Judaism's First and Second Temples, which were built centuries ago in Jerusalem's Old City, were desecrated about four hundred years apart. Along with the sadness that came with the destruction of the Second Temple by Antiochus' troops during the first century C.E. came victory: the Maccabees' small army successfully recaptured Jerusalem and rededicated the destroyed temple for the Jewish people.
The First and Second Temples
The First Temple was built during King Solomon's reign, at a time of peace for Jews. After seven years of building, the First Temple was dedicated in 827 B.C.E. The First Temple would be a holy space of worship for the Jewish community, until it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar four centuries later. The Second Temple was rebuilt in 394 B.C.E., only to be destroyed yet again 420 years later, in 70 C.E. The Western Wall, which is an important site of pilgrimage for Jews, in Jerusalem's Old City is the only remnant that was left of the Second Temple.
Under the leadership of Judah the Strong, a small Jewish arm referred to as the Maccabees led a series of battles against the Greek-Syrian ruler, Antiochus, who destroyed the Second Temple. With an army of more than 40,000 men, the Maccabees successfully rebelled against Antiochus and eventually returned to liberate Jerusalem, where they found the Second Temple in ruins.
Rededication of the Temple
During the month of "Kislev" in the Hebrew calendar, the Maccabees rededicated the desecrated Second Temple. They did so by refashioning a new menorah (an eight-branched candelabra), in order to burn candles and bring light into the temple. However, the Maccabees found oil that would only burn the candles for a day. According to Judaic tradition, the candles burned for eight days, which gave the Maccabees enough time to access more oil. This special time of the rededication of the Second Temple is referred to as Hanukah (Chanukah) or the Festival (Feast) of Lights.
Celebrating Hanukkah (Chanukah)
Today, Hanukkah is an important Jewish holiday that celebrates the miraculous victory of a small Jewish army and honors the humble rededication of the Second Temple. This eight-day holiday or festival is celebrated through a ceremony that involves the lighting of candles. On the first night, one candle is lit on the menorah; an additional candle is then lit for successive evening. On the eighth and final night of the festival, all eight candles are lit on the menorah.
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