Eight Days of Chanukah

by Barry Drogin

Back to Table of Contents - Next item in Table - Next Essay


Rather than set the original Greek of I Macabees, or a Hebrew reconstruction or English translation, the composer has selected the concluding two sentences of the Hebrew prayer added on Chanukah to the daily prayers, which neatly describe the events and meaning of Chanukah. These two sentences are comprised of eight phrases which the composer has distributed amongst the eight vocal groups of a divided full chorus.

In performance and in the full eight-page score, the piece is built up section by section, starting with second altos, and then adding second tenors, second basses, second sopranos, first altos, first tenors, first basses, and, finally, first sopranos, in such a way as to simulate the lighting of the eight menorah candles on the eight nights of Chanukah. The work is performed as follows: first, the choral director (or other narrator) recites the English translation of the added line; second, the appropriate section sings a cappella the new line (this step is eliminated the first time); third, someone, using a piano (or else, pitch pipe), acts as "shamas" (the candle used to light the other candles in a menorah), giving each section its first pitch, starting with the new added line and proceeding, in backwards order, to the first line (second altos); and fourth, all of the lines presented thus far sing together, a cappella.

The piece is also a graphic score, and the full eight-page score may be displayed in the lobby during intermission or even projected onto a screen, page by page, during performance. Only the last page is needed by the performers. The full score is also appropriate as a children's gift, and, following tradition, the child can be given one page each night of the holiday. Since the score is in black-and-white, the child can color each page, like a coloring book, as he or she sees fit. As a collector's item, each full score is produced in limited numbered runs, signed by the composer.

Each page is headed by a translation of the added line. A "shamas" candle is placed next to the appropriate musical line in the score. Each line is also illustrated in a meaningful way.


1. "Ooh-l'chah ah-see-tah shaym gah-dohl vih-kah-dohsh bih-oh-lah-meh-cha... (For Yourself, You made a great and holy Name in Your world...)" --- In the heavens above the Middle East, G-d is represented by Hebrew letters scattered about in an unknown fashion. Only the priests knew G-d's name, and by uttering it they could perform miracles. The text praises G-d, whose presence is affirmed by the events of 164 B.C.E..

2. "Ooh-lih-ah-mih-chah Yee-srah-ayl ah-see-tah tih-shooh-ah gih-doh-lah ooh-fooh-rih-kahn kih- hah-yohm hah-zeh. (And for Your people Israel You made a great victory and salvation as this very day.)" --- As the Greeks flee the city of Jerusalem, the Macabees lead the Jews in military victory over Greek warriors. The Jews triumphed despite great odds against them, and the text states that G-d, therefore, made the victory possible.

3. "Vih-ah-chahr kayn bah-ooh vah-neh-chah lee-d'veer bay-teh-chah... (Thereafter came Your children to the Holy of Holies of Your house...)" --- The Jews enter the city, flocking in joy and peace past the Cardo, or central thoroughfare, and towards the Temple.

4. "Ooh-fee-nooh eht hay-chah-leh-chah... (And cleansed Thy Temple...)" --- The Greeks had defiled the Temple with heathen graffiti and idols. The Jews are depicted removing and destroying the idols, washing off the graffiti, and cleansing the Temple.

5. "Vih-tee-hah-rooh eht mee-k'dah-sheh-chah... (And purified Thy Sanctuary...)" --- As crowds of Jews gather outside of the Temple, the priests make burnt offerings and perform rites of purification so that the Torah can be returned to its place in the Sanctuary.

6. "Vih-hee-d'lee-kooh nay-roht bih-chah-tz'roht kah-d'sheh-chah... (And kindled candles in Thy sacred courtyards...)" --- As the city is enveloped in darkness, Jews light candles to commemorate the bringing of G-d's light to the darkened Temple and to their souls.

7. "Vih-kah-v'ooh shih-moh-naht yih-may Chah-nooh-kah ay-looh... (And established these eight days of Chanukah...)" --- The first eight letters of the Hebrew alphabet are also the numbers one through eight, which can be used to count the eight days of Chanukah, and are used to illustrate this phrase.

8. "Lih-hoh-doht ooh-lih-hah-layl lih-shee-m'chah hah-gah-dohl. (For thanksgiving and for praise to Your great Name.)" --- The text stresses that the purpose of Chanukah is to thank and praise G-d. On the side of the page are, from top to bottom, current Chanukah symbols: a menorah, a shamas candle, a dreidel, gelt, latkes, singers, gifts and tzedakah.


In 164 B.C.E., after three years of war, an army of Jews, led by Judas Macabee and his brothers, drove the Greeks from the defiled Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews purified and rededicated the sanctuary, and established eight days of celebration, starting on Kislev 25: the "Festival of Dedication", or, in Hebrew, "Chanukah." These relatively recent events are related in I Macabees, a book of the Apocrypha, or "hidden" text, which, for a few centuries, was banned by Jews as a blasphemous addition to the revelations of the Prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The Prophet Daniel, in fact, prophesies the conflict (Dan. ll:34) but belittles the celebration of the temporary victory as so much flattery. Ironically, this tale of triumph over Greece survives only in a Greek translation of the lost original Hebrew text.

There is no mention in the Greek of the traditional story of the "miracle" of the day's supply of oil burning for eight days. Then why did Judas and his people celebrate for eight days (by lighting lights, offering sacrifices and playing music) instead of the usual festival length of seven days? One source claims that Judas was simply following the example of King Hezekiah in II Chronicles, who also celebrated for eight days after purifying and rededicating the Temple after it had been defiled by his father, Ahaz.

Religious observance of Chanukah is a minor task: an additional prayer is included in the daily prayers; menorah candles are lit to mark the eight days; we chant the thirteenth century poem, Ma'oz Tzur, which describes the plight of the exiled Jew who has again lost the Temple to non-Jews; and, as in all festivals, we give gifts to the poor (tzedakah) and to friends and relatives. Because the candle-lighting and tuneful Ma'oz Tzur are performed in the home, because of the traditions that accompany the holiday (latkes (potato pancakes), gelt (chocolate money) and the dreidel (spinning top game, which mentions the "miracle" of the oil)), and for many other reasons, Chanukah is popular with children. But Chanukah is not a "Jewish Christmas," and the menorah in the window does not symbolize good will towards all men; contrarily, we are celebrating the right of Jews to practice Judaism and be steadfast against attempts at conversion or absorption into a "Judeo-Christian tradition." The menorah lights proclaim to the outside world, "This is the house of a Jew."

Back to Table of Contents - Next item in Table - Next Essay

Cassandra's Curse 1993, 1996, 2007 rights@notnicemusic.com

Last Updated: August 4, 2007