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Chanukah: Beleiving is not enough

Q: As Christians who are seeking to reconnect to our Jewish roots, we are learning about the Jewish feasts and holidays. What can we, as non-Jews, do to celebrate the holiday of Chanukah?

Michael Caryl, Lake Mary FL

The first step in understanding how to meaningfully observe a holiday is grasping why the day is celebrated to begin with. If, indeed, we were merely commemorating long lasting oil, any falafel stand in Israel would serve as a sufficient memorial. In the distinctive Jewish Chanukah prayer, “Al HaNisim”, the oil is not even mentioned! The true miracle of Chanukah was the victory of the few Jewish Macabbee warriors over the world superpower of Syrian Greeks and their philosophical and spiritual counterparts, the Hellenists.

More than any other holiday, Chanukah encompasses the Jewish walk through history. In Harpers magazine in 1899, Mark Twain observed “The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

The holiday of Chanukah marks the Jewish triumph over natural law. This can be understood in nearly every facet of it observance from the lighting of the oil to the eight days over which the holiday spans. According to Jewish thought, the number eight embodies the transcending of nature. There are seven days in the natural week, and on the eighth day a baby boy is circumcised, elevating his base physical nature and making him a proper receptacle for the spiritual. While there are 7 musical notes, we are taught that when the temple is rebuilt there will be an eight stringed instrument called a sheminith (Psalm 6) which will introduce a new, spiritual note, to the spectrum. Chanukah encapsulates this aspect of the Jewish relationship with G-d reminding us that as his chosen people, we transcend the natural by connecting to our G-d and placing our faith in Him.

It seems like just yesterday when we joyously sat in our booths, on the holiday of Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles). On Sukkot we remember the clouds of glory which protected us from the elements and our enemies in the desert when we were completely vulnerable and totally dependent. Sukkot is the holiday that helps us see through the illusions of security and strength, recognizing that our faith must always be with G-d. Chanukah is the holiday that teaches us that our faith is not to be relegated to the realm of abstraction and irrelevance but rather to be acted upon and lived.

The Macabees had no feasible chance of winning the war against Greece. Not only were the Jews dwarfed by the Syrian Greek empire, but only a small remnant revolted under the command of the impractical “militia” of Judah the Macabee and his brothers. These were Jews who not only had faith in G-d, but they risked their lives for that faith. It was no coincidence that Rome banned circumcision, the fundamental covenant of the body and spirit between the Jewish people and G-d, making it a capital offence. This group of warrior Torah scholars understood that any nation that sought to destroy the Jewish people, physically or spiritually, must be overthrown without thought given to “strategic” or “practical” considerations.

This same faith is seen with the lighting of the olive oil. It was clear in the temple that they only had enough pure oil for one day, yet they did not let such a constraint prevent them from their divine service. Just as the Macabees set out to conquer the invincible with perfect faith, the priests of the temple were not dissuaded from lighting the menorah because they only had enough oil for one day. These Jews believe that they must use all of their strength and resources in service of G-d, and let Him do the rest.

Throughout Jewish history we see that our G-d does not grant us victory when we are more numerous than our foes but rather when we are outnumbered and the “odds” are against us. When the Jewish people miraculously overcome our enemies it is a greater sanctification of G-d’s name than when we win do to numbers or weapons. In Chapter 7 of Judges, G-d explicitly orchestrated the reduction of the Jewish army to three hundred soldiers which devastated the Midianite army of 135,000. Those chosen soldiers were not unique in the knowledge or warfare of physical strength, but rather for their fear of G-d and aversion to idolatry and the ways of the nations.

To the Jew, the menorah is a vehicle that we use to publicize the miracle of Chanukah, a commandment known as “Pirsumei Nisa”. During the darkest time of the year, when light is scarce, we strive to bring the clarity of G-d and his miracles to the world. Today, the greatest menorah in the world is the State of Israel which continues to exist despite the wishes and attempts of the Muslim Arab word to destroy her.

The best way for the non-Jew to celebrate Chanukah, in our humble opinion, is to shout the miracle of Israel from the rooftops. Teach about Israel and defend her from those who criticize her. Perhaps, your church or prayer group could hold a rally for Israel in along the streets of your neighborhood. It won’t be easy. It may make you feel uncomfortable. Yet it is precisely that which is difficult that means the most. That is what the holiday of Chanukah comes to teach us – believing is not enough. You must live your belief.



Greater Israel

What is Chanukah?

It is with the above words that the Talmudic tractate Shabbat (Masechet Shabbat) introduces the historical background and the basis for the observance of the eight-day Festival of Chanukah. Seven lines(!) are devoted to the presentation of this information, and a mere seven pages(!) are allocated to a discussion of its laws, within a chapter basically devoted to another subject, within a tractate basically concerned with the topic of Shabbat.

Contrast this with Purim, another holiday that is not mentioned within the Five Books of Moshe.  It was added to the Jewish Calendar by our Sages, under the guidance of the "Ruach HaKodesh," the "Divine Spirit." Purim, associated with a period slightly earlier in history, was granted a place in the Biblical canon, with "Megillat Esther," and an entire tractate in the Talmud called, appropriately enough, "Megillah," devoted to an explanation of its background and laws.

This paucity of information about Chanukah contained within the Written Tradition (although there is a semi-Biblical work called "Megillat Chashmonaim,") and the Oral Tradition (basically, the Talmud), is one of the central mysteries of Chanukah.

