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Why is Chanukah referred to as the "Festival of Lights"?

Around 175 BC, Israel came under the rule of the Syrian King Antiochus who wanted to obliterate the Jewish religion. Judah, leader of the Maccabees, a group of Jewish warriors, led a revolution against the Syrians and with an army of only six thousand defeated the Syrian army of 47,000. Eventually, the Maccabees liberated Jerusalem and rededicated the Holy Temple, which they did by lighting the Menorah, whose continuous burning symbolized the union of the different types of Jews and the eternal presence of God.

In those days, only the purest olive oil was to be used for lighting, but only a small drop was found left in the Temple. It would take at least eight days to prepare some more. Nevertheless, the Menorah was lit, and by a miracle that small amount of oil burned for eight days and nights until more oil had been prepared. The celebration of Chanukah by Jews around the world commemorates this miracle and the victory over persecution. Today, however, instead of using olive oil, candles are used. As are hanukiahs, which are like the menorah but have nine branches to last the full eight days, rather than the seven like those in the representations found in the Temple.

The lighting of these candles represents more than just remembering the Maccabees, it also symbolizes the kindling of the light of knowledge, generosity and hope, and the driving away of the darkness of ignorance. It is also traditional to serve foods cooked in oil, like potato latkes. And as the science states, olive oil may just be the best oil to use in terms of health. This monounsaturated oil does not increase blood cholesterol and may be explain why Greeks and Italians, who have diets high in fat and mostly based on olive oil, have low rates of heart disease.


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