Kislev is the ninth of the twelve months of the Jewish calendar.
Kislev comes at the same time as the secular months of November/December. This is a cold and dark time of year. Nature rests, and winter is upon us.
The mazalGood fortune, luck, and the Hebrew sign of the Zodiac. (constellation) for Kislev is Sagittarius, the keshet (arching bow).
The arching bow reminds us of the rainbow and of our responsibility to be guardians of the earth. In Genesis 9:12–17, God places a rainbow in the sky as a covenantal sign, indicating a promise never to destroy the earth again. (The blessing for seeing a rainbow: “We bless you, Eternal our God, who remembers the covenant and keeps faith with the covenant, forever according to your word.”) The bow of Kislev reminds us of the bows of the Maccabees who fought against the Selucids in the story of HanukkahThe holiday which celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following its conquest by the Syrians in 165 BCE. The holiday is celebrated by lighting candles in a hanukiyah oon each of eight nights. Other customs include the eating of fried foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly donuts), playing dreidl (a gambling game with a spinning top), and, in present day America, gift giving..
Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev and ends in Tevet. This is the only Jewish holiday that spans two Jewish months!
During the second century BCE, the Jews, led by the Maccabees, fought against Antiochus and his Selucid (Greek/Syrian) army. Antiochus had a policy of stifling Jewish religious life, including banning ShabbatShabbat is the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest, and is observed from Friday night through Saturday night. Is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. On Shabbat, many Jews observe prohibitions from various activities designated as work. Shabbat is traditionally observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends. observance and circumcision. Eventually, the Jews were victorious and reclaimed their religious life. To purify the Temple, which the Selucids had defiled, the Jews needed oil to rekindle the eternal flame. The story is told that they found only enough oil to last one day, but a miracle occurred, and the oil lasted for eight days. Thus, the Temple was rededicated. Hanukkah means dedication.
Hanukkah is the only important festival in the Jewish calendar not mentioned anywhere in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). The story is recorded in the ancient Books of the Maccabees.
Lighting the hanukkiyahThe modern Hebrew term for the Hanukah menorah, the nine-branched candelabrum (eight primary candles plus the shamash/server candle) lit on Hanukah to symbolize the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days.: (the special eight-flame menorahThe seeven-branched menorah stood in the Temple, and many present-day synagogues feature the menorah. Titus' arch depicts the Romans' sacking of the Temple and theft of the menorah. A nine-branched menorah called a Hanukkiyah is lit on Hanukkah to symbolize the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days., with a ninth shamash or servant flame)
Telling the story of JudithJudith saved her people by seducing Holofernes, the enemy general, and then decapitating him. The story of Judith, found in the apocrypha, is associated with Chanukah (relating to the tradition of eating cheese dishes because she seduced the general and fed him dairy). Her Hebrew name is Yehudit.: Among the Sephardim (Jews from the East), women traditionally gather on the seventh night to tell Judith’s story (found in the apocryphal Book of Judith ) and to eat cheese dishes, sing and dance, and receive special blessings. Some Ashkenazim (Jews from the West) used to tell the story of Judith on the eighth night of Hanukkah, in Yiddish.
Giving gifts to daughters: Some Sephardim call the end of Hanukkah the “New Moon of the Daughters” when parents give special presents to their daughters.
Playing dreidelA four-sided top bearing the letters "nun," "gimel," "hay," and "shin" for "nes gadol haya sham" - a great miracle happened there. In Israel, dreidels have a "peh" for "po" (here) -- a great miracle happened here. Played with on Chanukah in a gambling game, traditionally using chocolate gelt as the wager.: Dreidel is a classic Hanukkah gambling game. The letters on the dreidel—nun, gimmel, hay, shin—stand for a Hebrew sentence that translates to mean, “A great miracle happened there.” Some say that the origins of the game are German, and that the letters correspond to the directions for playing the game: nichts (“nothing”); ganz (take “all”); halb (take “half”), and stell ein (“put one in”).
Eating chocolate Hanukkah gelt (coins).
HannahHannah is the mother of the prophet Samuel, who, through her prayers, is rewarded a child. She herself is also considered a prophet. Hannah's intense devotional style of prayer becomes the model, in rabbinic Judaism, for prayer in general.
The Second Book of the Maccabees records cases of pious Jews who chose to die rather than submit to the Syrians. A celebrated mother (she is referred to in TalmudThe rabbinic compendium of lore and legend composed between 200 and 500 CE. Study of the Talmud is the focus of rabbinic scholarship. The Talmud has two versions, the main Babylonian version (Bavli) and the smaller Jerusalem version (Yerushalmi). It is written in Rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic. as MiriamMiriam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. As Moses' and Aaron's sister she, according to midrash, prophesies Moses' role and helps secure it by watching over the young baby, seeing to it that Pharaoh's daughter takes him and that the baby is returned to his mother for nursing. During the Israelites' trek through the desert, a magical well given on her behalf travels with the Israelites, providing water, healing, and sustenance., but the first-century historian Josephus identifies her as Hannah), Hannah expressed unfaltering faith in God as she was forced to watch her seven sons die for refusing to bow to an idol, and then she killed herself.