Another mystery is why the Talmud seems to play down the great military victory which the vastly outnumbered Jewish People, under the leadership of the Priestly Family, the Hasmoneans ("Chashmonaim" in Hebrew), won over the forces of the Syrian Greeks. The focus instead is placed on what appears, at first glance, to be a relatively minor miracle which occurred during the rededication of the Temple, after its defilement by the Greeks (see below).

A third mystery is what happened to the undeniably great heroes of the story, the Chashmonaim, under the leadership of their patriarch, Matityahu, Kohen Gadol (High Priest), and his five sons: Shimon, Yehuda HaMacabee (who led the undermanned, but valiant Jewish army), Elazar, Yochanan and Yonatan (We do know the fate of Yochanan, who was unfortunately crushed by a military elephant). These great individuals, who dared to rise up in defiance of the Greek Empire and miraculously led them to victory, continued to lead the Jewish People afterwards for a few generations, and then disappeared from the stage of history. Why?

Hopefully, the following sections will shed light on the first two puzzles, and we will return at the end to try to deal with the third.

The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat begins:
"What is Chanukah? The Rabbis have expounded: Beginning with the 25th of Kislev, eight days of Chanukah are observed, during which no eulogies are delivered, nor is fasting permitted. For when the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they defiled all the holy oils used for the Menorah in the temple, and when the Hasmonean house prevailed and vanquished them, they searched and found only one remaining jar of oil with the Kohen Gadol's seal.

Although it contained only enough oil to burn for one day, a miracle occurred, and the oil burned for eight days. A year later they (the Rabbis) designated these days as Yamim Tovim (holidays) on which praise and thanksgiving were to be said." (Tractate Shabbat 21)

Maimonides, the great 12th century Jewish scholar and codifier, known in Jewish tradition as the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), clarifies and expands upon the above, as follows:

"During the period of the Second Temple, the Greek kings issued harsh decrees against Israel; they outlawed their religion, forbade them to engage in the study of Torah and their practice of mitzvot, laid hands upon their money and their daughters, entered the Sanctuary and ravaged it, and defiled all that had been ritually pure. They caused Israel great anguish, until the God of our Fathers granted them mercy and delivered them from the hands of their enemies.

The Chashmonai Kohanim Gedolim (Head Priests) prevailed, slew them, and delivered Israel from their hands. They designated a king from among the Kohanim, and the Kingdom of Israel was restored for more than 200 years, till the second Destruction. Israel prevailed against their enemies and vanquished them, on the 25th day of the month of Kislev.

They entered the Sanctuary and found only one jar of ritually pure oil that was sufficient to burn only for one day; but they lit the lights of the Menorah from it for eight days, till they pressed olives and extracted additional pure oil." (Rambam, Hilchot Chanukah,Chapter 3)

The Sages of that generation therefore decreed, that eight days beginning with the 25th of Kislev should be days of rejoicing; Hallel (a collection of Psalms expressing special praise) be recited, and that lights be lit at the entrance of the house, each of the eight nights, so as to publicize the miracle. And these days are called "Chanukah" that is to say, Chanu Kaf-Hay; that is, the Holiday's name, "Chanukah," is spelled chet, nun, vav, kaf, hay. The first three letters spell the Hebrew word "Chanu," which means "They rested;" for the last two letters, we don't look at what they spell, but at their numerical equivalent (NE). The NE of Kaf is 20; the NE of Hay is 5; their sum is 25. Hence, the name means that on the 25th of Kislev they rested from their enemies.

In the above expression of the Talmud: "They made it a Yom Tov for praise and thanksgiving," "praise" refers to the literal recitation of Hallel, and therefore, the complete Hallel (as opposed to the "partial Hallel" recited on other joyous occasions) is recited during Shacharit on all eight days of Chanukah.

The term 'thanksgiving' refers to the recitation of "Al Hanisim" ("For the Miracles"), a prayer of gratitude to G-d for our deliverance which is included in each person's Shemoneh Esreh, a basic prayer said three times a day consisting originally of 18 (now 19) blessings, during all the days of Chanukah, as well as in Birkat Hamazon (Grace after meals).

Table of Important Dates
During Second Temple Era*

Timeline below based on ArtScroll Mesorah Series "Chanukah - Its History, Observance, and Significance"

OU Editors Note:

There is a conflict among Jewish historians as to the date of the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians.  The timeline presented below shows 423 B.C.E. as the date.  The other well-known date is 163 years earlier, in 586 B.C.E.

Thus, there exists a 163-year gap in the timeline of Jewish History, with that period of time lying in the period of the First Temple.   What happened in those missing years, or whether there are, in fact, missing years, is an unresolved mystery.

