Light Up Your Language For The Festival Of Lights


In Judaism, the
holiday is the "festival of lights." Lasting eight days, the holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in 165 BCE. Once the Temple was won, the Jews found only enough oil to keep the eternal flame of the menorah lit for one day. According to legend, the miracle of Hanukkah occurred when that small amount sustained the menorah's light for eight days, in order for more oil to be made. Fittingly, hanukkah literally means "a dedicating" in Hebrew.


As is the case with many languages, there are certain sounds in Hebrew that just don't exist in English. The first letter of
, the modern Hebrew letter chet, makes a sound called a "voiceless velar fricative," a ch in the back of the throat similar to the Scottish pronunciation of loch. The classical Hebrew pronunciation had a softer ch sound, represented by the H instead of Ch in Hanukkah. The modern Hebrew pronunciation has a harder Ch sound represented by the Ch instead of H in Chanukah. Today, both spellings exist side by side.


The Hanukkah
(also called the hanukiah) is a candelabrum with nine branches. Eight of the candles represent each night of Hanukkah, while the ninth (the shammes) is used to light the others. The original menorah in the biblical Temple of Jerusalem had only seven branches, representing the seven branches of human knowledge and the seven days of biblical creation. The Hanukkah Menorah has a more specific purpose, representing the eight nights of the holiday. Translated from the Hebrew, menorah means "candlestick."


Originally from the Aramaic shemash, meaning "to serve,"
means "attendant" in modern Hebrew. The shammes is the ninth candle on the Hanukkah Menorah, used to light the candles representing each night. The Hanukkah candles are traditionally placed in the menorah from right to left, though they're lit using the shammes from left to right. On the first night of Hanukkah, the menorah will have only two candles, the shammes and the right-most candle. On the last night, a menorah will display all nine.


In Jewish history, Hanukkah and the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem is the work of the
, an ancient family of Jewish leaders who rebelled against their colonizers. After years of oppression under King Antiochus Epiphanes, Judas Maccabaeus led a rebel army against Antiochus and reclaimed not only the Temple but Jewish freedom. The name Maccabee is derived from the Hebrew maqqabh meaning "hammer" and was given to Judas and the rebels in honor of their fortitude.


So, you've lit the menorah, retold the story of Hanukkah, and now dinner is in the oven. What happens now? It's time to play dreidel!

is a four-sided spinning top bearing the Hebrew letters (nun, gimel, hei, shin). The letters on the faces of the dreidel form an acronym for the phrase Nes Gadol Hayah Sham meaning "a great miracle happened there," referring to Israel and the Temple of Jerusalem. Children spin the dreidel and win or lose based on the letter facing up when the top stops spinning.


So, playing dreidel sounds fun, but what are you playing for? Hanukkah
, of course! A piece of Hanukkah gelt is a chocolate coin usually wrapped in gold foil, designed for children to gamble with during a game of dreidel. Gelt is Yiddish, derived from the Old High German, for "money."


If you don't have a sweet tooth, you might think
are the most delicious part of Hanukkah. A latke is a potato pancake made from shredded potato and fried in oil, often served with applesauce or sour cream. Like gelt, latke is a Yiddish word derived from the Russian latka meaning "pastry." The oil in which latkes are fried represents the oil that kept the menorah burning in the story of Hanukkah.

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