Observant Jews through- out the world are celebrating Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, by lighting one candle or vessel filled with oil, on special eight-branched candelabra, the charact- eristic menorah.
Each evening an addit- ional flame is lit so that on the last night all eight candles and an additional holder set apart from the rest, burn brightly. The holiday symbolizes the triumph of light over dark- ness, of purity over adult- eration, and of spirituality over materialism, and conveys a deep meaning regarding the importance of religious freedom.
In the second century BCE, the land of Israel was ruled by the Syrian -Greek Seleucid Empire. Beginning around 175 BCE, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes took the Seleucid throne, a period of repression of traditional Jewish customs and practices began. The temple in Jerusalem was turned over to the worship of Zeus. These actions inspired a revolt, initially led by the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons. By 165 BCE this revolt, led by Mattathias' son Judah Maccabee, who undertook a series of guerrilla actions, was successful.
Judah ordered the tem- ple cleansed and rededi- cated. According to tra- dition, however, only one cruse of uncontaminated olive oil, enough to burn for one day, remained, and it would take eight days to prepare a new supply. Miraculously, this oil burned for the entire eight days. To commemorate this miracle and their freedom from foreign occupation, Jewish sages declared an eight-day holiday to be celebrated each year.
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"Nes Gadol Hayah Sham."