Hanukkah & Thanksgiving, the Beginnings


In 167BCE Israel was dominated by the Syrian Greek Seleucids and their king Antiochus IV. Antiochus IV referred to himself as Epiphanes, God Manifest. Behind his back he was known as the Madman.

Determined to Hellenize the Jews, Antiochus IV outlawed Jewish religious ritual and custom and defiled the Temple by sacrificing to Greek gods there. In the village of Modi’in, just outside Jerusalem, the priest, Mattathias, refused an order to sacrifice to the Greek gods. When a Hellenized Jew in the village agreed to make the sacrifice, Mattathias killed him, as well as the Greek officer and then fled into the mountains with his five sons and other supporters. From there they launched an insurgency against the Seleucids, led by Mattathias’ son Judah. Because Judah was a crusher-of-enemies he was called Maccabee, which roughly translates as the Hammer, and the whole rebellion is known as the Maccabean Revolt. Despite being vastly outnumbered, the Maccabees prevailed. Now, the first order of business was to cleanse the Temple by burning the ritual menorah for eight days, but there was only enough oil for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for the full eight days giving us the eight-day festival of Hanukkah, in which we eat fried foods without regret to celebrate the miracle of the oil and the Maccabean victory against religious oppression.


Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The Thanksgiving story, well-known by most American school children, of  Pilgrims and Natives sharing a feast in 1621, is based on accounts by William Bradford and Edward Winslow, leaders of Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. This is from Winslow’s Mourt’s Relation:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Whether you’re celebrating Hanukkah or Thanksgiving or both (Thanksgivukkah) on November 28, 2013, we wish you a happy, healthy day.


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