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Hanukkah (pronounced 'hanukkah - the first letter is a Hebrew 'Het - also spelled Hannukka. Hanukah, Chanuka or Chanukah) is the Jewish holiday celebrating the victories of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Syrian government, about 164 BCE. These events are historical and were recorded by Roman historians as well. The story is told in the Book of the Maccabees, which was apparently translated from a Greek original into Hebrew.  The word "Hanukkah" means dedication, and the name refers to rededication of the temple following the victory over the Seleucid armies.


Tradition relates that the liberators found only sufficient sanctified oil to light the temple lamp for one day, but it lasted for eight days until new oil could be prepared. Therefore, the holiday is celebrated by lighting an eight branched candelabrum, the Hanukkiyah (shown at right) for each of eight days, lighting an additional candle or lamp each day. Hanukkah is also called "the festival of lights" and the celebration was probably timed to coincide with a traditional winter solstice holiday.

It is believed that the holiday was unpopular with rabbinical Judaism, because the Maccabees were considered to be Hellenizers, imitators of the Greeks, and was therefore neglected. The Book of the Maccabbees was not included in the standard edition of the Old Testament Bible. A second feast in honor of the Maccabees, the feast of Nicanor, was replaced by the fast of Esther. Zionists revived Hanukkah as a holiday of national liberation.

For an extensive description of the Hanukkah tradition, see Hanukkah

Synonyms and alternate spellings: Hanuka, Chanuka, Hannukah etc.

Further Information:  See Hanukkah

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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