ultimately the victors, winning a guerrilla war against the forces of assimilation and the Greek-Syrian army that supported them. But by the time of the Talmud, the independent state of the Jews had been destroyed and any hint of military victory would have been seditious and dangerous. For the rabbis of the Talmud, the hero was God, not the Maccabees, and Hanukkah became a spiritual victory, not a military one.

And what about for us? What is the miracle? The truth is, there are many. One is the miracle of the victory of the few against the many. To paraphrase Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Another is the miracle of the courage to be different. It is the ultimate irony and misunderstanding of Hanukkah, which is the story of a fight against assimilation, to celebrate it as just the opposite — as a kind of Jewish Christmas complete with a “Hanukkah bush.”

Finally, there is the most famous miracle of all: the little cruise of oil that burned for eight days. It is this miracle that gives rise to the lighting of the hanukiah, adding one candle for each night, until on the eighth night it is fully ablaze with light. Rabbi David Hartman offers a powerful insight into this miracle when he questions why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days. If there was enough oil to light the lamp for one day, then there is no miracle on that first day. So Hanukkah ought to be a seven day holiday. But we celebrate eight days. Clearly there must be another miracle here, which includes that first day. For Rabbi Hartman, the miracle wasn’t that the oil lasted an additional seven days, but rather that those ancestors lit the first wick at all, without being certain that the light would last long enough to complete to the rededication of the Temple. The miracle was that they took the chance, a risk, a leap of faith. They took the first step even though they were not sure they had enough resources to succeed.

What is the real miracle of Hanukkah? It is the miracle of human courage that empowers us to take risks for the future even in our imperfect, uncertain world. It is the courage, even in the darkest of times, to create our own light.

And Why Are There So Many Different Spellings for Hanukkah?

There are so many different spellings for Hanukkah because with all Jewish holidays the original language is Hebrew, or ancient Hebrew. In Hebrew, there is only one correct spelling for the holiday, which is spelled by the Hebrew letters chet, nun,vav,kaf, hey.

When trying to write a Hebrew word in English (also true in the re-writing of any other language, especially one that is no longer used like Ancient Hebrew and Latin), the result is not always clear. for example, the right pronunciation of chanukah is. Neither "ch", nor "h", but a consonant that doesn’t exist in English (similar to the spanish "J").
Therefore, you can write hanukah in every way you want, as long as the other side knows what you are talking about…

There are actually 16 different ways to spell Chanukka:

Sixteen ways to spell Hanukkah

For the record:


With the exception of a few wildcards, there are 16 different spellings, based on four phonetic variations:

  • The word starts with “H” or “Ch”
  • Second consonant is “nn” or “n”
  • Third consonant is “kk” or “k”
  • The word ends with “ah” or “a”

I think I must have grown up with “Chanukah”, because it look most right to me. At Lila’s pre-school Hanukkah party, there were three different spellings within 10 feet of one another. In the interest of ending the ridiculousness of the dozens of spellings, I’m going forward with “Hanukkah” which is the preferred spelling used by the Library of Congress. At least it’s always the same in Hebrew: חֲנֻכָּה

This would be a fun thing to make dynamic, even chart over time. If only I had time… Jeremy Blachman did the same Hanukkah spelling thing in 2004, interesting to see how much bigger the Google indexes have grown in 12 months.

* These seem to be popular spellings in German.


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God Rest Ye Merry Merchants – Christmas: An American Holiday and Tradition to Love and Preserve

Advent – The Season of Anticipation and Hope

The War on Christmas verses the Spirit of Christmas Series at AskMarion  – with comments from Ben Stein

Red Kettles & Bell Ringers

Atheists intimidate Santa Monica into eliminating Nativity… And So the War on Christmas and Freedom of Religion Continues  -  Churches Thwart Nativity Ban By Putting Up Living Displays In Santa Monica

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“Holidays Are Great and Fun To Share With Our Pets, As Long As We Avoid the No-No Foods”  -  And See Jingle Goats (too cute!)

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A great read: Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity

About Ask Marion

I am a babyboomer and empty nester who savors every moment of my past and believes that it is the responsibility of each of us in my generation and Americans in general to make sure that America is as good or even a better place for future generations as it was for us. So far... we haven't done very well!! Favorite Quotes: "The first 50 years are to build and acquire; the second 50 are to leave your legacy"; "Do something that scares you every day!"; "The journey in between what you once were and who you are becoming is where the dance of life really takes place". At age 62 I find myself fighting inoperable uterine Cancer and thanks to the man upstairs and the prayers from so many people including many of my readers from AskMarion and JustOneMorePet... I'm beating it. After losing our business because of the economy and factors related to the re-election of President Obama in 2012 followed by 16-mos of job hunting, my architect-trained husband is working as a trucker and has only been home approximately 5-days a month since I was diagnosed, which has made everything more difficult and often lonely... plus funds are tight. Our family medical deductible is 12K per year for two of us; thank you ObamaCare. But thanks to donations from so many of you, we are making ends meet as I go through treatment while taking care of my father-in-law who is suffering from late stage Alzheimer's and my mother-in-law who suffers from RA and onset dementia as well as hearing loss, for which there are no caretaker funds, as I continue the fight here online to inform and help restore our amazing country. And finally I need to thank a core group of family, friends, and readers... all at a distance, who check in with me regularly. Plus, I must thank my furkids who have not left my side through this fight. You can see them at JustOneMorePet.
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