How Much Do You Know About Hanukkah?

Torrance Grey

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

The Jewish festival of lights, or Hanukkah, is celebrated annually in honor of the liberation of the Jews from the oppression of the Seleucid Empire. The practice of Jewish religion had been banned, and the imperial army took Jerusalem and burned the Second Temple. This was an especially grievous crime as the temple religion was at the time essential to the faith, with a number of Biblical laws being framed such that you cannot observe them unless the temple is standing. The invaders, in destroying the temple, also obliterated a holy lamp that was never to be allowed to go out. After the heroic uprising, the lamp was re-lit, but the special olive oil that was used to burn for the light was in short supply - and there was only enough to burn for one day. It would take eight days to press more oil. The miracle of Hanukkah is that this minimal supply of oil somehow burned for the full eight days, lighting hope again in the people that they would be able to freely practice their religion once more.

In America, Hanukkah has been elevated in the popular culture to a higher status than it enjoys elsewhere, as a way of matching the position of Christmas. Even so, while it's not one of the most important festivals, it is one of the most fun, and most familiar to non-Jews. So whether you're a member of the chosen people or not, let's see how well you know it!

What does the name "Hanukkah" mean?

The holiday of Hanukkah celebrates the dedication or rededication of the Temple after its desecration by foreign invaders. The name has many alternate spellings, the most common of which is "Chanukah," the "ch" representing the throaty H of the Hebrew language.

How many days does Hanukkah last?

Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days. According to the Talmud, when the Second Temple was re-dedicated, there was only a tiny bit of sacred oil left to light the menorah. Even though the flame should have lasted just a day, it continued to burn for eight nights.

According to the Talmud, what kind of oil was the sacred oil?

It might seem odd to modern people that olive oil was a sacred religious oil -- we associate it with cooking, especially in Italian cuisine. But the Middle East was, after all, full of olive groves, so it makes sense.

A menorah is a/an ______.

The menorah is a candelabra. It is the primary symbol of Hanukkah, which you'll see on greeting cards and holiday stamps.

How many arms does a menorah have?

If you said "eight" because of the eight days -- sorry! The extra candle is called a "shamash" and has a place of pride a little bit above or below the rest.

What is another name for the menorah?

A menorah is also called a hanukkah. This is sometimes spelled "chanukkah," reflecting the alternate spelling of the holiday's name.

By what name is Hanukkah less formally known?

Primarily, the significance here is that of the menorah lighting, remembering the sacred oil that lasted eight nights. But many cultures have a tradition of ceremonial lighting during the shortest, darkest days of the year, and Hanukkah serves that need too.

Does Hanukkah fall on the same date every year?

Like other Jewish (and Christian and Muslim) religious holidays, the date of Hanukkah is determined by a lunar cycle. This means it doesn't begin on the same date every year.

Around what time of year does Hanukkah fall?

Hanukkah always falls in midwinter. This is why it's been raised to the status of the "Jewish Christmas," although Hanukkah is a more muted -- and certainly less expensive -- celebration.

Who were the foreign invaders in the Hanukkah story?

At this time, the Greek empire in the Middle East was called the Seleucid Empire. Judea became part of it, and the king of the Seleucids was determined to make all his subjects conform, in religion and culture, to Greek values.

What was the name of the process of making foreign people, such as the Jews, like the Greeks?

The Greeks were sometimes called the Hellenes, and their society called Hellenistic. Therefore, their attempt to remake foreign countries in their image was called Hellenizing (think of the "westernizing" of Third World societies today, which is similar).

Who were the Maccabees?

The core group of freedom fighters against the Seleucids was a father and his five sons, who became known as the Maccabees. Their triumph against the Greeks culminated in cleansing and re-dedicating the Temple, which is when the miracle of the oil happened.

What was the name of the father of the Maccabees?

The early leader of the Maccabees was father Mattathias. His sons were John, Jonathan, Eleazar, Simon and Judah.

What does the word "Maccabee" mean?

There are two origin stories for the Maccabee name. One is that it comes from an Aramaic word meaning "hammer," and referred to Judah's fierceness in battle. The second is that it is an acronym, taken from consonants in the phrase "Mi Chamocha Ba'elim," or "Who is like you among the heavenly powers (O God)?" At any rate, it became the name by which we know this family.

Approximately when did the Maccabean revolt take place?

