Sharing the story of the miracle of Chanukkah

Photography Courtesy of Suzanne Angermeier

Johnny Myers

  This week, Grizzly writer Johnathan Myers sat down with Jonathan Guba ‘19, president of Hillel, the organization dedicated to Jewish life on campus, in order to hear the story of Chanukkah. Chanukkah, which pays tribute to a miracle that occurred in 165 BCE, is a Rabbinic holiday because, according to, the events that it commemorates occurred after the period of the Hebrew Bible. The story of the Maccabees, therefore, is not recorded in the Torah. It is recorded in the Catholic Bible, but the practice of Chanukkah as a Jewish tradition was practiced before its recording. According to Religious Studies scholar Dr. Steven H. Werlin, the Chanukkah story was frequently passed down by oral tradition. It was told by parents and grandparents to children and the details would change slightly with each telling. In the spirit of that oral tradition, Guba retold the story for the Grizzly. Below is a direct transcript of Guba telling the story, edited lightly for clarity. 

The story of Chanukkah [begins] a couple thousand years ago. There were a bunch of people, the Israelites, that were living [in Judea which was a part of the Ptolemaic Empire]. [Ruler of the Seleucid Empire] Antiochus III [conquered the Judean region of the Ptolemaic Empire]. Antiochus III followed the Greek / Hellenistic religion, and at first [Jewish traditions were respected, but then his son, Antiochus IV] . . . decided that [this] was heresy, and went into ancient Israel to stop [them] and implement his own religion.

When he got there, he desecrated the temple [and] he killed the people who were openly practicing Judaism. Eventually, it [became] sort of an ultimatum that you converted to the Hellenistic traditions, or you were killed. A bunch of ancient Israelites went into the mountains and formed a resistance led by the Maccabees, headed by Judah Maccabee and his father Mathias Maccabee. These Maccabees formed a small rebellion, and in the first miracle of Chanukkah, beat back the massive army of the Greco-Syrians.

After a long war of mostly guerilla tactics, the Maccabees came out as the victors of the conflicts, and were able to go back to the temple. When they got back, they found that the temple was desecrated. The Greco-Syrians had brought un-kosher animals, pigs, through the temple, and had destroyed the vials of oil that were used to light the Menorah, the eternal fire that’s supposed to signify God’s presence. When they [searched] the temple, they found that there was only [one] vial of this sacred oil left, which was only enough for one day of light. They were out of options. They lit the Menorah for that one day. The process of refining more oil was an eight-day long process [involving] finding the olives [and] distilling them, to make [the sacred] oil. So, they [began the] refining process, and [while undergoing that process] the oil that they found in the temple [miraculously] lasted for the entirety of the eight days, which is why Chanukkah is eight days long . . . and [why] the word Chanukkah means dedication.”

Ursinus Hillel will be decorating the Hillel House (33 6th Ave) for Chanukkah and will be holding candle lightings at the Hillel house during the days, December 12-15, of Chanukkah that fall within the semester. Students who are interested in participating can contact