Hannah’s martyrdom raises the issue of supreme sacrifice for religion. We might ask ourselves where we would draw that line today. Hannah also calls upon us to hold in our hearts those mothers in every generation who must give up their children to war. We are reminded in particular about mothers in IsraelLit. ''the one who struggles with God.'' Israel means many things. It is first used with reference to Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel (Genesis 32:29), the one who struggles with God. Jacob's children, the Jewish people, become B'nai Israel, the children of Israel. The name also refers to the land of Israel and the State of Israel. today.
The Four “Women of Light”1
According to legend…
SarahThe first matriarch, wife of Abraham, and mother of Isaac, whom she birthed at the age of 90. Sarah, in Rabbinic tradition, is considered holy, beautiful, and hospitable. Many prayers, particularly the Amidah (the central silent prayer), refer to God as Magen Avraham – protector of Abraham. Many Jews now add: pokehd or ezrat Sarah – guardian or helper of Sarah. Imeynu (our foremother) lit candles at the beginning of Shabbat. Miraculously, the flame burned throughout the entire week, lighting the tents of AbrahamAbraham is the first patriarch and the father of the Jewish people. He is the husband of Sarah and the father of Isaac and Ishmael. God's covenant - that we will be a great people and inherit the land of Israel - begins with Abraham and is marked by his circumcision, the first in Jewish history. His Hebrew name is Avraham. and IsaacAbraham and Sarah's much-longed-for son and the second Jewish patriarch. Isaac is nearly sacrificed by his father at God's command (Genesis 22). He is married to Rebecca and is the father of Esau and Jacob. His Hebrew name is Yitzchak..
RebeccaThe second Jewish matriarch, Isaac's wife, and mother to Jacob and Esau. Rebecca is an active parent, talking to God when she is pregnant and learning the fate of her children, then ultimately manipulating Isaac and the children to ensure Jacob's ascendancy. Her Hebrew name is Rivka. Imeynu (our foremother) inherited the task of lighting these candles when Sarah died. Because Rebecca was also a righteous woman, her candle light shined throughout the entire week as Sarah’s had.
Queen EstherHeroine of the Purim story and Megillat (the scroll of) Esther. She is married to the king by her cousin Mordecai and ultimately saves her people from execution. was known as the Ayelet HaShachar (the morning star) who brought a bright, rekindled spirit to the Jews after the dark night of suffering at the time of King Ahashuaros.
Deborah was a wise and important Judge who lived in the twelfth century BCE. In the TorahThe Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general. Deborah is referred to as the “Woman of Lapidot.” In Hebrew, lapid means torch or flame, and so the Talmud refers to Deborah as a “woman of flames.” A contemporary midrashA rabbinic method of interpreting text, often through the telling of stories. teaches that Deborah made candle-wicks which lit before fire ever touched them; the candles were illuminated from the light inside of Deborah, which grew as she grew.2
The Four “Women of Light” remind us that each one of us can share her light without diminishing it. They also invite us to remember the female ancestors in our own families every time we light the Shabbat and Hanukkah candles.
Salty foods, especially salty cheeses, are traditional because legend has it that Judith fed the enemy general Holofernes salty foods to make him thirsty for wine. As he lay in a drunken stupor she was able to slay him, thus saving JerusalemLit. City of peace From the time of David to the Roman destruction, Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and the spiritual and governmental center of the Jewish people. During the long exile, Jews longed to return to Jerusalem and wrote poems, prayers, and songs about the beloved city. In 1967, with the capture of the Old City, Jerusalem was reunited, becoming "the eternal capital of Israel." Still, the longing for peace is unfulfilled. from siege.
Because of the miracle of the oil, oily foods are also traditional, including latkes and jelly doughnuts, which are a Hanukkah favorite in Israel.
1 . Our discussion of “The Four Women of Light” is adapted from Penina Adelman, Miriam’s Well: Rituals for Jewish Women Around the Year, p. 37.
2 . This wonderful contemporary midrash was written by Janet Zimmerman-Kahan and is recounted in full in Penina Adelman’s Miriam’s Well, pp. 37-39.
This “Essence” is taken from the Sourcebook for Leaders, written by Rabbi RachelLavan's younger daughter and Jacob's beloved wife second wife (after he is initially tricked into marrying her older sister, Leah). Rachel grieves throughout her life that she is barren while Leah is so fertile. Ultimately, Rachel gives birth to Joseph and dies in childbirth with Benjamin. Rachel is remembered as compassionate (she is said to still weep for her children), and infertile women often invoke Rachel as a kind of intercessor and visit her tomb on the road to Bethlehem. Gartner and Barbara Berley Melits, for Rosh HodeshThe new moon, which marks the beginning of the Jewish month. According to tradition, because women did not participate in the sin of the golden calf, they were given the holiday of Rosh Chodesh. It is customary for women not to work on Rosh Chodesh.: It’s a Girl Thing! This experiential program was created by Kolot: The Center for Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies to strengthen the Jewish identity and self-esteem of adolescent girls through monthly celebrations of the New Moon festival. The program is now available through Moving Traditions.