3338/423 B.C.E. Destruction of First Temple and beginning of Babylonian Exile
3389/372 B.C.E. Babylon falls to Medes and Persians under Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Great of Persia
3391/370 B.C.E. Cyrus reigns; permits Jews to return to Eretz Yisrael
3408/353 B.C.E. Darius the Persian permits Jews to rebuild Temple
3442/319 B.C.E. Beginning of Greek era
3448/313 B.C.E. Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty rules Eretz Yisrael
3562/199 B.C.E. Antiochus III the Great, scion of the Seleucid dynasty and ruler of Syria, wrests Eretz Yisrael from Egypt
3571/190 B.C.E. Rome defeats Antiochus III at Magnesia
3586/175 B.C.E. Antiochus IV reigns
3594/168 B.C.E. Desecration of Temple by Antiochus
3597/165 B.C.E. Conquest of Temple by Hasmoneans, the miracle of Chanukah 
3598/163 B.C.E. Antiochus IV dies
3599/162 B.C.E. His son, Antiochus V besieges Jerusalem
3600/161 B.C.E. Demetrius I (son of Seleucus IV) rules; Alcimus appointed Kohen Gadol, defeat and death of Syrian general Nikanor (13 Adar)
3601 /160 B.C.E. Yehudah killed in battle; Yonasan elected leader of the Jewish rebellion
3602/159 B.C.E. Alcimus dies
3609/152 B.C.E. Alexander (Balas) I, alleged son of Antiochus IV, contests rule of Demetrius I; both recognize Yonasan as Kohen Gadol
3610/151 B.C.E. Alexander I rules
3614/147 B.C.E Alexander I deposed (by Ptolemy IV king of Egypt); Demetrius II (son of Demetrius I) rules
3617/144 B.C.E. Tryphon deposes Demetrius II (who escapes), and rules on (approx.) behalf of the infant Antiochus VI (son of Alexander I)
3619/142 B.C.E. Tryphon tricks Yonasan and kills him; Shimon takes over Kehunah Gedolah; proclaims himself 'Prince of the Jews'
3619/142 B.C.E. Tryphon kills Antiochus VI and proclaims himself king
3621/140 B.C.E. Sanhedrin and the People proclaim Shimon 'Prince of the Jews' 18 Elul).
3621-3725/ Rule of the Hasmonean dynasty (Shimon, Yochanan Hyrkanos,
140-36 B.C.E. Yehudah Aristobulus, Alexander Yannai, Queen Alexandra Hyrkanos and Aristobulus)
3630/131 B.C.E. Yochanan Hyrkanos forms an alliance with Antiochus VII
3632/129 B.C.E. Antiochus VII dies
3698/63 B.C.E. Roman consul Pompei conquers Jerusalem
3725-3828/    Rule of Herodian dynasty and Roman governors (Herod, 36 B.C.E.-68 C.E. Archelaus, Roman governors, Agrippa I, Roman governors)
3828/68 C.E.   Destruction of Second Temple by Romans (according to some, the year was 3829)

*The dates in this table pertaining to the events of Chanukah (3585-3621) have been taken from I Maccabees and converted into Creation and Common Era dates

The Lights of Chanukah -  Laws and Customs


The Lights of Chanukah

The Jewish tradition is that on the first night of Chanukah one flame is lit, on the second night two, and so on until the eighth night when eight flames are lit.

Actually, the question of whether to begin the lighting with one flame and proceed, adding one each night, to eight on the final, the eighth, night of Chanukah or do just the opposite, begin with eight and end with one, was a matter of dispute. In fact, it was one of the famous "machlokot," or disagreements, between two of the greatest wise men of Israel, Hillel and Shammai, as recorded in the Talmud, in Masechet Shabbat 21b.

Hillel said that on the first night we light one, on the second, two, and so on, till eight on the eighth night. Shammai held the reverse opinion; namely, on the first night, light eight lights, and proceed, diminishing the number of lights by one each night, to just one light on the final night of Chanukah.

In the democratic spirit of the Talmud, the question was voted upon by the colleagues of Hillel and Shammai, and Hillel's opinion prevailed; thereby establishing our present practice of lighting, from one to eight.


Other Burning Issues

But what materials can be used as the source of the flame? How are they to be placed in the Menorah? From which side, left or right, is the lighting of the flames begun? Where should the Menorah be placed? Who should do the lighting?

These are but a few of the many issues that are raised each year as the Holiday of Lights, Chanukah, approaches. In the following paragraphs, we will try to give some of the answers, as they have been adopted and accepted by Jews for generations.



To read about the special role of women, check out "It's a Woman Thing."

A Word from Smokey the BearStudents and singles who live in dormitories or their own apartments should kindle Menorahs in their own rooms unless otherwise instructed by the security services of their respective institutions. How do we prepare the lights?


Each Menorah should be owned and prepared by the person who will light it, children too . Every evening of the holiday, the proper number of candles, or wicks suspended in oil, preferably olive oil, as was used in the Temple, are prepared and placed in the Menorah from right to left - with today's flame being the last one set up.

The candles or wicks should be placed in a straight row, and even; that is, none being higher or lower than the others, none receding or protruding, and none in a circle. There should also be sufficient space between one flame and the other, so that the flame of one might not be joined to that of the other; and so that the heat of one candle, if candles are used, might not melt the wax of another.

The preferred way to perform the 'mitzvah,' or commandment, of lighting the Chanukah lamps is with pure olive oil and cotton wicks, since their light is pure, and it recalls the light of the Golden Menorah in the Temple which was lit with pure olive oil. All other oils and wicks are also permissible; purity of the light and lack of flickering are the most important characteristics. Candles made of wax or paraffin are also permitted.



On the first night of Chanukah, three 'brachot' (blessings) are said before the lights are kindled: (example of the lighting using RealAudio. Please Note: One cannot fulfill the Commandment of lighting the Menorah yourself, or of listening to someone else light the Menorah, by listening to the player. Technology has not yet advanced so far that it can generate a virtual human being; Yet).

Also available are Chanukah Candle Lighting in Russian, and Chanukah Candle Lighting in Int'l Sign Language.'Baruch ata Hashem, Elokenu melech ha'olam, asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu I'hadlik ner shel Chanukah.'

(Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to light the Chanukah lamps.)
'Baruch ata Hashem, Elokenu melech ha'olam, shehecheyanu, vekiyemanu vehigi'anu lazeman hazeh.'

(Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has given us life, and has
sustained us, and has brought us to this time.) The lights are then kindled.

After the first light is kindled, the one who is doing the kindling recites 'HaNerot HaLalu Anu Madlikin' - 'We Kindle these candles,' as the remaining lights are kindled.

