The Lamps Of Hanukka
by Edward Schuman

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The Hebrew word, Hanukka, means 'dedication' and the Hanukka Festival (the Feast of Lights) commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple by Judah Maccabee in the year 165 BCE after his victory over Antioches Epiphanes. Judah Maccabee and his men found the Temple desecrated and the oil for its lamps defiled by the Greeks. The legend has it that they discovered a small quantity of ritually pure oil in a little jar still closed with the seal of the High Priest, just enough to light the lamp for one single day. Miraculously, the oil lasted eight days, long enough to prepare a fresh supply of pure oil, and this enabled worship in the Holy Temple to continue without a break. Ever since, the Festival of Lights is celebrated every year by lighting Hanukka candles for eight successive days in thanksgiving for the miracles and the feats of bravery of those times.

When the people in the Dispersion lived through centuries of oppression and persecution, for every Jewish home the candles were a reminder of the 'heroism of the few in their battle against the many. Their light reflected the longing to emerge from the darkness of Exile to the light of national redemption. Theodor Herzl relates in one of his essays that the Hanukka lights always kindled in him a powerful feeling of his belonging to the Jewish people. Thus the candles symbolize victory in the way against the bondage of analien rule, in the fight against surrender to an alien culture, a people's struggle for the freedom to lead its life according to the precepts of its faith and its ancient customs.

It is a bounden duty and an important one to "proclaim the miracle" and make it known, and that is why the Talmud laid it down that the Hanukka lamp should be put outside the entrance to the house or, in case the dwelling is high up, in the window so that it can be seen from the street. Later on, the rabbis permitted the lamp to be lit inside the house, if it endangered the Jews to show themselves openly, but the custom itself must on no account be given up. The fervor with which Hanukka was observed is to be seen from the medieval injunction, "Even he who draws his sustenance from charity should borrow, or sell his cloak, to purchase oil and lamp and kindle the lights."

Hanukka lamps at first were made in the shape of shallow, covered bowls with eight small spouts where wicks were inserted, and a neck or aperture in the middle of the cover through which to pour in the oil. It was only in the 13th century that Hanukka lamps made of metal began to appear, with a panel at the back, generally triangular in shape, which could be hung on the wall. Later still, Hanukka lamps were made that stood on a podestal base, like the candelabrum in the Temple.

The first four issues of Hanukka coins were commemorative coins of one lira denomination, issued with specific themes that were offered for sale for the festival of Hanukka. Since this article deals only with the lamps of Hanukka, details of these four coins have been omitted. The lamp series starts with the Hanukka issue of 1962.

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