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Jewish Feast of Lights Celebrates Freedom


Dec. 7, 2004 – The Jewish community is currently observing Chanukah, the Feast of Lights, a holiday that celebrates the right of all people to worship freely. The eight-day celebration began at sundown Tuesday, December 7.
The Jewish people the world over will commemorate during these eight days the first ever military battle waged on behalf of religious freedom. Chanukah, meaning dedication in Hebrew, specifically celebrates the anniversary of the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple which was defiled by the Greco-Syrian oppressors.
While Chanukah celebrates an historic event, a number of legends have grown up around the holiday and its heroic leaders, the Maccabees. The most famous is the miracle of the Ner Tamid, the eternal light. The Rabbis of the Talmud felt a need to downplay the military aspect of the holiday. To elevate its spiritual side, the Rabbis tell how miraculously the ceremonial light in the Temple, which had only enough oil to burn for one day, continued to burn for eight days.
The miracle of the oil is remembered each year. The major ceremony of the holiday is the lighting of the Chanukah Menorah. The purpose of lighting this eight branch candelabra (with an added extra branch which is used to light the others making nine branches in all) is to "publicize the miracle" of Chanukah. Each night a new candle is added, until on the last night the Menorah is ablaze with splendor, proclaiming the victory of the oppressed over the oppressor.

Although Chanukah is a minor Jewish holiday, primarily because it is not Biblically ordained, it abounds with religious significance. The message of Chanukah teaches us that all peoples have a basic human right to worship freely accordingly to the dictates of their conscience. That light that was rekindled over 2000 years ago, must be kept burning! It recognizes our right to be different. We don’t all have to look the same, dress the same, or worship the same! We must always be on guard to ensure everyone has that right.
As Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul, and Mary) wrote: "Don’t let the light go out!"
Happy Chanukah!
Rabbi Arthur F. Starr
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