Lake Success Jewish Center










Rabbi Michael Klayman








Many of us know the basic Hanukkah story: How a small group of courageous Israelites (Maccabees) reclaimed the Jerusalem Temple (center of Jewish religion and culture), and found a small container of oil, which ‘miraculously’ lasted for eight days. What we may not know is that the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple against difficult odds. The Israelite community around them was immersed in Greek (Hellenistic) culture to the extent that the Jewish character of Israel was severely compromised. In addition, historians have argued that Antiochus conquered the Temple at a time when Israel experienced severe internal strife. The Israelites were conflicted about their identity as a Jewish nation, a nation too distinct from other countries in the world. Finally, when Antiochus captured the Temple, he also imposed strict limitations on Jewish practice. Tiny Israel had become a vassal nation; under the authority of Antiochus, and subject to his command. The group of Israelites known to us as Maccabees (Maccabee is Hebrew for hammer; yet the origin of that name is still unclear), were a small band of Jewish resistance fighters. They did not have the military support of the entire nation, yet were able to overcome their small numbers, and re-establish the Temple as Israel’s central institution.

As much as we associate Hanukkah with the miracle of an oil jug, which burned for eight days, the oil story is a very late account of   what actually happened at Hanukkah time. In the earliest non- eyewitness account of the Hanukkah story, we learn that:


  • The Temple was re-dedicated on the 25th of Kislev.
  • The menorah was relit, after being cast aside by the enemy.
  • The people sang hymns, similar to Hanukkah prayers today.
  • Hanukkah became an annual event.


Only hundreds of years later, when the Maccabees were a distant memory, does our tradition emphasize the miracle of the oil-rather than a military victory over Antiochus and his imposing army. The modest oil lasting for a miraculous eight days, conveyed the idea that victory was due to divine intervention and not to human initiative alone.


Please do not be alarmed. The facts do not taint our Hanukkah celebration. The Hanukkah theme of miracle; and the celebration of light, freedom and belief in God are vital and essential to the holiday story. When an Israel no longer existed, celebrating Israel’s military victory over Antiochus made little sense. A past military victory which preserved the country of Israel, would have little meaning for Jews living in exile; scattered throughout the world, However, even when the physical Israel ceased to exist, the spiritual Israel survived-by virtue of Jews who kept Jewish traditions alive, no mater where they lived. The oil/light, which burned in the Temple, was a symbol of Israel’s ongoing dedication to Jewish life. The light of Judaism could never be extinguished. It is reassuring to know that long after the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed, Am Yisrael still celebrated Hanukkah as a festival of freedom. That fact is a true miracle.


Today, even with a Jewish homeland and relative prosperity for us in the United States, the reconstructed Hanukkah story of a miracle continues to inspire us. The history of Judaism is a sage of a small people surviving against all odds. Our sacred texts and traditions remain strong and firm in our minds and hearts, even if our observance is different from that of our ancestors.



The booklet includes the following:


  • Four versions of the Hanukkah story, written over centuries


  • The procedure and ceremony for lighting the candles


  • The Hanukkah chapter from my book Sharing Blessings. I have included a brief parent guide to highlight some of the values in this story.


  • A few suggestions for values-oriented Hanukkah gifts.


Hag Orim Sameach– Have a happy Hanukkah filled with spirit, joy and fun!

Rabbi Michael Klayman







     Rabbi Klayman’s Note: Hanukkah is the only major Jewish holiday not mentioned in the Bible. Every other major holiday comes from the Torah except for Purim, a holiday introduced in the Book of Esther. Hanukkah was initiated by the Maccabees and their followers. Surprisingly, nothing was written about Hanukkah until about fifty years after the first celebration. The following four sources offer different reasons for the Hanukkah celebration. For a good reference on this subject, please refer to Dr. Ron Wolfson’s book The Art of Jewish Living: Hanukkah. Dr. Wolfson first compared these four conclusions and the distinctions between them. In this section of the booklet, I cite the four endings to the Hanukkah story and add some personal commentary.





The First Book of Maccabees, was probably the first written account of the holiday. It was written in the Hebrew; in the land of Israel.


