The Hanukkah holiday

The Hanukkah holiday commemorates the victory of the Jews over the Greek Syrian forces, lead by Antiochus Epiphenes, in the year 164 BC. The Jewish rebellion against Greek rule broke out after Antiochus enforced edicts nullifying the religious beliefs of the peoples under his rule. Jews were forbidden to keep the Sabbath and conduct circumcisions, the Holy Temple was desecrated by idol worshipping, and the Jewish rituals previously conducted there were halted.

The rebellion was lead by Matityahu the Hasmonean, a priest from Modi'in, and his five sons. After a number of battles lead by Yehuda HaMaccabee, the City of Jerusalem was liberated from the Greeks. The Hasmoneans purified the Temple so that the worship of God could resume. They purified the seven branched oil lamp in which the priests burned oil candles, and found one cruse of oil which had not been rendered impure by the Greeks. Tradition tells that the oil in this single small cruse lasted for eight days. This is the Miracle of Hanukkah.

Since ancient times, it is customary to light an additional Hanukkah candle on each additional holiday eve in an eight-branched Hanukkia (lamp or candelabrum). The Hanukkia is placed in a prominent spot or near a window so as to publicize the miracle. The eight candles in the Hanukkia are lit with a special candle, called the shamash. Special holiday songs accompany the candle lighting, the best known of them being Maoz Tzur. The Hanukkah holiday falls on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the civil year and the ninth month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew calendar.

The name Hanukkah has a number of possible derivations. It is possibly from the dedication (Hanukkah) of the Holy Temple. The holiday name could also possibly be an acronym for Eight Candles and the Jewish Law According to the Hillel School. The Hillel school determined the Jewish custom, still accepted, whereby one candle is added for each day of the feast, until eight candles are lit in the Hanukkiah on the last day of the holiday. The Shamai School on the other hand decided that eight candles should be lit on the first day of the holiday, with one candle less being lit during the following days of the holiday. In general, Jewish Law was determined by the Hillel School.

Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Maccabee Holiday. Children particularly enjoy Hanukkah because of the holiday custom of eating doughnuts and potato latkes, fried in oil, to commemorate the miracle of the lasting oil. The children also play games with a special Hanukkah spinning top (the dreidel) and receive Hanukkah gifts.

The lighting of the Hanukkah candles has become a symbol of the victory of light over darkness, of bravery and the struggle for freedom of faith and national liberty of a people in their homeland, the few battling against the myriad.

The seven branched lamp has become part of the national symbol of the State of Israel.

The stamp was issued as a joint American-Israeli production in 1996. The stamp is unique in that it is the first Israeli self adhesive stamp. Designer: Hannah Smotrich (USA).