Hanukkah Traditions

This holiday season you may see things like trees, wreaths, and sleighs which are common decorations you will come across during the holiday season. You may also see dreidels and menorahs. As you celebrate with friends, you may notice that, in addition to traditional holiday cookies, you can also enjoy jelly donuts and potato pancakes.

These treats and embellishments pay homage to the over half a million Jews that call South Florida home. It is America’s third-largest Jewish metro area and is only smaller than New York and Los Angeles. Couple that with the fact that there are nearly 50 Jewish congregations in Palm Beach and along the Treasure Coast and it is no wonder that the “Festival of Lights” or Hanukkah is such an important part of the celebrations that take place this time of year.

Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates the victory of few over many. The small Jewish army led by Judah was known as the Maccabees which defeated the Greeks that tried to annihilate the Jews. However, that was not until after the Temple was desecrated. After victory was declared and they returned to the Temple, they found only enough oil to light the lamp for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days which enabled the Jewish people to make more so that they could keep the lamp lit.

Today, Jews all over the world celebrate by eating fried foods, particularly jelly donuts (sufganiyot) and potato pancakes (latkes). They play games with a top called a dreidel. It has four sides, and the letter on each side stands for a Hebrew word in the sentence, “A great miracle happened there.” Depending on where the top falls decides how many coins (sometimes made of chocolate) you get or have to relinquish.

For eight nights, beginning this year on December 12, Jews will light a menorah to commemorate the lamp that stayed lit much longer than it should have. The helper candle (shamash) is lit first and lights one more candle each night until all eight are glowing brightly. It is customary for the menorah to be placed in a window so that the light can be shared with others. In many Jewish households today, gifts replace the money or gelt that was given each night in generations past.

In addition to Chanukah, two other Jewish holidays fall in December. They are Rosh Chodesh and Asara B’Tevet. Rosh Chodesh begins when the sun goes down on Sunday, December 17 and commemorates the beginning of the new Hebrew month of Tevet. It is the 10th month of the Jewish calendar.

On the 10th day of the 10th month, those of this religion will partake in a minor fast. Known as Asara B’Tevet, it corresponds, this year, to December 28. Jews will not eat from sun up until sundown to remember when Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia took over Jerusalem.

Due to the fact that the Hebrew calendar follows the moon and during a leap year, an entire month is added, these holidays never fall on the same day of the American calendar from year to year. The American calendar follows the sun. These differences make it, so these Jewish celebrations fall anywhere between Thanksgiving and New Years on the traditional calendar.

From David Shiner and your friends at Shiner Law Group, we wish you a safe and happy holiday season.

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