Translation of "Hanerot Halalu:"

"We kindle these lights to commemorate the miracles and the wonders and the acts of salvation and the battles that you fought in behalf of our ancestors long ago, at this time, through your righteous priests. And during all the eight days of Chanukah, these lights are holy! And we have no right to make use of them, but only to behold them, in order to give thanks and to praise Your great Name, for Your miracles, and your wonders and your acts of salvation."

When the lighting is concluded, Chanukah hymns are sung, in accord with the custom of one's community.

"Maoz Tzur," "O Mighty Stronghold," is a six-stanza review of Jewish History which begins and ends with a prayer for our final redemption. It, as well as "Mizmor Shir Chanukat HaBayit L'David," "A Song, with Musical Accompaniment, for the Inauguration of the Temple, by David," whose name basically summarizes in a word, or thirteen words, its essential meaning, are two of the hymns which are very popular. The latter is added to the Prayer Service after Shacharit, as the "Shir shel Yom," the "Daily Psalm" every morning of Chanukah. According to the Sephardic custom, this Psalm is also recited immediately after "Haneirot HaLalu."

Tickets here for the Chanukah Musical Concert!

The three brachot (blessings) shown above should be repeated by every member of the family that is lighting his or her own Menorah.



On the second through eighth nights only the first two 'brachot' are said, omitting the third blessing - 'shehecheyanu.' However, if someone was prevented by accident from lighting the Chanukah light on the first or subsequent nights, he/she does say 'shehecheyanu' the first time he/she kindles the Chanukah light.

Essence of the "Mitzvah"

The Talmud discusses the question of what is the essence of the Mitzvah; that is, the essential act of the commandment of "Nerot Chanukah," the Lights of Chanukah, the purpose of which is "publicizing the Miracle of Chanukah," - the "kindling" or the "placement?"

What's the difference?

There has to be a practical difference, or else the discussion is meaningless. In this case, a practical difference would be if the lights were kindled in a place in the house with minimal capability of "pirsum ha'nes," publicizing of the Mitzvah, then transferred to the window or near the door to the outside, opposite the Mezuzah, places of maximum "pirsum."

If the essential act is the kindling, since that act was done where the purpose of the Mitzvah could not be achieved, the Mitzvah was not fulfilled properly.

On the other hand, if the essential ingredient in the performance of the Mitzvah is the placement of the light where it can achieve its purpose, then the Mitzvah was done just fine.

The decision in the Talmud is that the kindling is in fact the essential act, and therefore, in our case, the light would have to be extinguished, then transferred to a proper place or, equivalently, moved, then extinguished, and then re-ignited!


It is customary to light one extra light in addition to the required number of lights for the given night. The extra light is called the 'shamash' (the 'assistant,' or 'helper'). The 'shamash' may be used for kindling the Chanukah lights, and one may derive benefit from its light. It is customarily placed on the Menorah, but not in line with the other lights; either above or below or in front or behind, any deviation which makes it obvious that the 'shamash' is not one of the regular lights.

The Chanukah lights themselves may not be used for any purpose other than the contemplation of their beauty and meaning while they burn in fulfillment of the mitzvah.

In order to avoid using even the 'shamash' for a mundane purpose such as reading, Rabbi Kitov recommends having at least one other light present, to provide light for purposes extraneous to the Menorah.

What may be done while the Chanukah lamps are lit?

According to the Maharil, it is a tradition that everybody refrain from work during the first half hour that the flames are lit. For women, who suffered most under the persecution of the Greeks, the prohibition extends during the entire period that the Chanukah lamps are lit; that is, beyond the first half hour, till all the flames are out.

The kind of work to be refrained from includes sewing, laundering and other "melachot," purposeful activities, which are prohibited on "Chol HaMoed," the Intermediate Days of Festivals.   Cooking, and melacha which will prevent a financial loss are, according to some authorities, permissible.  Thus, to some extent, the period of time while the Chanukah lights are kindled, is viewed in Halacha, as the "Chol HaMoed" of Chanukah.



The placement of the Menorah should be such as to accomplish the greatest possible 'pirsum ha'nes,' publicizing of the miracle. It should therefore be placed in a safe (no fire hazards!) but publicly visible place in order to project the celebration of this great miracle to the outside world. At the time of kindling, the entire household should gather so that 'the miracle might be publicized' inwardly as well; that is, to one's family and one's self.

Technical Stuff, but with a Reason

Ideally, the Chanukah lights are not to be placed at a lower height than three 'tefachim' (handbreadths), about eighteen inches, from the ground, nor at a greater height than ten 'tefachim' above the ground; that is, they should be placed between a height of approximately eighteen inches and about five feet.

If they are placed at a greater height than ten 'tefachim', but less than twenty 'amot' he has still fulfilled his obligation, although not in the ideal manner.   One 'amah' is a length somewhere between eighteen inches and two feet; therefore, twenty 'amot' is somewhere between thirty and forty feet. If the lights are raised above twenty 'amot,' he has not fulfilled his obligation.

The reason for these regulations is that only the placement of the Chanukah lights within the prescribed confines could achieve the effect of 'pirsum hanes' (publicizing the miracle); otherwise, they are simply not seen.


In modern times, when many people live in apartment buildings, the custom has become to place the Menorah at a window facing the street. If one lives in a tall apartment building such that the height of the window is greater than twenty 'amot,' Rabbi Kitov states that in his opinion, it is preferable to light the Menorah near the most heavily used entrance on the left side of the entry. 

In Talmudic times, the Sages prescribed that the Chanukah lights are to be placed at the street entrance to one's home - on the left side of the entrance, so that the 'Mezuzah' attached to the doorpost would be to the right, and the Chanukah lights to the left.

