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8-Day Hanukkah Festival Recalls an Ancient Legend

December 20, 1986

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which begins at sundown Friday, lasts for eight days--and more than one explanation exists for the holiday's length, rabbis say.

Hanukkah, known as the festival of lights, recalls a legend that when a band of fighters led by Judah Maccabee liberated the Jerusalem Temple in 165 BC, there was only one day's supply of oil for the ner tamid , or eternal light. Yet, legend says, the lamp's oil lasted eight days.

Because of the Maccabees' victory over foreign domination, the holiday has become an occasion to remember the plight of some contemporary Jews. "Our brothers and sisters in the Soviet Union, who are not allowed to leave, cannot freely practice their religion (and) their children are not permitted to receive a Jewish education," said Rabbi Allan Schranz of Sinai Temple in Westwood.

But the word Hanukkah itself means "dedication."

"Most historians now believe that the eight days of Hanukkah parallel the eight days of (King) Solomon's dedication of the first Jerusalem Temple," said Rabbi Harvey J. Fields, writing in the bulletin for Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Solomon lived eight centuries before Judah Maccabee.

"It's certainly clear that Judah had such a celebration in mind when he told his followers that 'the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days,' " Fields said, quoting from 1 Maccabees 59, one of the apocryphal books included in some Bible editions.

Though some synagogues will have family services Friday evening, the holiday is primarily a home celebration. Children receive gifts and one candle is lighted each night of the holiday.

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