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Understanding Hanukkah: Why It’s Important

By Darren Poley

Photo by RDNE Stock project from Pexels:

To inhabit the Augustinian values of Veritas, Unitas and Caritas, let us take a moment to understand a few basic symbols associated with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

While the Bronze-Age hexagram or six-pointed star formed by two equilateral triangles, commonly called the Star of David, alternatively the Shield of David or Seal of Solomon, became in modern times the major sign for Judaism, the seven-branched candelabrum called a menorah was for centuries the symbol Jews identified with because of its association with the Tabernacle built by the ancient Israelites and eventually the Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah, The Festival of Lights, is today the holiday with which the menorah is affiliated the most, and there is a very good reason why.

Hanukkah means dedication and was first celebrated when the Jerusalem Temple was purified. A new altar was dedicated after the victory at the end of a three-year battle in the second century B.C. It was fought between the forces of the oppressive Syrian-Greek King Antiochus IV and the Israelites, who were led by a Jewish Priest and his five sons, collectively called the Maccabees, and who in turn were the progenitors of the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled ancient Judaea until near the end of the first century B.C. With the altar the Maccabees also reinstated the presence of the seven-branched menorah, which is simply the Hebrew word for lamp.

One legend about this first Hanukkah was that most of the lamp oil in the Temple had been defiled and there was only enough for one day and yet it kept burning on the menorah in the Hasmonean Temple for the eight-day dedication celebration. Burning lights having a long-time significance for the Jews since it was fire from heaven which appeared at the dedication of the altar in the days of Moses and at the sanctification of the first Temple in the time of King Solomon.

Jews the world over light an hanukkiah, which holds nine candles, one called the shammash or helper candle, which is used to light the other eight. One is lit on each night of the celebration, so on the eighth day all the lighted candles are ablaze. It is traditional for families to gather and for several blessings to be recited for the ritual lighting of the Hanukkah menorah. Because of the association of oil with the holiday, foods fried in oil such as potato pancakes called latkes or deep-fried doughnuts are also often eaten during Hanukkah.

Another major symbol for Hanukkah is the dreidel. Games have long been a feature of festive holidays in Judaism, and playing a bargaining game of chance using a spinning four-sided top marked with Hebrew letters called a dreidel is the one most recognized. In the game, players ante up and the letter on the side of the top which lands up determines winnings. It was a popular form of actual gambling during the Middle Ages but is now more often a children’s game using chocolate coins covered in gold foil called gelt, a Yiddish word for money with a root-word meaning of payment or reward.

Many popular stories that have been passed down through the generations about the dreidel grew up around it. One, is that the Hebrew letters, as the Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed. explains “Nun, Gimmel, He, Shin (standing for Yiddish words Nimm, Gib, Halb, Shtell meaning take, give, half, and put)” were later “interpreted as standing for the Hebrew Nes Gadol Hayah Sham (‘a great miracle happened there’)” (p. 372). Another tale is that dreidels were used to fool the agents of tyrants who suppressed the learning of the Scriptures and Talmud. If a study group was being watched they would produce a dreidel to show that they were just gathered for fun and games. One story is that the coins used in the game are in recognition of the new coinage minted by the Hasmonean rulers after they overthrew the Greek Syrians.

The holiday is especially relevant this year. On October 11, a few days after the initial “horrific acts of violence in Israel and Gaza,” University President Father Peter Donohue, OSA, PhD, wrote this in his message to the Villanova Community:

“As these troubling incidents like these continue to occur, I find myself leaning on our Augustinian values. VERITAS – May wisdom prevail and allow everyone to see the value and worth of human life. UNITAS – As a community, let us challenge destructive tendencies and demonstrate our commitment to a just and peaceful world. CARITAS – May the actions of Villanovans be examples to those around us that love is the only way to drive out hatred.”

This year Hanukkah, which falls in either November or December because it is based on the Jewish lunar calendar, will be celebrated from December 7 to 15, so be sure to greet our Jewish friends with a holiday greeting.