Nowadays, many Jews in Eretz Yisrael, and increasing numbers of Jews outside of Israel, perform the Mitzvah as it was done in Talmudic times, as described above.


What time do we light the candles?


The Chanukah lights are to be lit immediately upon the appearance of the stars. If one has not however done so, he may still perform the mitzvah through the remainder of the night as long as the members of his household are still awake, or if there is significant traffic in the streets. If he is unable to light the Chanukah lights till an exceedingly late hour, when all are asleep, and 'pirsum hanes' could no longer be accomplished indoors or outdoors, he kindles the lights without a brachah. If the night has passed and he has failed to kindle the lights, he can no longer do so the remainder of the day and can only resume performance of the mitzvah the following night.


The lights should burn at least half an hour after the stars appear in the sky. At the time of lighting, there should therefore be sufficient oil in the menorah, or the candles should be sufficiently large, to maintain a flame for the prescribed period of time. Those who kindle the lights at sunset are required to pour sufficient oil into the menorah, or use similarly large candles, for burning a minimum of 50 minutes, so that the lights might burn for the prescribed half hour period after the appearance of the stars.

If, at the time of lighting, the lights have insufficient oil for burning half an hour, one may not add oil after the lights have been kindled; rather, he is required to extinguish the lights, to add oil, to recite the brachah and to kindle the lights a second time.

If one has poured oil in excess of the required measure into the menorah, he may extinguish the lights after one half hour of burning, if he wishes to use the remaining oil for the Chanukah lights the following night. If it had been his original intention upon the lighting of the menorah, to derive any other benefit from the remaining oil, he may use that oil for any desired purpose.

If a Chanukah light accidentally goes out in the midst of its prescribed time for burning, it is to be kindled again, but without a brachah. After the fact, however, if one fails to rekindle it, he is nevertheless considered as having fulfilled the obligation of the mitzvah.

As long as the Chanukah lights burn - even after the prescribed half hour - their light may not be used for any personal benefit. Nor may they be moved from place to place. After the prescribed half hour - if one wishes to make use of them - they are first to be extinguished, and then reused.


Special issues regarding Shabbat!!


After Shabbat, at home, 'Havdalah' is first recited over wine and then the Chanukah lights are lit.

Erev Shabbat the Chanukah lights are lit first, and subsequently the Shabbat lights. One is required to pour adequate oil into the menorah for burning half an hour after the appearance of the stars, which, by most standards, is an hour and a half after the actual lighting. So, in order to satisfy that length of time, if using candles - the big Shabbat candles should be used instead of the little colored ones. If you light with oil, make sure to have enough to last over an hour and a half.


The custom of the Sephardim is to light the Chanukah lights first, and then recite 'havdalah' in the synagogue, whereas at home they recite havdalah and then kindle the Chanukah lights.


Levivot and Sufganiyot
(Potato Pancakes and Jelly Donuts)

Chanukah History and Thought


The war waged by the Hasmoneans against Greek rule was not similar to a typical revolt of the enslaved against their oppressors. Had it been Israel's aim only to seek freedom, they were able to achieve full national freedom even under Greek dominion. The Greeks made no designs upon their bodily freedom. They desired only to enslave the Jews spiritually. More than this: The Greeks held that they were benefiting the Jews, in imposing upon them, Greek culture and wisdom.

It was their aim to 'liberate' Israel from 'superstition and backwardness.' The other peoples living under Greek domination willingly accepted Greek culture, and saw a great light in it. Among Israel too, there were many whose spirits were captivated by the enchantments of Greece. The Greeks wanted only to shed the spirit of their culture upon Israel, till the people of Israel would place their faith in Man's strength, in his aesthetic sense, and the ultimate reliability of human reason.

The cardinal principles of Jewish faith that God speaks to Man and prescribes specific commandments for him to observe - these were to be nullified and uprooted from the Jewish heart. The people of Israel of that generation with the Hasmonean Kohanim at their head, viewed this 'Torah' of the Greeks as the root of all evil, as the most abominable form of paganism. All idolatry is an abomination, but when Man himself becomes an idol, and all his faculties minister to the idol - he has then created an infinitely worse abomination. When wood and stone are worshipped, they inflict no greater harm or ruin than their worshippers do, because they have no spirit of their own. Whereas, if man is deified, and ultimate faith is placed in the superiority of his good taste and the truth of his reason he is then capable of evil and destructiveness that are without limit.

The Hasmoneans saw this defilement strike root among their people and branch out among them more and more from day to day. Till the Sanctuary itself was defiled. They saw war with the Greeks as a 'war of obligation.' For the people of Israel had been invested with the task of safeguarding purity and sanctity in the world. As it is written: 'And you shall be unto me a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation,' 'For all the land is Mine.' These teachings stood in fundamental opposition to the belief which the Greeks sought to impose. The two could not abide together. Sanctity stood arrayed in war against defilement.

The Dominion of Greece

Yefet, the son of Noah, had seven sons, of whom Yavan (Greece) was the fourth. For seventeen hundred years the family of Yavan played an insignificant role in the world, till her star rose, and she became the chief of kingdoms, in the days of Alexander of Macedonia. The earthly hosts are like the hosts of Heaven. Just as God ordained boundaries for the Heavenly hosts - one was given dominion over the day, while another was restricted to the night likewise the hosts of the earth. Their Creator placed each of the nations and kingdoms within its set boundaries. To one He gave beauty, to another strength; to one wealth, to another wisdom, so that each might entrench himself within his own sphere, without needing to enter that of his fellow. Israel alone was ordained to be God's precious treasure among all the nations. All the good and the beautiful that was to be found among all the nations, could be acquired by Israel also. In one respect Israel was to rise above them all in cleaving to God.

