Highlighting the Holidays: Happy Hanukkah

3c03362r

The Chanucka celebration by the Young Men’s Hebrew Association at the Academy of Music, New York City. 1880. Prints and Photographs Division.

In 2014, December 16 marked the first day of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus IV. Also referred to as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah recalls the event. According to the Talmud, a central text of Rabbinic Judaism, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.

“And Judas, and his brethren, and all the church of Israel decreed, that the day of the dedication of the altar should be kept in its season from year to year for eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month of Casleu, with joy and gladness.” The First Book of the Maccabees, Old Testament, 4:59.

01729r

Design drawing for stained glass contemporary tondo window with flames and seven-branch Days-of-Creation menorah. J. & R. Lamb Studios, between 1950-1990. Prints and Photographs Division.

Thus Hanukkah was born to commemorate these miracles. A nightly menorah lighting is at the heart of the festival: in addition to the Shamash, the ninth candle on top, on the first night, a single flame is lit, two on the second and so forth until night eight, when all flames are set alight.

Some typical customs of Hanukkah include eating foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts), all fried in oil; spinning the dreidel, a four-sided spinning top; and exchanging gifts each night.

Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. The Jewish calendar is primarily based on the lunar cycle, and its dates fluctuate with respect to other calendar systems. Thus, the first day of Hanukkah can fall anywhere between November 28 and December 26.

The Hebraic Section in the Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division has long been recognized as one of the world’s foremost centers for the study of Hebrew and Yiddish materials. Established in 1914 as part of the Division of Semitica and Oriental Literature, it grew from Jacob H. Schiff’s 1912 gift of nearly 10,000 books and pamphlets from the private collection of a well-known bibliographer and bookseller Ephraim Deinard. The gift is commemorated with the exhibition, “Words Like Sapphires: 100 Years of Hebraica at the Library of Congress, 1912-2012.”

The Hebraic Section houses works in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Arabic, Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic and Amharic. Holdings are especially strong in the areas of the Bible and rabbinics, liturgy, responsa, Jewish history and Hebrew language and literature.

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940 contains both personal recollections and examples of Yiddish folklore. Search the collection for “Jewish” to locate accounts of Jewish culture and traditions such as “A Genzil for the Holidays.”

The collection American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920 features more than 70 unpublished Yiddish play-scripts. “Chanukah Party: A Drama in 4 Acts,” written in 1909 is one such play.

In commemoration of Jewish settlers’ emigration to the New World and their more than 350-year history in America, the Library presents the online exhibition “From Haven to Home,” which features more than 200 treasures of American Judaica from the collections and examines the Jewish experience in the United States through the prisms of “Haven” and “Home.”

In addition, the online exhibition Scrolls From the Dead Sea offers a selection of scrolls from the late Second Temple period.

The Library highlights other holiday stories here.

*Sources: history.org, Today in History

LC in the News: October 2014 Edition

Just as the Washington Nationals were closing out a winning baseball season, the Library of Congress discovered rare footage of the Washington Senators’ 1924 World Series victory over the New York Giants. “Finding footage that has probably not been seen since its last theatrical run 90 years ago is usually a moment for celebration for […]

Celebrating Native American Heritage: Whispering Giants

November is Native American Heritage Month and a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. When looking through the Library’s collections to find blog post ideas, I came across this picture of a carved statue of Cherokee leader Sequoyah taken by photographer Carol […]

Astrobiology Chair Steven Dick Discusses Research, Tenure at the Library

(The following is a repost from the Insights: Scholarly Work at the John W. Kluge Center blog. Jason Steinhauer spoke with Steven Dick, Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, who concludes his tenure at the Kluge Center this month.) How the Discovery of Life Will Transform Our Thinking October 27, 2014 by Jason Steinhauer Astrobiology Chair […]

A-B-C … Easy as One, Two, Three

On Oct. 16, 1758, Noah Webster, the “Father of American Scholarship and Education” was born. Lexicographers everywhere celebrate his contributions on his birthday, also known as “Dictionary Day.” As a young, rural Connecticut teacher, he used his own money to publish his first speller in 1783. Reissued throughout the 19th century, the 1829 “Blue Back […]

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage: Cultural Contributions

(The following is a guest post by Tracy North, reference specialist in the Library of Congress Hispanic Division.) As Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15) comes to a close, now is an excellent time to reflect on the many ways in which Hispanic Americans have contributed to our nation’s cultural and political landscape. […]

We the People

Today we celebrate the 227th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution in Philadelphia, Penn., which was ratified at the Constitutional Convention on Sept. 17, 1787. The Library recently released a series of interactive eBooks for tablets, including a set on the Constitution, which can be downloaded for free on iBooks. The new Library […]

Pics of the Week: 2014 National Book Festival

Now in its 14th year, the Library of Congress National Book Festival welcomed book lovers to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center — a new venue for this year — on Saturday. More than 100 authors, poets and illustrators were featured throughout the day and evening, packing crowds into pavilions such as History & Biography, […]