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Hanukkah in the Middle Ages

Hanukkah in the Middle Ages

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by Judah Maccabee and his followers after the Maccabean Revolt against Greek rule around 160 BC. The festival, which is celebrated between late November and later December, gained more prominence in the Middle Ages, becoming one of the most important dates on the Jewish calendar.

While early texts reveal little information about this festival, by the medieval period more literature emerged, such as the Scroll of Antiochus, which provided new legends and details about the event. This includes the tradition of the Hanukkah menorah, which involves lighting eight lights, one for each night. Many medieval examples of the menorah have been preserved.

Menorah medieval – Hebrew Bible, illuminated by Joseph the Frenchman, Spain, 1299-1300

In medieval times, Ḥanukkah became a popular festival. It was said that “Even he who draws his sustenance from charity, should borrow, or sell his cloak to purchase oil and lamps, and kindle” the Ḥanukkah light. Special foods, like cheese and pancakes, were eaten during feasts, gifts of money were exchanged, children would play with dreidels, and adult men would play with cards.

See also:

The Order of Lighting the Hanukkah Candles: The Evolution of a Custom and the Influence of the Publication of the Shulhan Arukh

The Rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and His Assault Against Judaea

Hellenization not forced upon Jews in period of Maccabean revolt, says Hebrew University professor

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18th century woodcut depicting Hanukkah ceremony

18th century woodcut depicting Hanukkah ceremony

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