Yefet and his sons were given by God, the domain of beauty and wisdom. Their father Noah blessed them thus: 'God, you have given beauty to Yefet, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.' 'The beauty of Yefet, within the tents of Shem.' That is to say, it is fitting for the beauty of Yefel to enter the tents of Shem, and to find there its proper fulfillment. After Alexander of Macedonia had lifted Greece to the pinnacle of power, and had conquered nations, one of his successors, King Ptolemy of the Egyptian segment of Alexander's empire, made his capital a center of learning and science. The Sages of Israel were then requested to translate the Torah into Greek, to enable the seekers of Greek wisdom to enter the outer gates of the Torah of Shem. The Jewish Sages relied upon the above interpretation of the blessing to Yefet, to confirm the propriety of their translation.

While Alexander lived, be showed reverence to the Sages of Israel and bowed his head before Shimon the Tzadik. Alexander's Greece, replaced Persia in preeminence. And Yehudah lived under Greek dominion as she had previously done under Persian dominion. As long as Alexander lived, however, he inflicted no harm upon Yehudah, but rather showed her friendship. After Alexander's death, his empire was divided into three parts. One of his generals achieved power in Egypt, one in Greece itself, and a third in Syria.

The Syrian kingdom became known as the Selucidean kingdom after Selecus, who established its royal family. Yehudah fell under the dominion of the Syrian kingdom and from them, the people of Israel suffered ever harsher oppression. The Syrian-Greeks resented the little Judean kingdom in their midst, which maintained its separateness despite its subjugation to them; which rejected all of Greece's culture and wisdom, and stubbornly resisted its spirit. The competition was not one of strength, for physically Yehudah was subjugated to her conquerors. It was a contest only of the spirit. In the contest of strength, the hand of Yafet had prevailed. In the contest of spirit, the hand of Yehudah had prevailed, to the bitter chagrin of the rulers.

After the Torah was translated into Greek, the rulers of Greece first delighted in it, and were even inclined to forgive the pride of those who adhered to the Torah. Later, that Torah became as thorns in the eyes of succeeding Greek rulers, and they resolved to uproot it from the hearts of those who were faithful to it, in order to subjugate them completely in body and spirit. Israel's Torah became a target for enemy arrows, and conflict erupted between mighty, conquering Greece, and weak, subjugated Yehudah.

When Does Beauty Become Ugliness?

The Heavenly hosts and the Earthly hosts both have tasks. But they are not alike with reference to freedom of will. The Heavenly hosts can only perform their assigned tasks. Men, however, are invested with freedom of will, and are capable of altering their tasks for evil to themselves and evil to all the world. When the beauty of Yefet dwells in the tents of Shem, and serves Shem, it is genuine beauty. When the maidservant seeks to replace the mistress; when the beauty of Yefet seeks to subjugate Shem's tents, and to make ,Shem serve her, there is nothing uglier. Strength becomes transformed into brutal tyranny. Wisdom becomes cunning. Truth becomes distortion. Why ? For without tyranny, cunning and distortion, how could the mistress submit to the maidservant? What beauty remains for them?

The rulers of Greece were prepared to consent to major portions of the Torah; to those of its practices which they imagined as capable of being 'poured into Greek utensils.' Three mitzvot alone, however, they wished to annul completely. If these could be annulled, the remaining mitzvot could be transformed into empty Greek ritual; to be forgotten from the heart in the end.

The three are: Shabbat, the consecration of the new month, and the covenant of circumcision. Shabbat recalls to its adherents, and all who see them, that the world has a ruler, through whose word everything was created. Shabbat proclaims: 'Accord honor to your Creator, and let all the Earth bow down to Him.' It must be uprooted, and its memory forgotten. 'We are lords of the earth and all its inhabitants shall bow only unto us,' said the Greeks.

The consecration of the new month recalls to those who consecrate it, and to all who view them, that God's power acts in Time. If the Beit Din sanctifies the new month, it is sanctified; its festivals are sanctified; and they become wellsprings of holiness and exaltation for body and soul. If the Beit Din fails to sanctify the new month, it remains profane. Since it is the basis for the observance of the festivals, the consecration of the month also teaches the Presence of God and the fulfillment of His aims, within History. The consecration of the new month hence teaches both the holiness of time and the holiness of history. It must be uprooted from Israel, and its memory must be erased. 'We ordain festival times: we determine when to rejoice and when to grieve!' said the Greeks.

The covenant of circumcision recalls to those who observe it, and to all who see them, that body and soul - both together - are hewn from one source. All the worlds together are one world - the world of the Creator and all that is found in them serves Him and performs His will. This covenant is to be uprooted from Israel; let it not challenge the Wise Men of Greece who say: There are two worlds - the body rules without restraint in its world, and the soul rules without restraint in its world with nothing standing in between. The body is not subject to the soul, and the soul is not subject to the body.

A world without its Creator, a year without holiness, a body without restraint - is there anything uglier ? Sights of external beauty in the place of the visions of God. Wild spectacles in the place of exaltation and holiness. A conflagration of instincts in the place of sanctifying the body. What value is there in such a life?