They purified the Temple, removed the stones, which defiled it…they took unhewed stones…and built a new altar on the model of the old one. They rebuilt the Sanctuary and restored its interior and courts. They fixed the sacred vessels and menorah…then early on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev…it was rededicated with hymns of thanksgiving…Then Judah, his brothers, and the whole congregation of Israel decreed that the rededication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness at the same time each year.



On Hanukkah today, we sing hymns of thanksgiving, known as Hallel. The Hallel is a series of uplifting prayers (from the Bible’s Book of Psalms), sung on many Jewish holidays. Kislev is the Hebrew month when we celebrate Hanukkah.



The First Book of Maccabees was written after the Bible was completed. It was probably written in Israel around 120 B.C.E; about forty-five years after the first Hanukkah took place. We learn some important details from the Maccabee I account:


  • We learn than Hanukkah was celebrated on 25 Kislev
  • The Temple was rebuilt and restored
  • The menorah was fixed; we assume it was lit
  • Israel sang hymns of thanksgiving, similar to the Hallel.
  • The people created an annual holiday


According to this account, there is no miracle of oil; only a reference to rededicating the altar (Hanukkah means dedication).   About two hundred years after the Maccabee I account, the Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote a version of the Hanukkah story, which is similar to the account above.






This Second Book of Maccabees was not written in Hebrew; it was written outside of Israel. It is interesting how Hanukkah is such a popular holiday, yet we know little about the Books of Maccabee, which detail origins of the holiday.

Maccabeus with his men, led by God, recovered the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. He demolished the altars erected by the heathens in the public square and their sacred precincts as well. When they had purified the sanctuary, they constructed another altar, then striking fire from flints, they offered the lights, and the Shew Bread…The sanctuary was purified on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev…This joyful celebration went on for eight days, it was like Sukkot, for they recalled how only a short time before they had kept the festival while living like animals in the mountains, and so they carried lulavim and etrogim, and they chanted hymns to God who had triumphantly led them to the purification of the Temple. A measure was passed by the public assembly that the entire Jewish people should observe these days every year.


In this second account, we learn key details:

  • The holiday begins on 25 Kislev; celebrated for eight days
  • The Temple was ‘purified’ and restored
  • Lights were rekindled-no details about oil
  • Hymns were recited; similar to today’s Hallel
  • All of Israel would annually observe a holiday



However, we learn two new facts. First, Hanukkah would last for eight days. Second, the first Hanukkah was a substitute for Sukkot.

Sukkot is the eight-day holiday when we eat in a Sukkah, and wave Lulav (palm) and etrog (citron). During the Maccabee struggle to reclaim the Temple, the soldiers could not observe Sukkot that year. When the Maccabees won, they observed Sukkot at the season we know today as Hanukkah. Today, we observe both Sukkot AND Hanukkah as eight-day holidays on the Jewish calendar. The second ending reminds us how life and survival will sometimes conflict with Jewish practice. The Maccabees fought what today we might describe as a guerilla war. They operated in secrecy from the mountains, and could not observe Sukkot (a major holiday even then) because they were too pre-occupied with preserving a nation. However, there is no record of a miracle.







The Pesikta Rabbati is a collection of Midrashim (homilies which teach ethical lessons) written in Israel sometime after the year 200 C.E. It was written later than the two Books of Maccabees cited above.


Why are lights kindled during Hanukkah?


At the time the sons of Hashmon (the Maccabees) triumphed over the kingdom of Greece, they entered the Temple and they found there eight spears of iron, which they grooved out, poured in oil, and kindled wicks.


Why is the Hallel read?


Because Hallel is not read except on the overthrow of a foreign government, and since the kingdom of Antiochus continued after the Maccabee battle, Hallel was not said. Since the empire of Greece was (eventually) destroyed, Hallel is now said…



Here too, we learn that the Temple was rededicated; we also learn more about the reasons for saying the Hallel, hymns of thanksgiving. The source mentions eight spears of irons used for the oil. This source also emphasizes Hanukkah as a military victory over the Greeks. Again, however, there is no miracle.









The Talmud is a major rabbinic work, which expands the Bible into an elaborate and intricate legal system ranging from agricultural laws and holiday observances, to Jewish jurisprudence and laws about marriage.



Our sages taught: One the twenty-fifth of Kislev begins the eight days of Hanukkah, which are days on which mourning and fasting are prohibited.