Here are some recommended related resources available via Falvey Library:

  • “Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights, and Fried Foods” in Let’s Eat: Jewish Food and Faith by Lori Stein and Ronald H. Isaacs. eBook.
  • “Jacques Pepin’s Chanukah Celebration,” a 56-minute episode from KQED-TV produced by Peggy Lee Scott (Janson Media, 2004). Online video.
  • “Jews, Schmaltz, and Crisco in the Age of Industrial Food” by Rachael B. Gross in Feasting and Fasting: The History and Ethics of Jewish Food edited by Aaron S. Gross and Jody Elizabeth Myers. Book, Call number: TX724 .F3715 2019.
  • The Maccabean Revolt: Anatomy of a Biblical Revolution by Daniel J. Harrington. Book, Call number: BS1825.3.H36 1988.
  • The Menorah: Evolving into the Most Important Jewish Symbol by Rachel Hachlili. eBook.
  • The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel by Steven Fine. eBook.
  • The Menorah, the Ancient Seven-Armed Candelabrum: Origin, Form, and Significance by Rachel Hachlili. Book, Call number: BM657.M35 H33 2001.
  • “Spin,” a 5-minute segment from Sunday Morning produced by Meggie Miao (Columbia Broadcasting System, 2014). Online video.
  • Tales of High Priests and Taxes: The Books of the Maccabees and the Judean Rebellion against Antiochos IV by Sylvie Honigman. eBook.
  • The Tree of Light: A Study of the Menorah, the Seven-Branched Lampstand by Leon Yarden. Book, Call number: BM657.M35 Y37 1971.

Darren G. Poley is Associate Director of Research Services and Scholarly Engagement, and Theology, Humanities & Classical Studies Librarian at Falvey Library.



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Spotlight on Theology & Religion Ebook Collections

By Darren Poley

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a sea change in the desire for online access to books previously only available in a physical format. Print books are still an important part of any academic library collection, but researchers have discovered the advantages of e-books.

Bloomsbury is a publisher of books in the areas of theology and religion, which has been acquiring the ability to make accessible many books, by several publishers, which were previously not available in an online format. Part of this initiative was to create the Theology and Religion Online (TARO) platform for e-books.

As with all e-books in Falvey Library’s collection, those on the TARO platform and in the modules listed below are accessible to Villanova students and faculty via Falvey’s online catalog. Each individual e-book is cataloged with a unique link to just that one book.

Nevertheless, awareness of the availability of these e-book collections is important, so those acquired from Bloomsbury for Theology and Religious Studies are in the spotlight here.

The collections which Falvey now has access on the TARO platform are:

It is worth noting that the Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries span over 86 volumes and is one of the most trusted and long-running scholarly commentaries series; The Library of Catholic Thought has in it the New American Bible Revised Edition and The Jerome Biblical Commentary for the Twenty-First Century online; and Bloomsbury Religion in North America covers the basics, including e-books under the heading of study skills.

In addition to TARO, Falvey now also has access to Bloomsbury’s online collections for theology books published 2013-2022, and e-book access to many books on Religion and Theology published by I.B. Tauris, such as:

Many of the online collections to which Falvey now provides access were the result of Bloomsbury working with publishers to digitize older books previously not available in the online format.

See for example:


Darren G. Poley is Associate Director of Research Services and Scholarly Engagement, and Theology, Humanities & Classical Studies Librarian at Falvey Memorial Library. 




The Month of Ramadan

By Darren G. Poley

This year the month of Ramadan, the 9th month according to the lunar Hijri calendar used by Islam, is from April 12 to May 12 on the solar Western Gregorian calendar. The Islamic calendar corresponds to the date of the prophet Muhammad’s migration (hijra) from Mecca to Medina in the year 622 C.E. Ramadan is considered the holiest month of the year because of the nearness of God and the weakening of the powers of evil.

