Is Hanukkah the Jewish Christmas?

A scene from last year’s lighting of the Manhasset Menorah. (Courtesy of the Chabad of Manhasset)

I’ve been asked about the significance of Chanukah as it pertains to us today. Is it just a Jewish version of a mid-winter holiday?

The story of Chanukah transpired in the year 139 B.C.E. under the tyrannical rule of king Antiochus. The infamous Syrian-Greek ruler decreed that Jewish worship was prohibited under penalty of death. Thousands of Jews were killed. The Holy Temple which stood for hundreds of years on what we know today as the Temple Mount, was desecrated.

Through a miraculous turn of events, a small Jewish militia stood up against the mightiest army in the world and against overwhelming odds, liberated Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple. This group called themselves: Maccabees, a Hebrew acronym that stands for “Who is like You, O G‑d.”

Rabbi Mendel Paltiel (Courtesy of the Chabad of Manhasset)

Among the daily rituals that were performed in the Temple, was the kindling of the seven branch Menorah-candelabra. When they wanted to light it, they found only a small cruse of pure olive oil. It was sufficient to light only for one day. By a miracle of G‑d, it continued to burn for eight days, till new oil was made available. In celebration of this, we celebrate these eight days for thanksgiving.

As a child, I wondered: Why eight? Shouldn’t we celebrate only seven days & seven candles? After all, the Maccabees found enough oil for one day. The miracle occurred over seven days. Are you with me?

The miracle of the first day was that they decided to light the Menorah, even though there was a bleak feature. You may say what’s the point, tomorrow it’ll be extinguished. The miracle was that they put away their intellectual calculations and relied on G-d to do the rest. Indeed it burned for eight days.

Today, many of us look out into the world and the situation seems hopeless and bleak. We find just a little cruse of oil, a little flicker of strength to brighten up and bring hope to our surroundings. But we say what’s the point, there’s so much pessimism and hopelessness. The message of Chanukah is to take your oil and put it into the Menorah. To light up another human being, to reach out to another and help them, and you will see a miracle begin to happen. That flame will burn and burn and burn.

Happy Chanukah!

Join us at Mary Jane Davies Green for the Manhasset Menorah lighting and exciting celebration. It will feature a Firetruck Gelt Drop, Fire Dancers, Manhasset High School Orchestra and traditional latkes and donuts. It’ll take place on Sunday, Dec. 5 at 3 p.m. Parking will be available in the Town Hall parking lot.

To learn more and to receive your complimentary “Chanukah in a Box” package, visit

— Rabbi Mendel Paltiel, Chabad of Manhasset

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