At first the Greeks thought that they would attract the people to their teachings with peaceful techniques. 'They therefore won over the weak-minded among the people by giving them power in both the government and the Sanctuary. These were appointed as officials, Kohanim Gedolim, Elders and Judges. Together they formed a sect which came to be called, 'The Hellenists.' The Hellenists sought to spread Greek culture among the people. They incited the people to forsake God's Torah, and to embrace the Greek way of life. as they had done. They arranged evenings of lust and licentious dancing. They erected altars to the Greek idols, to which they brought offerings. All their days were filled with celebrations, enchanting entertainment and inflammatory pleasures. The larger part of the people did not follow them and continued to adhere to the Torah of their fathers. They turned their backs on the traitors, and hated them in their hearts. They wept to their God over their traitorous brothers, and over the people of God who were handed over to enemies without, and to traitors within.

The evil Antiochus saw that the Hellenists were not achieving their aim; and that they were as outcasts in the eyes of the majority of their people. Whereupon he sent his armies, under the leadership of relentless brutal commanders, either to force the Jews into submission or to subject them to slaughter. These armies murdered, slaughtered and plundered. They spread desolation among the people, and afflicted them with all manner of persecution. They put to death tens of thousands of men, women, children and infants, who offered their lives for the Torah. Some of the people surrendered, bowed to the idols, and participated in the abominations. Some fled to the wilderness, or hid in caves. The Hellenists helped the enemy track down those who were in hiding; to torture those who had not fled, and to incite them to wanton transgression. And they handed over the daughters of Israel to the enemy tyrants for defilement. They then came to the courtyard of the Sanctuary and defiled it. They suspended the daily offering. They defiled the oils and the Menorah. They built an altar and offered a pig on it, whose blood they then brought into the Holy of Holies. The people heard and trembled in outrage. It became apparent that there was no escape from open war with sword and spear, against both the enemy and the traitorous brothers.

The Miracle of the Revolution

The first miracle was performed through the daughters of Israel. If a child was born to the wife of one of those who had fled into hiding, the mother would circumcise the child on the eighth day. She would go up upon the wall of Yerushalayim carrying her child. She would hurl herself and her child from the wall to certain death - thereby saying to her husband, and all her brothers who had gone into hiding to escape war: 'If you will not go out to wage war against your enemies, you will have neither children nor wives, and your end will be total annihilation. We will observe what is holy to us, not in hiding, but publicly, before the eyes of all. If you intend to save us, emerge from your caves, and wage war against the enemy till you destroy him. God will be with you Then Matityahu and his five sons arose 'like lions. They gathered about them all who were faithful and valiant. They went out to slay the enemies of God, or to be slain. For many days they battled - the few against the many, the weak against the mighty - but the hand of God sustained them, till they vanquished their enemies, and cleansed the land from Antiochus' armies and their abominations. Then they came to the Temple Court, cleansed the altar, and rebuilt it. They made a new Menorah of wood and lit lamps for eight days. They kindled the lights of Torah, of joy, of faith and trust in God, in the homes of all Israel - in all their habitations, and for all generations.


The great salvation performed by God through his chosen Kohanim in behalf of his chosen people opened the eyes of many of those who erred. Many of the peoples saw that God's name was called upon Israel; that He exacted vengeance in their behalf, and repaid their enemies measure for measure. After the Greeks had conquered most of the peoples of the world and became masters over them, they arrogantly thought: We will rise above the clouds, and will subjugate the chosen people. We will remove its crown of glory, and will cast it down to the ground, as we have done with so many other peoples. After the Hasmonean victory over them, their penalty was, to become the lowliest of nations. They intended to cause the Torah to be forgotten from Israel, and to extinguish Israel's light; instead they added yet another Yom Tov of remembrance and testimony that the Torah will never depart from Israel.


Thus did our ancient Sages say: 'And there was darkness upon the face of the abyss' - this refers to Greece which darkened the eyes of Israel. For this reason the lights of Chanukah were prescribed. The Sages likewise interpreted the verse: 'And its side was that of a serpent,' as referring to Greece. For the serpent is without gratitude and the Greeks wished to uproot from Israel the sense of subjugation to God's will, and of gratitude to Him. For this reason, the people of Israel prescribed additional thanksgiving over the miracle. The Greeks wanted to uproot the sanctification of the new month from Israel; that is to say, the power of perpetual self-renewal and God gave Israel an additional capacity for self-renewal. The mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh is the first renewal which God gave to Israel, and Chanukah is the final renewal, till the Messiah will come.



What Happened to the Chashmonaim?

It is a historical fact that the great Chashmonai family disappeared completely from the historical scene within only two hundred years of the first Chanukah. The question arises, "Why was such a great punishment visited upon a family which saved the Jewish People?"


This also helps to explain the reticence of the Talmud, though not the Jewish Prayer Book, on the subject of the military victory of the Chashmonaim. It is not only because Chanukah was mainly the celebration of a spiritual victory, but also because the descendants of those great and brave men and women who rose in behalf of their G-d and in defense of their People and their way of life, and who achieved victory with the help of G-d, went astray so soon thereafter.

At the end of the Book of Bereishit, in Parshat VaYechi, Yaakov blesses his twelve sons. These blessings have always been seen as having the quality of Prophecy. His blessing to his son Yehudah contains the following, "The scepter shall not depart from Yehudah…," meaning that the King of Israel should always be from the Tribe of Yehudah, and from the House of David.

The following is a quotation from the Biblical commentary of Ramban ("Nachmanides," Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman), a great 13th Century Torah scholar, "This was the reason for the punishment of the Chashmonaim, who reigned during the Second Temple. Though they were righteous servants of G-d, without whom the learning of Torah and the observance of Commandments would have been forgotten in Israel, and despite this, they suffered such great punishment:"

"The four sons of the old Chashmonai, Matityahu, saintly men who ruled one after another, in spite of all their prowess and success, fell by the sword of their enemies…; All the children of the righteous Matityahu the Chashmonai were deposed for this only: they ruled even though they were not of the seed of Yehudah and of the House of David, and thus they completely removed "the scepter" …from Yehudah."

