AL HANISSIM – thanksgiving prayer for the Chanukah miracle; inserted in the Amidah and Grace After Meals.
ANTIOCHUS – Syrian Greek ruler called Epiphanes (“glorious”) by his admirers and Epimanes (“madman“) by his detractors.
BET HILLEL & BET SHAMMAI – rival schools of thought: Bet Shammai ruled that Chanukah lights should begin with 8 and reduce each night by one; Bet Hillel ruled the opposite.
BOOKS OF MACCABEES – part of the Apocrypha (works excluded from the Bible); disparaged by the Talmudic rabbis because these books did not promote Jewish spirituality and learning.
CHANUKAH – “dedication”; name refers to the reconsecration of the Temple.
CHANUKAH GELT – Chanukah money given to children; reflects the institution of Jewish coinage as a mark of independence.
CHANUKIAH – 9-branched candelabrum for the Chanukah lights (see Menorah).
CHRISTIANITY – honoured the Maccabean martyrs and incorporated the Books of Maccabees into their version of the Scriptures.
DOUGHNUTS (also ponchkes or sufganiyyot) – one of several Chanukah foods fried in oil (recalling the Chanukah miracle).
DREIDEL (also trendel or sevivon) – a top used in Chanukah games; the 4 sides bear the letters “nun-gimel-hei-shin”, standing for “nes gadol hayah sham” (“a great miracle happened there”); the game uses the letters as the numbers 50-3-5-300; though Judaism generally condemns gambling, the rule was relaxed on Chanukah whilst the lights were burning.
HAFTAROT – on Shabbat Chanukah the haftarah is Zechariah 2:27-4:7 with the message “Not by might or power but by My Name”; if there is a 2nd Shabbat the haftarah is I Kings 7:40-50 dealing with the dedication of the 1st Temple.
HALLEL – festive psalms of praise recited each day of Chanukah as on Sukkot (q.v.).
HANNAH & HER 7 SONS – Hannah watched her sons martyred by the Syrian Greeks.
HASMONEANS – the Maccabean family, called Chashmona’im by Josephus (q.v.) after a minor site in Judea or the great-great-grandfather of Judah.
HELLENISM – the spread of Greek culture amongst Jews; criticised by the sages when it meant paganism and immorality; Jews are expected to know when to withdraw from the ways of the environment.
JOSEPHUS – historian who describes the removal of the Temple Menorah to Rome where it was depicted on the Arch of Titus; the first to call Chanukah the Festival of Lights.
JUDAH (JUDAS) MACCABEE – leader of the Maccabee (s.v.) brothers.
KISLEV – month in which Chanukah falls (some say Chanukah = “chanu kah”, “they encamped on the 25th (of Kislev)”).
LATKES – potato pancakes fried in oil; eaten on Chanukah to recall the miracle of the oil.
MACCABEES – nickname of Judah and his brothers; means “hammer” or “extinguisher”; possibly the initials of “Mi kamocha ba’elim HaShem”, “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord?”.
MA’OZ TZUR (“Fortress, Rock”) – Chanukah hymn by Mordechai, the letters of whose name open each verse; it is not certain that a 6th verse referring to Christian persecution was in the original text; the popular melody is from a German folksong.
MATTITYAHU (Mattathias) – a kohen from Modin, father of the Maccabee brothers; his call was “Whoever is on the Lord’s side, rally to me!” (Ex. 32:26).
MEGILLAT ANTIOCHUS (“Scroll of Antiochus”) – a medieval account of the Maccabean period; of uncertain authorship; not highly regarded as history or literature; emphasises the military struggle and not the spiritual dimension.
MEHADRIN (“Beautifiers”) – pietists who are scrupulous about how they kindle the Chanukah lights; now used for those who are strict about their religious conduct; those who are even more scrupulous are called “Mehadrin min hamehadrin”.
MENORAH (“light”) – 7-branched lampstand in the Temple; the 9-branched version on Chanukah symbolises the oil that lasted eight days; the characteristic symbol on ancient Jewish coins and tombs; renewed as part of the Israeli coat of arms.
MORDECHAI – author of Ma’oz Tzur; possibly Mordechai ben Yitzchak, 14th cent., who wrote the Sabbath table hymn “Mah Yafit”.
NER TAMID – Eternal Light (see Menorah).
OIL – the Maccabees found only one day’s supply of pure oil for the Eternal Light, which lasted until a fresh supply could be prepared (Talmud Shabbat 21b); though this seems to reduce the miracle to seven days, finding the one jar of oil was also a miracle; oil is preferred for the Chanukah lights but candles are acceptable.
PIRSUMEI NISSA (“publicising the miracle”) – the reason for placing the Chanukah lights a prominent place; today many groups kindle the lights in public squares or streets.
PSALM 30 (“A Psalm at the Dedication of the House”) – recited on Chanukah.
RABBINIC MITZVOT – 7 practices (including Chanukah lights) introduced by the sages in the spirit of the Torah (Deut. 17:8-11); each is regarded as a Divine commandment. Other examples are Megillat Esther on Purim and the recital of Hallel on festivals.
SHAMMASH (“servant”) – 9th light used to kindle the others since no “profane” use may be made of the official 8 lights; rabbinic tradition calls the Jewish people the ethical shammash of the world since Isaiah calls Israel “a light unto the nations”.
SUKKOT – commonalities with Chanukah include lights, songs, processions and 8-day duration; in the last year of the war Sukkot was postponed until Kislev (II Maccabees) and some traces of Sukkot remained as the basis for the Chanukah commemoration.
TALMUD – there is no tractate about Chanukah but the lights are mentioned in several places; the sages opposed any emphasis on the political and military events.
URIM (“lights”) – the Chanukah lights are lit at home (and also in the synagogue because the house of worship was central to the story); the lights should burn for at least half an hour, and longer on Friday when they are lit before the Shabbat candles.