For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all of the oil; and when the Hasmonean dynasty dedicated them, they searched and found only one jug of oil with the official seal of the Head Kohayn (Priest), enough to burn for one day. But a miracle happened and the oil lasted for eight days.


In the following years, these days were appointed as a festival on which Hallel was said.


This last ‘ending’ to the Hanukkah story, was written hundreds of years after the Maccabee victory. It was written at a time when Israel no longer existed as a country. Therefore, celebrating a military victory had little meaning to Jews who were scattered over the world. The Talmud does cite the 25th of Kislev as the date when the eight- day celebration begins. It also mentions the holiday as a time for Hallel, hymns of thanksgiving. The major contribution of the Talmud source is that it shifts emphasis from a military victory to the miracle of oil. The oil became symbolic of Israel’s will to survive without a homeland. It became a source of inspiration for Jews everyone: No matter what the circumstances, the Jewish people would survive





The correct term for the Hanukkah menorah is Hanukkiah. The Menorah was the seven-branch candelabra described in the Torah. According to ancient tradition, there was a disagreement between the Schools of Hillel and Shammai (named for the two great Rabbinic leaders of their generation) about how to light the Hanukkiah. The School of Hillel taught that we light one candle the first night and then add a candle for each of the subsequent nights. The idea behind Hillel’s opinion is Ma’aleen Ba’kodesh v’lo Moreedeen-we increase in holiness and do not decrease. According to Shammai, we begin with eight candles and then decrease by one each night, recognizing the number of days remaining as each night passes by. Our practice is to begin with one candle and to increase each night- according to the view of Hillel.


On the first night of Hanukkah, we recite three Brakhot (blessings), including the She’he’khe’yanu. The She’he’khe’yanu is not integral to Hanukkah, but it expresses our gratitude for arriving at another special occasion in our lives. On the first night of Hanukkah, we recite the She’he’khe’yanu as the third blessing, On the following nights, we only recite the first two blessings: The blessing for lighting the candles and the blessing recognizeing the miracle of Hanukkah. Following the blessing, many people recite Hanerot Halalu: A prayer, which both reminds us about the reasons for Hanukkah, and teaches us that the Hanukkah lights cannot be used for any other purpose. On Shabbat, for example, we are permitted to read by the Shabbat candles. With Hanukkah, the miracle is so important that we focus on the miracle alone-and do not use the candles for anything else.


Following the lighting, we traditionally sing Ma’oz Tzur, recognizing God as a Rock, who is unwavering and supportive of the Jewish people amidst all challenges and circumstances.


Final word: The Hanukkiah should be placed in a window sill (with the candles from right to left as seen from the outside). We do this for the sake of Pirsuma Nisa, publicizing the miracle. As much as Jewish holidays are for us as Jews, on Hanukkah we share the ideals of light and freedom with the rest of the world.



Before Lighting the Candles:


  • We place candles from right to left but light from left to right (starting with the candle representing the latest night).


  • Set the shamash (the server candle) in its designated holder


  • Place the candle for the first night in the far right holder



  • On the second night, repeat steps 1 and 2 and add a candle in the next holder toward to the left of the first night’s candle.


  • On each subsequent night, continue to add one candle toward the left, until all holders are filled by the eighth night.


The Procedure:


  • Light the Shamash
  • Say/Chant the Blessings




Baruch ata Adonai, Elohenu melech ha-olam
asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav, ve-tzivanu le-hadlik
ner shel Hanukah.
Praised are You, Adonay our God, Ruler of the World Who sanctified us by the commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukah.



Baruch ata Adonai, Elohenu melech ha-olam
she-asa nisim la-avotenu ba-yamim ha-hem
ba-zeman ha-zeh.



Baruch ata Adonai, Elohenu melech ha-olam
she-hecheyanu, ve-kiyemanu, ve-higiyanu la-zeman ha-zeh.


Praised are You, Adonay our God, Ruler of the World,
Who has kept us alive, and has preserved us,
and enabled us to reach this season.





