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Most Jewish communities around the world celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah with communal gatherings, parties, songs, and games. Hanukkah candles are often lit, Hanukkah songs are sung, and these celebrations usually include eating traditional Hanukkah foods such as latkes. Games of chance are played, while everyone tries their hand at spinning a dreidel (top) and Hanukkah gelt is often distributed to children.
The synagogal liturgy of Hanukkah has its specific features. In distinction to the major festivals, the standard weekday or Shabbat service is recited, rather than a special holiday version. A special insert in the Amidah (standing or silent prayer) called Al Hanissim (“concerning the miracles”) addresses the holiday of Hanukkah and offers thanks for God’s role during that event. Hallel (Psalms of praise) is also recited during the eight days of Hanukkah while the penitential prayer is omitted during this holiday.
However, in distinction to non-holiday times, the Torah is read on a daily basis during Hanukkah. The reading from the Book of Numbers, Chapter 7 describes sacrifices brought by the tribal leaders in commemoration of the dedication of the Tabernacle, a ceremony that lasted more than a week. It is the theme of dedication that is claimed to tie the Torah readings to the holiday of Hanukkah. On the Shabbat of Hanukkah, there is a special haftarah (prophetic reading) taken from Zechariah, Chapter 4. The haftarah begins by calling for jubilation as God once more dwells among the people. Toward the end of the reading, the prophet describes a lampstand (menorah), a symbol of the Temple with an obvious connection to Hanukkah. If there is a second Shabbat on Hanukkah, a special haftarah from I Kings, Chapter 7 is read. This short haftarah (verses 40-50) describes Solomon’s completion of the building of the Temple. Again, the symbolic relation to Hanukkah is self-explanatory.
While Hanukkah itself is a rather minor festival within the frame of Jewish law, the community has embraced it in a significant way and established it as a major event.
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