Friday, December 03, 1999

Web site answers Hanukkah questions

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When it comes to religious holidays, the meaning behind familiar rituals tends to get lost, even as the rituals themselves are fondly continued. Take Hanukkah, for instance.

        Most people recognize the menorah and the dreidel as symbols of the ancient Jewish festival, which begins tonight and continues for eight days. Fewer know what the dreidel or the potato latkes that Jews eat during Hanukkah represent.

        In times past, say a decade ago, one would have had to trudge to the library or have the right books on hand to answer such questions. Now all you need is Internet access to be Hanukkah literate.

        The site — — has an extensive Hanukkah primer.

        • The meaning: Hanukkah commemorates the battle that Judah Maccabee and his four brothers fought against the Syrians, who were trying to force the Jews to worship the Greek gods. The holiday celebrates Jewish national survival and religious freedom, and the word comes from the Hebrew word for education.

        • Festival of lights: After the Maccabees reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, they found enough oil to light the temple's menorah for one day — but it last eight instead. Therefore, the Hanukkah menorah has eight candles (plus the candle used to light the others), and the holiday lasts for eight days.

        • Dreidel play: Jews were prohibited from studying Torah under the Syrians, so they would hide their books and take out dreidels to make the Syrians think they were just playing games.

        • Latkes and jelly doughnuts: These traditional holiday treats are fried in oil to remember the miracle of the oil.

        • Hanukkah gifts: In the past, Hanukkah gelt was money that rewarded children for their schoolwork. Because Hanukkah falls near Christmas, many parents now give gifts instead of money.


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