Hanneirot hallalu anachnu madlikin ‘al hannissim ve’al hanniflaot ‘al hatteshu’ot ve’al hammilchamot she’asita laavoteinu bayyamim haheim, (u)bazzeman hazeh ‘al yedei kohanekha hakkedoshim. Vekhol-shemonat yemei Hanukkah hanneirot hallalu kodesh heim, ve-ein lanu reshut lehishtammesh baheim ella lir’otam bilvad kedei lehodot ul’halleil leshimcha haggadol ‘al nissekha ve’al nifleotekha ve’al yeshu’otekha


We light these lights for the miracles and the wonders, for the redemption and the battles that you made for our forefathers, in those days at this season, through your holy priests. During all eight days of Hanukkah these lights are sacred, and we aren’t permitted to make ordinary use of them except for to look at them in order to express thanks and praise to Your great Name for your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.




   Rock of Ages, let our song               Maoz tzur yeshuati
   Praise Your saving power                        Lekha na’eh l’shabey’ah
   You amidst the raging foes                 Tikkon beit tefillati
   Were our sheltering tower.                 V’sham todah nizabeyah.  
   Furious, they assailed us                    L’eit takhin matbeyah.
   But Your arm availed us.                     Mitzar hamnabeyah.
And Your word broke their sword       Az egmor, b’shir mizmor,
When our own strength failed us       Hanukkat hamizbeyah









































The town is planning to tear down Pine Street Playground, Mom said. They sold the land. It’s going to become a gas station.


I love that playground! Ilana cried. It has a tunnel you can crawl into. I used to take a flashlight inside and read. It was so cozy.


For the town, business is business, Mom said. We’re going to have to call a meeting of neighbors to organize a protest. It’s hard to fight the town, but we have to try.


The Maccabees fought people who were stronger than they were, David said. Why can’t we?


Good point, David, Dad smiled. They stood up for what they thought was right…


We’ll have to try for a modern-day Hanukkah miracle to save the playground, Dad said.


Time to light the candles, Mom called. She turned off the lights. The family gathered around the antique brass menorah that had once belonged to Dad’s great-grandparents. Mom had placed it on the windowsill so everyone outside could see it.


Dad lit the shamash candle first, then the other candles from left to right. Ilana held Dad’s hand to light the first candle. The wick caught fire slowly, then leapt up brightly. David helped light the second candle.


Barukh atah Adonai, Elohenu melekh ha’olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetsivanu lehadlik ner shel Hanukkah, they chanted together. Praised You, Adonai our God, who commanded us to light the Hanukkah lights.


After chanting another blessing thanking God for the miracle of Hanukkah, Mom began singing Maoz Tzur. Ilana and Dad joined in…


Those dancing flames make me want to dance, Mom said. She put her arm around Dad’s waist and swept him into a waltz, humming the tune of Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah!


No more temper? Dad teased her. She shook her head. But I haven’t forgotten the playground, she said.


Do we get presents tonight? David asked.


Remember we agreed on one gift the first night only, Mom said, still dancing. Hanukkah is about the miracle of freedom, not the miracle of presents.


But Mom, David argued, All my friends get presents on other nights.


We do have a little gift for you, Mom smiled, taking a small package wrapped in shiny paper out of a drawer.


David unwrapped it. Finger puppets? He squealed in disgust. I was hoping for a train set.


Dad and I thought it would be fun to hear the story of Hanukkah in your words, Mom said. You could make a puppet show.


You always have a game up your sleeve, Mom, Ilana said. Oh well, David, let’s try to make the best of it. She grabbed his hand and led him upstairs. An hour later, they came back down. You are invited to a puppet show they bowed to Mom and Dad, who settled on the sofa. On a table, David set a carton from which he had cut out the back.


Once there was a man named Judah M, Ilana began. Through the back of the carton, David waved a finger puppet with a big J on it. Judah lived in a town called Presentville, where everyone spent all year planning their Hanukkah presents. But Judah had a tough job. Every day he went from house to house trying to convince the people of the town that there was more to Hanukkah than presents. First he visited Mrs. Latke. Ilana wiggled a puppet with a hat shaped like a potato pancake.


Good morning, Mrs. Latke, David said in a deep voice. Nice to see you so oily in the morning. Just wanted to remind you about the miracle of the Hanukkah oil, which burned in the Temple for eight days instead of just one. That’s why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days.


My kids don’t care about the Hanukkah story, Ilana said in Mrs. Latke, they insisted they only had time for presents. Ilana spun two puppets shaped like tops.




