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Families gather at Knoxville temple to light candles for Hanukkah

Hanukkah will last until December 6 and on Friday, families gathered at Temple Beth El for Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Families gathered at Temple Beth El in Knoxville on Friday for their usual gatherings, and to light candles for Hanukkah.

Saturday is the Jewish day of rest and usually, families gather at their synagogue and spend time with family, known as Shabbat or the Sabbath. It begins Friday night and lasts until sunset on Saturday.

So, at Temple Beth El, families gathered to both celebrate Hanukkah and start the Sabbath. They lit candles on the Menorah, marking the sixth day of the 8-day holiday.

"For Hanukkah, it's eight candles plus a nice one in the middle, which is called the Shamash," said Rabbi Erin Boxt at the temple. "That's the helper candle that lights the others."

The holiday is not the most significant in the Jewish faith but often gets more attention since it usually falls around Christmas. This year though, it started earlier — November 28.

"It's just another holiday, but it's a joyous holiday," said Rabbi Boxt. "I enjoy celebrating the holiday and learning the history of it."

He said that the holiday celebrates the rededication of the Jewish temple of Jerusalem after it was destroyed. It marks a time when Jewish people fought back against Greek-Syrian rulers who persecuted them and who restricted their worship, starting the Maccabean revolt. 

During the revolt, soldiers desecrated the city's holy Second Temple by building an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs inside of it, according to experts.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library and The Pluralism Project at Harvard University, Hanukkah is considered a minor religious holiday because it is not mentioned in Jewish scripture but instead included in the Books of the Maccabees.

Hanukkah also does not require abstaining from work, as many Biblical Jewish holidays require. Experts also say it is the only post-Biblical Jewish holiday.

"Hanukkah means dedication, it's the Festival of Lights. It was the rededication of the temple after it was destroyed by the Assyrians," said Rabbi Boxt. "The story is there was a vile of oil in there that was only supposed to last one day but ended up lasting eight nights."

A choir sang inside Temple Beth El for around 2 hours, giving attendees a chance to enjoy time together and celebrate the holiday. Boxt also said that Hanukkah can be a time for interfaith celebration, so families may often celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah.