Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is a Jewish celebration also known as the Festival of Lights. It is a celebration of victory but not of war. War is not something that is celebrated in the Jewish religion. The ability to freely worship as one chooses is.
Over two thousand years ago Israel was part of the Syrian-Greek Empire. The King of Syria, Antiochus III, went to war with King Ptolemy of Egypt for ownership of the Land of Israel. Antiochus III won this war and took over the rule of Israel. In the beginning of his rule he was not unkind to his Jewish subjects. However, when he was defeated by the Romans, things began to change. Antiochus was forced to pay taxes to Rome. When he was succeeded by his son, Seleucus IV, things progressively became worse.
The Jewish people of Israel also faced the influence of the Hellenists who’s beliefs in idol worship and Syrian life style went against the basics of the Jewish beliefs. Yochanan, the High Priest was not liked by the Hellenists. Seleucus IV was informed by a Hellenists that the Temple contained great wealth. The King needed money to pay the taxes required by the Romans. Seleucus was not, however, successful in his attempt to take money from the Temple.
Seleucus IV was succeeded by his brother, Antiochus IV, and Antiochus was considered a cruel and harsh king. Antiochus IV removed Yochanan from his position of High Priest and replaced him with his brother who was a member of the Hellenist party. This began an era of Hellenist influence in the Temple and over the Jewish people. Also at this time Antiochus was involved in a war with Egypt. He was in a successful position but was ordered to end the war by Rome. Rumors spread in Jerusalem that an accident had occurred and Antiochus was dead. The people of Jerusalem then rebelled against the Hellenist ruling of the Temple.
When Antiochus return from Egypt he was informed of the rebellion and infuriated. He ordered his army to turn against the Jews and thousands were put to death. Jewish observances were outlawed. Only one refuge area remained in caverns of Judea and that too was subject to Syrian attack.
A priest by the name of Mattityahu also fled to the safety of Judea from Modin. He encourage his family, friends and others to follow him. As a group they formed legions and would destroy pagans alters and attack enemy outposts whenever they could. Before Mattityahu’s passing he gathered his sons and asked them to continue to fight to defend the Jewish people. He recommended that there leader be Judah the Strong. Judah was also known as Maccabee.
Antiochus sent his army to defeat Maccabee and his followers. Although the Syrians greatly outnumbered the followers, known as the Maccabees, the Maccabees were victorious. Antiochus continued to send armies and was continually defeated. After the final defeat, the Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to free it from Syrian rule.
When the Maccabees entered the Temple they cleared it of all the idols that have been placed by the Syrians. The golden Menorah had been stolen and the Maccabees made a new one of a lesser metal. Almost all of the oil for the Menorah had been defiled and only a small amount of pure oil remained for the lighting of the Menorah. There was only enough pure oil available for the Menorah to light for one day. It would however take longer than one day to purify new oil. By a miracle the remaining pure oil burned for eight days, long enough to purify new oil.
Hanukkah is the celebration of the oil burning for eight days by this miracle. It is not a celebration of war but a celebration of the freedom of the Jewish people.