Judah went to Mr. Gelt’s store and Miss Candle’s school. Nobody was interested in the Hanukkah story, Ilana continued. They one day, the king of Presentville ordered that the townspeople could no longer fry latkes, spin dreidles or light Hanukkah candles. And they could only give one present. Everyone gathered in Menorah Square. They wondered what to do.


We have to stand up for what we believe in, David said in Judah’s voice. Now’s the time to show what Hanukkah really means.


Presents are okay, but I want to remember the miracle of the oil, Ilana said in Mrs. Latke’s voice.


The townspeople sent letters of protest, David said. When the king realized that the people finally understood the meaning of Hanukkah, he allowed them to celebrate the holiday. The end.


Mom and Dad clapped. You’ve put your fingers right on the meaning of Hanukkah, Dad said. Bravo!


The candles have gone out already, Mom said, but your play shows that the Hanukkah story keeps burning strong in all kinds of ways. And now, I’m sure the stars of the show are hungry. Latkes, everyone!


           Praised are You               Who has inspired us

           Adonai our God,               To stand up for our beliefs















Based on the Hanukkah chapter from Sharing Blessings


  • Shalom Bayit: Sense of Family/Inheriting Family Traditions: Hanukkah is an opportunity for the entire family to both share in the preparations and honor or create family traditions. Do you have a special family hanukkiah (menorah)? Have you inherited any customs or traditions from your parents or grandparents? Is there anyone in your family who could share personal stories about struggling for freedom? Perhaps you can even record these stories in a family booklet or album as a cherished heirloom?


  • Symbolism Beyond the Candles: The candles we light on the hanukkiah are not just lights, which burn for a brief time. They can represent a light, which burns even after the candles are extinguished. When you light the candles, you can ask each family member to think about what the light means to him/he


  • Conviction: Hanukkah was about a special cause worth fighting for. Think about a community cause, which deserves your attention. As a family, make a plan to fight on behalf of that cause.


  • Minority: Maybe Hanukkah is an appropriate time to discuss or read about people who are treated unfairly in the world. As an alternative, read about someone who helped people-even when others doubted the cause. Maybe before giving presents one night, you can go around and say why you are proud to be Jewish, even if the Jewish people are a small number.


  • Freedom: There are lots of books, which share the stories of children fighting to be free. Books make for great Hanukkah gifts-especially when they have important values and can be read as a family.


  • Hiddur Mitzvah (Literally, to make a practice or custom more beautiful and meaningful): Owning a nice hanukkiah, ore even a special dreidel can add to holiday joy. Explore ways to make the festival more meaningful beyond lighting candles. Perhaps you can even make your own candles?


  • Miracles: Watch a movie or DVD about a modern miracle.


  • Tzedakah/Gemilut Hasadim (acts of kindness): As a family, decide upon a tzedakah in honor of Hanukkah. If you need guidance, I will be happy to assist you.


  • Kol Yisrael Araveem Zeh Lazeh (Jewish teaching which means all Jews are responsible for one another): Hanukkah celebrates a community victory. Invite friends to join for the lighting; or take turns inviting one another. Perhaps during the year, you can plan several Shabbat dinners with a group of friends.








  • As a family, buy at least one present for someone who is needy. Include your children in the selection and in the delivery of the gift.


  • Buy a book or another gift, which focuses on the idea of freedom or understanding. Several years ago I bought a version of the ‘cat’s cradle’, which described versions of the game from different countries were children were struggling. There are so many books like this…


  • Give the gift of yourselves: On one night of Hanukkah, participate or volunteer in a community cause.


  • Make latkes or another Hanukkah food for people who are needy (perhaps for local nursing home or soup kitchen like the Interfaith Nutritional Network?).


  • Present pencils, crayons etc. and ask your students to create their own version of the Hanukkah story.


  • Create a family heirloom which binds parents and children –and which you can preserve. Now this is a present!







Rules of the Game: With two or more people, put some chips (or chocolate!) in the center and spin the dreidel. If it lands on:



  • NUN-           Do nothing
  • GIMMEL-     Take everything from the center
  • HAY- Take one half from the center
  • SHIN-          Put two chips in the center



Each time the center is empty, players should contribute two chips to the center, so that the game will continue.