The devotional practices of Islam are determined by ibadat the part of the sacred law of Islam (shari’a) which aids adherents in their relationship with God, including fasting, prayer, almsgiving and pilgrimage. The ibadat, along with the testimony of faith (shahada), make up the five pillars of Islam (arkan al-Islam). It is commonly accepted by Islamic believers that religious duties are definitively laid out by the Qur’an, and the Prophetic tradition. The duties outlined by ibadat are to be observed by all healthy and mature Muslims and are only “rendered valid by their intentions” according to the Prophetic tradition.

Although Muslims are generally encouraged to fast (ṣawm) as an act of piety and for personal spiritual development, Ramadan is an obligatory month of fasting and observance of the Night of Power (Laylat al-qadr) which commemorates when the Qur’an was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad. Ramadan fasting is practiced even by Muslims who are less strict about other religious duties. It has associations not only related to asceticism, but also with celebrating the power and mercy of God, the life of the prophet Muhammad, and the revelation of the Islamic scriptures.

The fast itself is a strict abstention from eating and drinking anything from dawn until dusk. For married couples it also precludes sexual intimacy. Shortly before dawn a simple meal (saḥūr) is eaten. Immediately after sunset and before evening prayers there is a meal to break the fast (ifṭār). Dates and water are the most traditional foods. Since sharing ifṭār with others, especially the poor, is commendable, it is common among Muslims to invite friends and neighbors or even have an ifṭār party for the community or attend one at the local mosque.

For some, the month of Ramadan emphasizes the spiritual by taking people out of their normal daily routine and subordinating it to thinking about higher things, such as the opening of the gates of heaven. For others, the focus is more on the communal aspects of Ramadan. After attending the Ramadan Dinner with the Muslim Student Association on campus, first-year student Sanjiv Kodali said, “I realized how Ramadan is not just about fasting; it is a worldwide event that tries to bring people together and strengthens familial ties.” The Festival of Breaking the Fast (Id al-Fitr) marks the end of Ramadan fast.

Darren G. Poley is Associate Director of Research Services and Scholarly Engagement, and Theology, Humanities & Classical Studies Librarian at Falvey Memorial Library. 



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Oxford Handbooks Online Religion Collection Now Open

By Darren G. Poley

Falvey recently acquired online access to over 4,000 peer reviewed and curated articles in the subject area of religion, including the essays from over 100 Oxford Handbooks, all of which are discoverable in Oxford Handbooks Online (Oxford University Press).

For over a decade Oxford Handbooks, a definitive collection of volumes in a variety of academic subjects published by Oxford University Press, have provided essays that survey the current state of scholarly debate and present an original argument about the future direction of research. The content of those volumes has been gathered in Oxford Handbooks Online, an article database which can be cross searched for original, peer-reviewed research reviews covering the key issues and exploring major debates in a growing number of disciplines.

A few advantages of Oxford Handbooks Online (OHO) are that it publishes online individual Handbook chapters prior to their release in print, significantly reducing the lag between when a chapter is written and peer reviewed, and when it is made available to researchers. It also includes online-only essays on emerging areas of research too new and too narrow to be included in a Handbook volume. Finally, Oxford can now at any point update individual articles, whether they originally appeared in a Handbook or were simply published online, and a full version history will be available so scholars can track those updates.

Some of the other subject areas to which Falvey has access in OHO are philosophy, history, political science, classical studies, and psychology.


Darren G. Poley is Associate Director of Research Services and Scholarly Engagement, and Theology, Humanities & Classical Studies Librarian at Falvey Memorial Library. 





By Darren G. Poley

During this time of necessary remoteness, it has been fortuitous that the Villanova University community can access so many e-books via the Library. In fact, Falvey’s online collection has well over a million e-books that are available to students and faculty alike.

Many publishers today produce e-books alongside their print offerings, but what about slightly older books which were previously only sold as physical items? Some academic publishers are working to remedy the situation by making available electronic versions of books still in high demand that were published in the last forty years, and in some cases even longer ago.

A couple of prominent examples are Oxford University Press and Taylor & Francis. Some more specialized ones are the Wiley Online Library and the Loeb Classical Library Online by Harvard University Press.

