Hanukkah is the 8 day Jewish Festival of Lights. We know there is a menorah, some dreidels, and 7 more days of fun than the Christmas celebrating Gentiles, but what most people may not realize is that it is not a religious, biblical, or mitzvah story. Hanukkah is actually a historical celebration of a battle victory. This is the Jewish version of 300!
In the 2nd Century BCE, the holy land was ruled by Syrian- Greeks, known as Seleucids and their army of 22,000. Lead by Judah the Maccabee, 800 - 1000 poorly armed Jews fought impossible odds and won their right to practice their Jewish beliefs. Jewish culture is well known for its rituals of purity, and after the battle had been won there was only a single cruse of olive oil that had not been tainted. What should have only been enough to keep the temple's menorah lit for a single day, miraculously lasted for 8 days. Thus giving us the eight day, historical celebration of Chanukah.
Historians suspect the true numbers were larger and possibly as many as 22,000 soldiers, and the author downplayed their strength in an attempt to explain the defeat. - Wikipedia
Even if Judah wasn't King Leonidas in this story, despite his dying at the Battle of Elasa, he may have been more of a William Wallace. Their rebellion started as a series of guerilla tactics until they built up a full army to revolt. Even though the battle wasn't a total victory, it did win them the peace to not believe in Zeus and the gang in order to follow the beliefs of their God.
Either way you look at it. Hanukkah is a shockingly inspiring story of battle!
Where Chanukah is a historical celebration, matzah is rooted in mitzvah (biblical commandments), and it is both the food of slavery and of freedom. Like many cultures, Jewish food is a reminder of its people, it's history, it's tragedies, it's forgiveness, and it's love. Food, especially in Jewish culture, tells the story of it's people. At the Seder, (a ritual service and ceremonial dinner) the food is a part of retelling the story of Exodus.
Matzah is unleavened bread, made without yeast, shortening or leavening agent. It was the bread the Jewish people were fed during their 400 years of slavery in Egypt. After enduring the many plagues and lastly the loss of their first born sons, the Pharaoh had granted the freedom of the Jewish people and granting them whatever they wanted as they left in an attempt to avoid any more death. With freedom secured, the Jewish people had hoped to prepare properly risen bread for the journey, but the Pharaoh had changed his mind and left the Jewish people with little time to flee, and they had to have the unleavened bread. Henceforth, it is food of Passover and forever a celebration of that Exodus.
“This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in Egypt. Let all who are hungry enter and eat; let all who are in need come and join in the Passover with us. This year [we are] slaves. Next year [may the slaves be] free.” - Exodus retelling at the Seder.
Now we can fast forward again to some delicious soup.
Matzah may have started with the enslavement of the Jewish people, however, the soup is a much more modern creation, one of the 19th century.
While this bread used to come in all shapes and sizes, the whole matzo game changed when the automated matzo-making bread machine came into being in 1838. - ERICH BARGANIER [Mashed.com The True Origin Of Matzo Ball Soup ]
European cuisine had begun to include dumplings in far more dishes and it has been theorized that using crumbs from matzah to in order to use every bit of the food to make an entire other delicious dish.
Ironically, matzah ball soup is not a Passover dish by way of mitzvah, despite its main ingredient originating there. Some fear of gebrokts (yiddish - wetted matzah) may actually cause some leavening in pockets of flour left behind. In order for the bread to remain unleavened, it must be baked within 18 minutes of becoming dough to avoid any fermentation. It does, however, make a great Hanukkah dish.
Other great Hanukkah dishes include fried foods, it is a celebration of oil after all, such as latkes which is breaded with... you guessed it, matzah!
To most, matzah ball soup may just be Jewish chicken and dumplings. To the Jewish people it is a symbol of both slavery and freedom. It is a constant reminder of love, given by G_d and reciprocated by his people to all who are in need. It may be one of the original comfort foods. It is the embodiment of the love of culture celebrated in all the Chefs do at Whiskey Alley with their every changing daily specials menu. Food is more than sustenance, it is it's people and their history.