"It is also possible that in addition to the Chashmonaim having sinned for assuming royalty when they were not from the Tribe of Yehudah, they also sinned in ruling on account of their being priests, who have been commanded: 'Guard your priesthood in everything that pertains to the altar, and to within the holy curtain, and thus shall you serve.' "

Church and State

Although the task of the Jew is primarily to integrate holiness into all aspects of his life, nevertheless there is an understanding of the concept of "havdalah," of distinction, between "kodesh," that which is holy, and "chol," that which is temporal. The task of the "Kohen," the Priest, is to serve G-d; the task of the Jewish King is to dedicate himself, as a servant of G-d, to the service of the Jewish People.

Although it was absolutely necessary for the Chashmonaim to lead the revolt against the enemies of the Jewish People, as a "Horaat Shaah," a temporary ruling, they surely knew that "malchut," kingship, is reserved for Beit David, descendants of King David, from whom we hope the "Mashiach," the Messiah, will ultimately emerge. Thus, by refusing to relinquish the position of king, the later Chashmonaim were delaying and even harming Jewish Destiny.

War between Sanctity and DefilementMeasure for MeasureAn allusion to the matter is found in the saying of our Sages: 'The mezuzah is on the right, the light of the Chanukah is on the left, and the head of the house, whose talit contains tzitzit, is in the middle.' These three are safeguards against forgetfulness. Mezuzah causes us to remember His sovereignty tzitzit is intended to be a remembrance. The Chanukah light is also a remembrance. (The later Sages have said that gazing at the Chanukah lights, causes one to remember the mitzvot, just as gazing upon tzitzit does.)The Greeks took pride in their strength and numbers. But they fell by the hand of a people who were few in number, and who were poorly armed. They took pride in their great wisdom, and in their well ordered government. But they were revealed before the eyes of the world as predatory animals. Their disciples from among the Jews, the Hellenists, scoffed at Israel for placing its trust in God, and waiting for His salvation. They said: 'Learn the art of war from the Greeks; do not turn to your Torah and to your prayers. If you will rely on these, you will be trodden under the foot of any people who will attack you. And then salvation came; through the mighty heroism shown by the weak against those who were renowned for strength. Further, the war did not begin from the strong and the militant among the Jews. It rather began with Kohanim who served in the Sanctuary upon whom no sword could be raised. 'These with chariots, and those with horses, but the Kohanim of the Lord proclaimed the Name of their God. The others kneeled and fell, but the servants of God rose and prevailed.' We learn, thereby, that none are strong before God, or before the people of God. For real strength endures only if it is based on purity. A genuine bond prevails only among the righteous but the bond of the wicked will not last.

Since oil, especially olive oil, is the main ingredient in the 'Nes Chanukah,' the Miracle of Chanukah, oil-based foods are favorite recipes on this holiday. 'Levivot,' also known as 'Latkes,' simply potato pancakes, are very Sufganiyot - Jelly Donutspopular on Chanukah, as well as 'sufganiyot,' jelly donuts.

The Jewish Festivals, including the Three Major Festivals, Chanukah and Purim, are designed as 'chetzyo le'Hashem ve'chetzyo lachem,' 'half for G-d's pleasure, and half for yours.' If Purim is the Extra Calorie Per Day Champion among the holidays, there is probably a virtual tie between Pesach and Chanukah, both eight- day holidays, for Total Extra Calories.


For many generations, it has been a custom for children and adults to play the game of dreidel on Chanukah. The dreidel is a four-sided top, each side being marked with a letter.dreidel

In Israel, where the miracle occurred, the Hebrew letters are 'nun,' 'gimmel,' 'heh,' and 'peh,' where the letters stand for the words 'nes gadol hayah poh,' 'a great miracle happened here.'

Outside of Israel, the letters are the same except that 'shin' replaces 'peh,' and the expression is 'nes gadol hayah sham,' 'a great miracle happened there.'

Each letter is worth a different amount, children get a chance to use their Chanukah 'gelt' (loot), and generally, a lot of fun is had by all.

A theory as to the origin of the game is that it dates from the time of the Roman persecution, when the study of Torah was banned. Groups of Jews would meet, at great danger to themselves, to study Torah, and, at the approach of a Roman Legionnaire, out would come the dreidlach, and the group would pretend that they'd been playing an innocent game.

Eating or drinking intoxicating liquids is prohibited one half hour before the time for kindling the lights. Once the prescribed time has arrived, even the study of Torah is prohibited till the Chanukah lights are lit. Upon the appearance of the stars, the Ma'ariv Prayer is said, and is followed immediately by the kindling of the lights.
Where Should the Menorah be Placed?
The Shamash

  2. 'Baruch ata Hashem, Elokenu melech ha'olam, she'asah nisim la'avotenu, bayamim hahem bazeman hazeh.'

    (Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has done miracles for our fathers in bygone days, at this time.)


How do we light the flames?On the first night of Chanukah we light the first flame, and each night after, we add an additional light until the eighth night, when eight lights are lit. The flames are lit from left to right, with today's flame being lit first. By doing this each night, we remember that it is that additional flame that represents the 'growth' of the miracle.



Who should do the lighting? EVERYBODY!As with all Jewish holidays, Chanukah is a festival best shared with family. All members of the family should gather and be present at the kindling of the Chanukah lights. Each member of the family, all generations and all genders, should be encouraged to purchase, prepare and light their own Menorah.

Learn more about the disagreement between Hillel and Shammai.

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