Bloomsbury, in addition to being a notable independent publisher since the 1980s, over the last decade has been acquiring other UK book publishers well-respected in the humanities. It now aggregates books from Bloomsbury Academic, I. B. Tauris, Bristol Classical Press, and Continuum International, which includes books by T&T Clark, Burns & Oates, and Cassell.

Recently Falvey Memorial Library has gained access to several e-book collections, and although each individual e-book will be added to the Library’s catalog of holdings, below is a list of the newly acquired Bloomsbury Collections, which can be browsed or searched using keywords.

If you want to browse or search across collections by subject and keyword, you can do that, too. Just be sure to limit your results to e-books for which we have access. Otherwise, you will get records for e-books to which we do not have access. Note: Bloomsbury also has an interdisciplinary Open Access Collection.


Some e-book platforms aggregate content from a variety of publishers, such as the EBSCO eBook Collection and JSTOR. There are even a few very good open access online aggregators for books no longer in copyright; Hathi Trust Digital Library, Internet Archive, and even our own Distinctive Collections: Digital Library.


Darren G. Poley is Associate Director of Research Services and Scholarly Engagement, and Theology, Humanities & Classical Studies Librarian at Falvey Memorial Library. 



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American Historical Newspaper Collections Online

Linotype operators of the Chicago Defender newspaper, 1941.


By Darren G. Poley

Newspapers are primary sources for facts and opinion concerning people and events. They can also tell us a lot about society and culture in a historical time and place. For these reasons, one of the newest databases now available to the Villanova community is one of Gale’s primary sources collections: Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers. It provides full-text access to an array of major 19th-century American newspapers, regional newspapers, illustrated papers, and those published by groups and interests, such as African Americans, Native Americans, women’s rights groups, labor groups, and the Confederacy.

Some of the other historical newspaper collections Falvey also provides access to online by means of its Databases A-Z list and guides on its website:


Darren G. Poley is Associate Director of Research Services and Scholarly Engagement, and Theology, Humanities & Classical Studies Librarian at Falvey Memorial Library. 




Explore Modern Texts by Major and Marginalized Voices from the Abrahamic Religions

By Darren G. Poley

The first three volumes of the Twentieth Century Religious Thought Library (Alexander Street Press) are collections of digitized texts by thinkers from the religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Access to these content collections allows you to trace key concepts of theology across texts by important modern writers as well as to be able to understand contemporary issues of interfaith dialogue and comparative religion.

You can explore individually each volume of the Twentieth Century Religious Thought Library. Volume I, Christianity brings together, for example, many of the writings of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jürgen Moltmann, Reinhold Niebuhr, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Jon Sobrino, as well as the Gesamtausgabe, Kirchliche Dogmatik and other writings by Karl Barth.

Volume II, Islam includes works by Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Said Nursî, Rashid Rida, and Muḥammad T̤āhirulqādrī, as well as books in series like “Makers of the Muslim World” published 2005-2015.

Volume III, Judaism assembles materials from scholars such as Wilhelm Bacher, Heinrich Laible, Nathan Michael Gelber, and Siegfried Silberstein, as well as those in the Markus Brann Archive from the National Library of Israel.

At the collection level, you can browse or search authors and titles of works. You can also browse series or topically by subject. Advanced keyword searching and browsing by genres are even more ways to tap into a volume. Genres include letters, biographical works, scriptural commentaries, and political writings.

Darren G. Poley is Associate Director of Research Services and Scholarly Engagement, and Theology, Humanities & Classical Studies Librarian at Falvey Memorial Library. Every e-text in these collections is also accessible via Falvey’s online catalog:




Aids for Teaching and Learning about Slavery and its Abolition

By Darren Poley


Image: engraving of Toussaint L’Ouverture during the rebellion which led to the independence of Haiti.

Slavery, Abolition & Social Justice (Adam Matthew Digital) is a collection of primary and secondary sources on the topic from 1490 to 2007. It provides access to high quality images of many thousands of original manuscripts, court documents, pamphlets, books, paintings, and maps. All printed items are fully text-searchable and manuscripts have document-level indexing.

