‘A reminder to stand up against oppression’: Rabbi shares the story of Chanukah

PUBLISHED: 07:00 30 November 2018 | UPDATED: 08:58 30 November 2018

Woodford Liberal Synagogue Rabbi Richard Jacobi.

Woodford Liberal Synagogue Rabbi Richard Jacobi.


The importance of fighting religious persecution will be at the forefront of many in the Jewish communities’ minds as Chanukah begins this weekend, a South Woodford Rabbi has said.

Chanukah – also known as the festival of rededication – begins on this Sunday evening and runs until next Monday, December 10.

The Recorder spoke with Rabbi Richard Jacobi, of the East London Essex Liberal Synagogue, in Marlborough Road, to understand the origins of the Chanukah.

“The festival goes back to the time when the ancient Syrians were in the land of Israel,” he said.

“King Antiochus IV had banned the practise of Judaism.

“The temple of Jerusalem was desecrated, with sacrifices being made in it to Syrian gods.

“Many in the community were being forced to eat prohibited foods, such as pork, in public.

“If they wouldn’t, they would be persecuted and killed.”

Rabbi Jacobi spoke of how Mattathias, a priest, and his five sons formed a small Jewish guerilla army, called the Maccabees, who fought against the ruling oppressive power.

“As we would say, they miraculously ousted and defeated them, pushing them out of the country and restoring the Temple,” he added.

The festival of Chanukah is eight days long and it is traditional to light a candle on the Chanukiah, a nine-branched lamp-stand, for each day of the festival.

The candles symbolise the miracle that happened to Mattathias’ group after they reclaimed and restored the temple of Jerusalem, Rabbi Jacobi explained.

When they finished cleaning the Temple, they wished to rededicate it to God by re-lighting the everlasting light.

“The small pot of oil they found was only enough for one day,” he said.

“But they lit it and it miraculously lasted for eight days until they found a pot of fresh oil.”

In keeping with the theme of oil, Jews eat fried foods at Chanakah including doughnuts and potato latkes.

“We remember to cling to our right to have our own teachings and beliefs,” he said.

“But this cannot be true only for us. Chanukah is a reminder to stand up against oppression.”

Rabbi Jacobi said that the story still rings true today with religious minorities across the world, such as the Yazidis of Iraq, continuing to face persecution.

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