Remember, years run "backward" before the Common Era. Therefore, the seven-year period was 167 to 160 BCE.

Who was the Seleucid king during the Maccabean revolt?

Antiochus IV (also known as Epiphanes) took the throne in 175 BCE. He took over the Middle Eastern part of Alexander the Great's empire after the empire was divided into parts, and he felt more strongly than his predecessors about Hellenizing the region of Judea.

Antiochus dedicated an altar to which god in the Jewish Temple?

Zeus is the father/king/leader of the Greek gods. To erect an altar for any Greek god in the Temple was, of course, a great insult to the Jewish people.

What was another name for the Jewish Temple at this time?

The Temple that stood until 70 CE and was called the Second Temple. The First Temple was the one built by King Solomon.

Where was the Temple located?

Jerusalem was the most important city in Judea at the time. For that reason, the Temple was located there. Observant Jews believe that someday a Third Temple will be established in Jerusalem.

What animal did Antiochus want sacrificed at the Temple?

The sacrifice of pigs in the Second Temple would have been a particular slap in the face to Jewish values. In contrast, bulls, deer, goats, sheep, and doves would all have been kosher sacrifices (though probably not, if made to a foreign god).

Did all Jews oppose Hellenization?

The Maccabees first directed their guerrilla warfare against Jews who had adopted Greek values. Some scholars see the Maccabean revolt as a conflict within Judaism as much as a response to outside invaders.

What was the name of the dynasty the Maccabees founded?

At first, the Maccabees and their followers just wanted to overthrow the Seleucid Empire and cleanse the Temple, which they did. But later, as the Hasmonean dynasty, they began to conquer outlying areas, even forcing pagans there to convert to Judaism.

Are the books of one and two Maccabees included in Christian and Jewish bibles?

The books of the Maccabees, in which the Hanukkah story is told, are included in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox bibles. They are not in the bibles that Protestants use.

Are gifts given at Hanukkah?

There is a tradition of giving small gifts on each of the eight days of Hanukkah. Likewise, there are special foods and other rituals that are attended on the holiday.

What is Hanukkah gelt?

If you're Gentile, and ever wondered why gold-foil-wrapped chocolate coins start appearing in candy stores along with the myriad Christmas-themed chocolates ... this is why.

What is a dreidel?

The dreidel is a spinning top with Yiddish letters on it. It is a symbol of Hanukkah because the Hanukkah story deals with a time of religious oppression when studying the Torah was outlawed. Children who were learning would take out the dreidels and play with them as a cover when foreign soldiers passed by.

What is printed on each side of the dreidel?

Each side of the dreidel is printed with one letter: Nun, Gimel, He, and Shin (or Pe). This has a historical significance.

What do the four letters on a dreidel stand for?

The phrase "nes gadol hayah sham" means "a great miracle happened there." But in Israel, dreidels are stamped with letters representing "nes gadol hayah po" or "a great miracle happened here."

Why are doughnuts and latkes eaten at Hanukkah?

Oil is central to the Hanukkah story, and so foods fried in oil are special; that's the main reason. But to be thorough, we included reason #1: they just taste good!

What is Hanerot Halalu?

There are several blessings linked to the menorah ritual. The Hanerot Halalu is recited after the menorah is lit, and sometimes Psalm 30 or Psalm 67 may be recited after that.

Are menorahs liT at home or in the temple?

While menorahs are lit in the temple, it is also required for a family to have their own at home. Some Jewish families, particularly Ashkenazis, have one for every family member,

Which U.S. president was the first to take part in a public menorah lighting?

Carter was president during the 1970s, and his four-year term was more or less a disaster, marked by oil shortages and the Iran hostage crisis. He's much better known for his post-presidential humanitarian work.

Which month of the Hebrew calendar does Hanukkah fall in?

Kislev is the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, the Jewish religious calendar does not start a new year right in the middle of winter.

What is traditionally forbidden during Hanukkah?

Fasting has a place in Judaism -- Yom Kippur, of course, the Day of Atonement. But fasting is not done during Hanukkah because it is a time of celebration.

Is Hanukkah a major religious holiday?

Hanukkah pales in importance compared to Yom Kippur (a day of fasting and repentance) and Purim. However, in western Christian nations, it has risen in importance because of the influence of Christmas, a very public and commercial holiday. Giving gifts and exchanging holiday cards for Hanukkah was one way Jews in countries like America became assimilated.

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