Laws of Hanukka – By Rav Eitan Cahn


Laws of Hanukka – By Rav Eitan Cahn

What is Hanukka?
In [the era of] the Second Temple, the Greek kingdom issued decrees against the Jewish people, [attempting to] nullify their faith and refusing to allow them to observe the Torah and its commandments. They extended their hands against their property and their daughters; they entered the Sanctuary, wrought havoc within, and made the sacraments impure.

The Jews suffered great difficulties from them, for they oppressed them greatly until the G-d of our ancestors had mercy upon them, delivered them from their hand, and saved them. The sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priests, over-came [them], slew them, and saved the Jews from their hand.

They appointed a king from the priests, and sovereignty returned to Israel for more than 200 years, until the destruction of the Second Temple.
When the Jews overcame their enemies and destroyed them, they entered the Sanctuary; this was on the twenty-fifth of Kislev. They could not find any pure oil in the Sanctuary, with the exception of a single cruse. It contained enough oil to burn for merely one day. They lit the arrangement of candles from it for eight days until they could crush olives and produce pure oil
Accordingly, the Sages of that generation ordained that these eight days, which begin from the twenty-fifth of Kislev, should be commemorated to be days of happiness and praise [of G-d]. Candles should be lit in the evening at the en-trance to the houses on each and every one of these eight nights to publicize and reveal the miracle.
These days are called Chanukah. It is forbidden to eulogize and fast on them, as on the days of Purim. Lighting the candles on these days is a Rabbin-ic mitzvah, like the reading of the Megillah.
(Rambam' Laws of Meguiiah &Hanukka, 3, 1-3)

It would not be right to discuss the laws of Hanukka without first mentioning the es-sence of these wonderful days.  The Greeks forbade the study of Torah, prevented ful-filling the mitzvot, defiled the purity of Jewish women and the Temple, and stole our property.

Hanukka appears in the Gemara as the time to commemorate the miracle of the oil.  In other sources, it appears to commemorate the victory in war.  They rested (chanu) from the war on the 25th of Kislev, which ended as a miraculous victory of the sons of Hashmonai.  According to the Rambam, Hanukka was the independence celebration of the return of the Jewish monarchy - a monarchy which lasted for over 200 years.   The Gemara says that in the following year these days were established as holidays of Hallel and thanksgiving/gratitude.

What do we do on these days that defines them as “Holidays” (Yomim Tovim)? 

We know that we light candles, sing Hallel and “Al Hanissim”, and read the Torah.  What we refrain from doing on these days, as appears in Megillat Taanit, is eulogizing and fasting.

What is the difference between the “holiday” of Hanukka and other holidays?  Rashi explains: “Work (melacha) is not prohibited since they were only set for Hallel and thanksgiving”.  So there is no other practical difference between these days and other days, other than Hallel and praise to G-d.  Even as a Jewish holiday, it is strange that the basic law has no reference to any special food.  The Shulkhan Arukh states that there is no mitzva to enhance the meals on these days.  It is only forbidden to fast on them.

However, the Rama writes that it is proper to enhance the meals.  The source quoted is the Mordechai HaAroch.  Also, the Rambam writes that these are days of rejoicing (sim-cha) and Hallel - rejoicing which is expressed by preparing special meals.  The reason which appears in the Mordechai HaAroch is the inauguration of the Altar, which hap-pened in the Second Temple.  In addition, the  Midrash states that in the desert, the Mishkan was completed on the 25th of Kislev, but the inauguration was delayed until Rosh Chodesh Nisan.  Since these are special days, it is fitting to praise G-d for the
miracles He performed in those days, at this time, by making our meals into Seudot Mitzva.  In summary, the Rama concludes, that by singing or speaking praise, mundane meals become Seudot Mitzva.

And so we return to the food.  Since the miracle was through oil, we eat fried foods - latkes and doughnuts.  However, we must not forget that among the special foods of Ha-nukka, dairy foods are also eaten to commemorate Yehudit - the brave daughter of Yo-hanan the Kohen Gadol, who fed the enemy cheese.  When he fell asleep, she killed him.

Practical Laws of Hanukka

Everyone is obligated to light candles - all males and females over Bar/Bat Mitzvah age.  Our Sages established three levels: 1) one candle per home, 2) Mehadrin - one candle per person, and 3) Mehadrin min hamehadrin - according to Beit Hillel, increasing by one candle each day, starting with one and ending with eight candles.

According to Tosefot, the mehadrin min hamehadrin practice stands on its own, not re-quiring a candle per person.  Therefore, the obligation is fulfilled with one menora per home, as is the Sefardi custom, including household members not present during the lighting.

Priorities in the Placing of the Menora

1. In the entrance of the yard - as long as the wind won’t extinguish the candles. (If the wind is likely to extinguish the candles, the obligation is not fulfilled.) 
A. If there is no mezuza at the entrance, the menora is placed on the right upon en-try. 
B. If there is a mezuza, then the menora is placed on the left , for us to be sur-rounded by mitzvot.
C. It is preferable for the menora to be placed between 3 and 10 handbreadths (24-80 cm) above the ground.

2. On the left of the entrance to the home - to be surrounded by mitzvot - the mezu-zah on the right, and the menora on the left, preferably within a handbreadth of the en-trance.  The height of the menora is preferably between 3 and 10 handbreadths (24-80 cm) above the floor.

3. In a window facing a public area - on condition that the window is less than 20 cu-bits (9.6 m) above the ground.  If the ground floor is street level, a window on the 4th floor is within the limit.

4.   Inside the home - the custom is to place it close to the entrance, but some place the menora on a table. *

* Whenever more than one menora is lit, they must be far enough from each other so that the number of candles lit for that night is recognizable.