The collection also includes a variety of essays contributed by noted scholars, a chronology, a bibliography, and a visual sources gallery. It offers in-depth case studies of slavery and abolition in America, the Caribbean, Brazil, and Cuba, along with important material examining European, Islamic, and African involvement in the slave trade.

It is designed for both teaching and research on themes, such as slave testimony and the varieties of slave experience (urban, domestic, industrial, farm, ranch, and plantation), resistance and revolts, the abolition movement and the slavery debate, legislation and politics, and the legacy of slavery and slavery today.

Warning: Given the subject matter some content and images may be considered disturbing.

The Villanova University community can access Slavery, Abolition & Social Justice (Adam Matthew Digital) remotely be means of the Databases A-Z list.

Darren G. Poley is Associate Director of Research Services and Scholarly Engagement, and Theology, Humanities, and Classical Studies Librarian at Falvey Memorial Library. 




Remote Access to the great works of ancient Greece and Rome

By Darren Poley

BrokenSphere CC BY-SA (httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa3.0)

For over 100 years, the Loeb Classical Library has filled a void by supplying critical editions of Greek and Latin texts with a readable English translation with minimal notes done by venerable scholars on the facing pages. This distinctive series of small volumes with their green for Greek and red for Latin covers have, in many cases, been recast with updated texts and fresh translations in recent years, so that the collection still serves the original vision of its namesake.

James Loeb, the Harvard alum and  philanthropist who originally backed the establishment of the Loeb Classical Library, wrote he wanted: “To make the beauty and learning, the philosophy and wit of the great writers of ancient Greece and Rome once more accessible by means of translations that are in themselves real pieces of literature, a thing to be read for the pure joy of it.”

Making the writings of the classical world accessible has been a boon to students and scholars alike for over a century. While the Library does have the books in its print collection, Falvey also provides access to the corpus via the Loeb Classical Library Online (LCL). An author search of the Library’s catalog using “Loeb Online” will result in a list of 220 records with links to the online versions of the close to 550 volumes in the Loeb Classical Library series.

The Villanova University community can access the LCL remotely be means of the Databases A-Z list.

Darren G. Poley is Associate Director of Research Services and Scholarly Engagement, and Theology, Humanities, and Classical Studies Librarian at Falvey Memorial Library. 




Staff Pick: Biblical Studies Bibliographies

By Darren G. Poley

Several guides are linked to the Theology & Religious Studies Subject Guide. One titled Bible Basics is designed to aid navigation of the sacred scriptures of the Judeo-Christian tradition and locating biblical commentaries in Falvey. Also listed is the Biblical Studies guide. On it there is a section called Advanced Research Tools. Among those tools are some which the Library has acquired and others which are open access.

Recently Falvey obtained many of the Oxford Bibliographies (Oxford University Press) which present peer-reviewed, annotated bibliographies and expert commentary on current scholarship in selected disciplines, including Biblical Studies. Two open access online resources which were recently added to the Biblical Studies guide are Biblical Bibliography of Lausanne – BiBIL (University of Lausanne) and BIBLindex (French Institute of Christian Sources).

Biblical Bibliography of Lausanne – BiBIL presents bibliographical data about books, monographs, serials, and journal articles on biblical and related studies. It has French, English, and German search interfaces. Materials cataloged are in a variety of languages. Often it has an abstract and occasionally a link to the full text.

BIBLindex provides a growing online inventory of biblical quotations and allusions, primarily from Early Greek and Latin Christian literature. Includes biblical texts written in both ancient and modern languages. The project goal is to create a searchable database of biblical quotations from all Christian literature of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (from the beginning of the Common Era until 1400). You must create a free user account in order to access the search function in BIBLindex.

Darren G. Poley is Associate Director of Research Services and Scholarly Engagement, and Theology, Humanities, and Classical Studies Librarian at Falvey Memorial Library. You can access these bibliographies from the Databases A-Z page on the Library Website.



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Last Modified: March 23, 2020

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