The Hidden Hanukkah

The story of Hanukkah is well-known to many. It tells the tale of how the Greek forces attempted to impose their religion and customs upon the Jewish people. As a response, a group of brave priests, led by Matityahu and his five sons and their untrained followers, took up arms to protest and fight for their survival. They fought with great courage and determination and eventually emerged victorious.

A Prelude 150 Years Prior

Before the Hasmonean priestly battles, a less commonly known chapter of the Hanukkah story took place 150 years earlier. At the time, Greece’s influence under Alexander the Great had extended from the farthest regions of the Mediterranean to India’s shores. As Alexander’s famous army approached Jerusalem, the High Priest put on his sacred Temple garments for the High Holy Day and encouraged his fellow priests to dress in white. They carried torches and walked unarmed throughout the night towards Alexander’s formidable forces. At dawn, the two groups finally met, and to everyone’s amazement, Alexander stepped down from his chariot to bow before the High Priest. The profound encounter is captured in this video, which sheds light on this fascinating and often overlooked incident in Hanukkah’s history.

In 175 BCE, during a period of division among Hellenic forces between the northern Syrian Greeks and the southern Greeks in Egypt, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the ruler of the north faction, invaded Judea. The sons of Tobias, a Hellenizing Jewish faction in Jerusalem, prompted this invasion, as documented by Flavius Josephus.

The king being thereto disposed beforehand, complied with them, and came upon the Jews with a great army, and took their city by force, and slew a great multitude of those that favored Ptolemy, and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy. He also spoiled the temple, and put a stop to the constant practice of offering a daily sacrifice of expiation for three years and six months. (The Jewish War)

The Significance of “Al Hanissim” in Hanukkah

The song “Al Hanissim” plays a central role in Hanukkah celebrations. It is sung after the menorah lights are kindled and captures the essence of the holiday. The song celebrates the triumph over adversity, the pursuit of freedom, and the enduring spirit of the Jewish people. It tells the story of the miraculous victories of the Maccabees over the formidable Seleucid Empire, attributing their success to divine intervention rather than martial strength. Additionally, the song highlights the spiritual aspect of the holiday, recounting the rededication of the Temple and the revival of faith. By emphasizing the importance of spiritual commitment and the preservation of Jewish heritage, “Al Hanissim” serves as a poignant reminder of divine providence, communal resilience, and the timeless virtues of courage, devotion, and tenacity.

You delivered the mighty into the hands of the week, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the degenerates into the hands of those who cling to your Torah!

The Enduring Influence of Hellenistic Culture

The triumph, similar to the miraculous parting of the Red Sea during the Israelite exodus, astonished the ancient world. However, it was not a decisive victory for Israel and was short-lived. Despite gaining sovereignty, the influence of the Hellenistic culture persisted. A century later, the Roman Empire, which inherited the Greek Empire, regained control over Judea after King Herod’s death. In 70 AD, Roman forces destroyed the Grand Temple in Jerusalem, leading to 2000 years of Jewish exile before the restoration of sovereignty. Some rabbis suggested ending Hanukkah after the Temple’s destruction, but others, including Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, insisted on preserving the holiday. *1

Hanukkah signifies the unwavering strength and faith of the Jewish people, not just in commemorating past victories but also in reaffirming timeless values and ensuring that hope shines for future generations.

This acapella music video perfectly captures this uplifting message during the celebration of Hanukkah.



  1. Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks delivered a keynote address on “The Hidden Story of Chanukah” at Bushey Synagogue on October 20, 2012. Gratitude is extended to Bushey Synagogue for providing the video used in this context.

One thought on “The Hidden Hanukkah

  1. Thank you for this, Abigail. I have read the post, and also listened to the Hidden Story of Hanukkah. So much I didn’t know!! Also there’s a powerful message, on what has the priority if one has only one candle.

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