Festivals of Light - Judaism
'Then God commanded "Let there be light" - and light appeared. God was pleased with what he saw. Then he separated light from darkness to make Day and Night.'
Light is fundamental to Judaism as a sign of God's spirit and guiding force. On a Friday night, the mother or senior woman of the household lights two candles to welcome in the Sabbath, the day of rest. The light represents hope and joy. Traditionally, in some parts of Europe an oil lamp was lit and hung above the table where the Sabbath meal took place.
The Sabbath is concluded with a service known as Havdalah (separation), in which spices, wine and a twisted candle in a special candle holder are all used to invigorate the senses and take the believer through another week. The prayers said during this service show the distinction between the light and the dark and thank God for creating the light of fire.
Hanukkah (Chanukah), or the festival of light, is probably the most well-known example of the symbol of light within Judaism. It celebrates the miracle of the light in a historical event that took place in 165 BC. Antiochus Epiphanes, ruler of the Seleucid empire that stretched from Anatolia to the Indus valley, had decreed that Jews should not be able to practice Judaism. He forced them to worship the Greek gods and ordered his soldiers to desecrate the temple in Jerusalem.
In 166 BC Judas Maccabeus, who was living in hiding in the hills, led a Jewish rebellion with a small army and overcame the forces of Antiochus. When the Jews came to the temple on 25 Kislev (November/December in the Hebrew calendar) 165 BC, they found that it had been desecrated and the temple light extinguished. After searching hard, they discovered a small, sealed container of oil (a cruise) and used it to re-light the temple menorah (the seven-branched candlestick). The oil was only enough for one day, but the miracle was that it lasted for eight days, giving the Jews enough time to obtain more.
Hanukkah has been celebrated ever since. It starts on 25 Kislev and on each of the eight nights a candle is lit, until on the last night a row of eight candles burns. This light represents the re-kindled Jewish spirit.
Hanukkah lamps vary from region to region and sometimes reflect prevailing artistic styles. Most of the Italian Hanukkah lamps in the V&A's collection were meant to be hung from a wall. They have eight rows of containers for oil and their back plates are usually decorated with classical and Renaissance imagery, such as centaurs, cornucopia and lions.
Celebratory foods - Sufganiot
It is traditional to eat fried or oily foods at Hanukkah.
They represent an abundance of oil symbolising the miracle of how the sample of oil found in the desecrated temple in Jerusalem lasted for 8 days instead of only one. Doughnuts (sufganiot) and latkes (potato pancakes made from potato, egg and onion) are the foods most commonly eaten.
Makes 60 to 72 doughnuts
3 tablespoons of fresh yeast
1 ½ cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup oil
½ cup sugar
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
6 to 7 cups of plain flour
Oil for frying
1. Place the eggs, oil, sugar, milk, vanilla, and grated lemon peel in a large bowl and mix well.
2. Add the yeast mixture, adding the flour until a soft dough is formed.
3. Knead for a few minutes until smooth.
4. Cover and allow until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1-½ hours.
5. Roll out the dough ½-inch thick on a floured surface.
6. Cut out circles with a round cutter (8 cm).
7. Place 2 or 3 inches of oil in a deep saucepan and heat over a medium flame until hot.
8. Place four doughnuts at a time in the oil. CAUTION: hot oil can be dangerous. Do not leave unattended.
9. Brown on one side and then on the other. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
10. Allow to cool.
11. Dust with caster sugar.
12. Serve immediately.