Hanukkah's lesson of religious freedom is timeless

Hadas Kuznits
December 02, 2018 - 4:00 am
Hanukkah menorah

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- The Jewish festival of lights known as Hanukkah began at sundown Sunday.

While Hanukkah is usually a December holiday, it is not a Christmas equivalent. 

"Hannukah is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar," said Rabbi Eli Freedman of Congregation Rodeph Shalom. "It really only became a big deal in America as a sort of 'Jewish Christmas.' It has nothing to do with Christmas, it's not related. Because the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, it doesn't even fall that close to it this year. When we think about the big Jewish holidays, we think about the High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, we think about Passover."

But one of the reasons it is significant, particularly today, is that it promotes the idea of religious freedom.

"One of the commandments on Hanukkah is to not only light the Chanukiah, the Hanukkah menorah every night, but to advertise the miracle and to actually put that menorah in your window, proudly declaring that we are Jewish. And I think at time, you know, it was only a little over a month ago that we saw the tragedy in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to be proudly declaring, 'We're Jewish' in this moment, I think is really important," Freedman said.

"When the Asyrian Greeks took over, they outlawed Jewish practices," Freedman explained. "We spin a dreidel on Hanukkah and one of the traditions was that the dreidel was a way of covertly teaching Hebrew while making it appear like it was just a game; but at the time, the Maccabees, they were boldly saying, 'We're going to continue to be Jewish in spite of what we would today maybe call anti-Semitism.'"

Hanukkah continues for eight nights through Sunday, Dec. 9.