Hanukkah: Selected Laws

Posted on: Tuesday December 6, 2011

By Alan Lucas
Excerpted from The Observant Life

The m’norah may be lit anytime after sundown, except on Friday evening when the m’norah should be lit just prior to the Shabbat candles. Special effort should be made on Friday night to make sure that the Hanukkah candles lit prior to sundown are long or thick enough to last well into the evening. Other than on Shabbat, the candles may be lit into the evening for as long as there are people out and about in the street to see them burning (SA Orah Hayyim 672:1).

The shammash is lit first and it is used to light the rest of the candles. On the first night of Hanukkah, the shammash is used to light one candle. On the second night, it is used to light two, and so on, until all eight candles are lit on the eighth night of the holiday. The candles are placed in the m’norah from right to left as one faces the m’norah, but are lit from left to right so that the first candle lit first is the one being kindled for the first time that evening (SA Orah Hayyim 676:5).

After the shammash is lit, but before the rest of the candles are lit, three blessings are recited the first night, and two on each remaining night. These and the following prayers can be found in any standard prayerbook. The first blessing is barukh attah adonai, eloheinu, melekh ha-olam, asher kidd’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivvanu l’hadlik neir shel hanukkah (“Praised are You, Adonai, our God, Sovereign of the universe, who, sanctifying us with divine commandments, has commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lamp”). The second is a blessing recited in only two contexts in the course of the year, when we read the Book of Esther at Purim and on this occasion of lighting the Hanukkah candles: barukh attah adonai, eloheinu,melekh ha-olam, she-asah nissim la-avoteinu bayamim ha-heim ba-z’man ha-zeh (“Praised are You Adonai, our God, Sovereign of the universe, who wrought miracles for our ancestors at this time in ancient days”). On the first night of Hanukkah, the She-he˙eyyanu blessing is also recited. The candles are then lit. After lighting the candles, it is customary to recite the paragraph Ha-neirot Hallalu, which makes explicit the purpose of our lighting the m’norah and the prohibition of making practical use of the light it casts. (That is why we use the shammash in the first place, to guarantee that the light of the m’norah is always mixed with other light, thus at least ensuring that it is never used all by itself for practical purposes.) This is followed by the singing of Ma·oz Tzur (Rock of Ages), the most famous of all Hanukkah songs.

If the m’norah has been lit elsewhere, it should then be placed in a window, a doorway, or any place where it will visible from the street (SA Orah Hayyim 671:5). This is done because the express purpose of this mitzvah is to publicize the miracle that happened so long ago, an aspect of the mitzvah usually referenced with the Aramaic expression pirsuma d’nissa (literally, “the promulgation of the miracle.”) To share the light of our m’norah with all who pass by is the fulfillment of this mitzvah. Given that the newest candle should be the one the furthest left and that the point of the mitzvah is to publicize the miracle, the general custom is to light the m’norah in the correct way for those looking at it from inside the house, then to turn it around to facilitate proper viewing from the street when it is on display.

The shammash should be allowed to burn with the rest of the candles and not be extinguished after use, because its presence also guarantees that the light of the “real” Hanukkah candles are not used for any other purpose without the admixture, at least, of some “permitted” light (SA Orah Hayyim 673:1).

During Hanukkah, a special prayer, called Al Ha-nissim (after its first words), is interpolated into both the penultimate blessing of the Amidah and the Grace after Meals. Also, the complete Hallel Service is recited every morning just after the repetition of the Amidah. Except on Shabbat and on the day or days of Rosh Hodesh, there is no Musaf Service on Hanukkah. It is customary to light the m’norah in synagogue just before the Evening Service and to recite the appropriate blessings. It is also customary to light the m’norah in synagogue before the Morning Service, but without saying the blessings. This is not intended as the performance of the specific mitzvah to kindle lights at Hanukkah (which must be done in the evening), but merely to publicize the festival and to proclaim a community’s faith in the miracle story that rests at its center.

The Torah is read each day of Hanukkah. Three individuals are called forward for aliyot; the reading, taken from the seventh chapter of the Book of Numbers, details the gifts the princes of Israel donated to the Tabernacle when it was inaugurated for use. The reading for each day follows the Torah’s description of the twelve days of the Tabernacle’s dedication (with the passage detailing the last five of the twelve days, ending at Numbers 8:4, read on the eighth day of the holiday).

The sixth day of Hanukkah is always Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of the new month of Teivet, and so two scrolls are always removed from the Ark. Three people are called forward for aliyot as a passage about Rosh Hodesh is read from the first scroll, then a fourth individual is called up for an aliyah as a passage about Hanukkah is read from the second scroll. In some years, however, Rosh Hodesh is observed for two days and so the sixth and seventh days of Hanukkah are both days of Rosh Hodesh. In years in which the seventh day of Hanukkah is the second day of Rosh Hodesh, the Torah reading procedure (with the exception of the specific passage read as the fourth aliyah) is the same for both days.

Depending on the year, one or two Shabbatot will fall during Hanukkah. On such days, two scrolls are taken from the Ark. The portion for the week is read from the first and the maftir reading, in honor of Hanukkah, is read from the second. The haftarah is Zechariah 2:14–4:7, which contains not only a reference to the m’norah but also the verse: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says the Eternal One of Hosts,” which can serve as an appropriate motto for the entire holiday. In years in which there are two Shabbatot during Hanukkah, the haftarah for the second Shabbat is 1 Kings 7:40–50, which also deals with the Temple. If Rosh Hodesh and Shabbat fall on the same day of Hanukkah, then three scrolls of the Torah are removed from the Ark. (This happens only rarely.) In such a case, the weekly portion is divided into six aliyot, which are read from from the first scroll, the Rosh Hodesh portion is read from the second scroll as the seventh aliyah, and then the Hanukkah portion is read from the third as the maftir. The haftarah on such a Shabbat is Zechariah 2:14–4:7.