V’Shinantam and You Shall Teach Them

Hanukkah Observance At Home And In The Synagogue


There are two strands within our tradition regarding Hanukkah and its meaning. One, preserved in the Apocryphal Books of Maccabees, stresses the battles and victories of the Hasmoneans family. The war is given religious significance in these books for it is seen as the struggle against the suppression of Judaism, culminating in the purification and eight-day re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Talmudic tradition, on the other hand, stresses the miracle of the cruse of oil that lasted eight days and almost passes over the role of the Hasmoneans. It is remarkable that a whole tractate of the Talmud is devoted to Purim and yet Hanukkah is not even mentioned in the Mishnah.

When does Hanukkah start this year?

Hanukkah begins on the eve of the 25th day of Kislev (this year Sunday evening, December 6th at sundown) and lasts for eight days. Work is permitted during the entire eight-day period, except, of course, on Shabbat.

How is Hanukkah Celebrated?

Hanukkah is celebrated by kindling lights in a Hanukkiyah, a candelabrum with eight branches.  If oil is used for the lights, olive oil is preferred. If candles are used, wax candles are preferred.

What is the procedure for lighting the Hanukkiyah on the first night of Hanukkah?

Place the Hanukkiyah prominently in a window facing the street. As you face the Hanukkiyah, place one candle on the far right side. Take a second candle, called the Shamash, or helper, and light the Shamash.

Recite the three Berakhot or blessings. After completing the third Berakhah, light the single candle in the Hanukkiyah with the flame from the Shamash.

What is the procedure for lighting the Hanukkiyah on the second and Subsequent nights?

As you face the Hanukkiyah place a candle on the far right side and add an additional candle for each night from right to left. After reciting the first two Berakhot, begin by lighting the newest candle on the far left and continue to light from left to right.

What are the three blessings recited on the first night?

1. Barukh Atta Adonuy, Elohaynu Melekh Haolam, Asher Kidshanu Bemitzvotav Vetzeevanu L'hadliq Ner Shel Hanukkah.

Bless You, O Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who has sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us to light the Hanukkah candles.

2. Barukh Atta Adonuy, Elohaynu Melekh Haolam, She-asah Nisim Lavotaynu, Ba-yamim Hahem,      Bazman Hazeh.

Bless You, O Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who performed miracles for our ancestors in ancient times at this season.

3. Barukh Atta Adonuy, Elohaynu Melekh Haolam, Sheheheyanu, Vekeemanu, Vehigee-anu, Lazman Hazeh.

Bless You, O Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who has kept us alive and sustained us and allowed us to reach this joyous occasion.

On the second and subsequent nights, only the first two Berakhot are recited.

While lighting the candles, we recite Hanerot Hallalu, a prayer found in the Siddur. If you cannot read the Hebrew, you should recite it in English as follows:

We light these candles on account of the wondrous miracles and victorious battles which God performed for our ancestors in antiquity at this season, with the help of His holy priests. All eight days of Hanukkah these candles are holy and we do not have permission to use them. Rather, we watch them in order to thank God and praise God's great name for the wondrous miracles and victorious battles.

After lighting the candles, we sing the hymn Ma'oz Tzur.

Why do we light the candles from left to right?

Because the candle on the left represents the newest candle, the candle added for that day. It at once fulfills the Mitzvah for that day and pays special honour and attention to each additional day of the miracle. We then proceed in order from left to right.

Why do we add a candle each day, if in reality the oil in the Temple diminished each day?

Because we follow the dictum Ma'alin Beqodesh Ve'en Moridin, we ascend in sanctity, rather than descend. With each additional candle we add to the sanctity of the festival by stressing that the miracle of the oil increased each day.

Can the blessings be recited over an electric Hanukkiyah?

The weight of halakhic opinion opposes the use of an electric Hanukkiyah for two reasons:

The original miracle was a miracle of oil and the electric light does not resemble oil and hence does not adequately recall the miracle.

The Mitzvah is to kindle the light and while turning on a switch is prohibited on Shabbat, because the rabbis consider it analogous to kindling a light, nonetheless, turning on a light switch is not considered "kindling" in a constructive sense. If the lighting of a lamp is not kindling in a constructive sense, then reciting the blessings would be in vain (Responsa Yabia Omer (3:35).

At what time should the Hanukkiyah ideally be lit?

Shortly after dark, when there are more people passing in the street who will see the Hanukkiyah burning and be made aware of the miracle.

On Friday evening, when should the Hanukkiyah be lit?

The Hanukkiyah is lit before the Shabbat candles. The biblical prohibition of lighting a fire on Shabbat takes precedence over the positive Mitzvah to light candles after dark. Once the Shabbat candles are lit, Shabbat commences and, hence, we light the Hanukkiyah before the Shabbat candles.