Other Locations

• We light with brachot between Mincha and Maariv.
• If there is a late Maariv minyan, then light before Maariv.
• On Friday afternoon, some light before Mincha.
• Brachot are recited if there is a minyan present.
• Whoever lights in shul, repeats the brachot when lighting at home, since the obliga-tion is not fulfilled by lighting in shul.
• The menora is placed on the southern side of the shul, to commemorate the menora in the Temple which was located on the southern side of the Sanctuary.
• It is customary to light the shul menora in the morning as well, but without brachot.

 Soldiers -
• If they sleep in a building, they light there with brachot, or in the dining hall.
• If they sleep in and eat in tents, candles cannot be lit there.  Someone lighting at home should intend to fulfill the soldier’s obligation.

• Due to the fire hazard, it is generally forbidden to light candles in hotel rooms or hallways.
• Ashkenazim light with brachot at the entrance of the hotel or dining hall, if there is a designated area.
• The Sefardi opinion is that if a family member is at home, he should light for the rest of the family.
• If no one is home, a Sefardi in a hotel should fulfill his obligation with the brachot of an Ashkenazi, and may ask to share in the cost of some of the candles.  The reasoning is that the original law of a “visitor” is that they share in a minimal cost of the can-dles.  Also since the Sefardim light only one menora per household, , a Sefardi should light in the hotel only if he is the only one lighting candles.
• A Sefardi may also light an electric “candle” without brachot at the entrance to the hotel bedroom, which according to some fulfills the obligation.
•Someone who is not participating in lighting candles with brachot, and for whom no one is lighting at home, may say the bracha (and Shehechiyanu on the first night) up-on seeing another’s lit candles.

Public Functions-Weddings-Bar/Bat Mitzvah

• In principle, lighting Hanukka candles with brachot is done only at home where one sleeps - “a candle for each man and his household”.  Therefore, brachot should not be said when lighting at Hanukka parties and other functions.  However, if they will da-ven Maariv there, they may be lenient and light with brachot as in shul.
• At Hanukka parties in schools before Hanukka, brachot should not be said over light-ing candles, but the brachot may be sung with kindergarten children to teach them to make the brachot, or to say it without G-d’s name

Candle Lighting Time

• The candles should be lit between sunset and the time that people were no longer in the market place, approximately 30 minutes.
• According to the Vilna Gaon, we should light at sunset.  Other Ashkenazim who don’t hold that custom light at Tzet Hakochavim. .
• Sefardim daven Maariv early to enable lighting as soon as stars are visible, and repeat Shema afterwards.
• In addition, those who light at Tzet Hakochavim should prepare the menora in ad-vance, to avoid delay in lighting.

 Sunset Hanukka 5778 - 16:37 first night, 16:39 last night.
 Tzet Hakochavim Hanukka 5778 - 16:55 first night, 16:57 last night

• The candles must burn for at least half an hour.  That is the minimum of “people no longer in the market place”, and the mitzva is enhanced if they burn longer.  (The short candles sold in stores in small cartons last half an hour only if they are spaced far enough away from each other.  Therefore, someone lighting with candles and not oil should prefer longer candles which burn for an hour or more.)
• Someone who doesn’t light on time may light with brachot as long as people are awake at home, or if people in the street will see the candles being lit.  Some poskim write that one should even wake a household member in order to have someone pre-sent to publicize the miracle.
• According to the Sefardim, who only light one menora, if the home owner will arrive home late, it is preferable to appoint his wife to light at Tzet Hakochavim rather than lighting later.
• If necessary, candles may be lit from Plag HaMincha, but then the candles must be long enough to burn half an hour after the regular time (sunset/Tzet Hakochavim).  It is preferable to light later at night than before sunset.  Only on Friday are candles lit before sunset, as will be discussed later.

Friday Night and Motzei Shabbat

• Friday we try to daven mincha early.  After mincha, Hanukka candles are lit before Shabbat candles, and the candles may be lit from Plag HaMincha onwards.  They must burn for half an hour after candle lighting time (sunset, or Tzet Hakochavim - depend-ing on the custom).

 Plag HaMincha - Friday Hanukka 5778 -
 Ashkenazim - 15:35  Sefardim - 15:52

• Another concern about lighting before Shabbat is the location.  The menora must not be placed where opening or closing a door may extinguish the candles.
• Saturday night in shul, the candles are lit before Havdalah, without delay.
• Some prefer to light before Havdalah, or to delay Havdalah, in order not to chase away the sanctity of Shabbat.
• In any case, candles should be prepared in advance to avoid a delay in lighting .

Types of Candles

The optimal choice for lighting is olive oil.  However, all oils and candles are suitable.

Work While the Candles are Burning

• It is in the merit of Yehudit, the daughter of Yochanan the Kohen Gadol who started the miracle, women don’t perform certain melachot while the candles are burning.  Most women are lenient, and make a condition that they won’t perform melacha for the minimum half an hour that the candles are required to burn. They are allowed to work then, since after that time it is only to enhance the mitzva.
• Which work is forbidden?  Artistic or painstaking work such as sewing, spinning, etc.  Nowadays, it includes laundry, repairs, etc.  But for meal preparation - such as frying latkes for Hanukka - this half hour is certainly no more stringent than Hol Hamoed, and certainly not stricter than Yom Tov, when it is permitted to cook.

How to Light

• The candles are placed in the menora each night, starting from the right side, adding a new candle to the left.  The new candle is lit first, continuing to the right.
• Lighting is the mitzva, so the menora must remain in its place, and must not be moved after being lit.
• Another conclusion from this principle is that if the menora had enough fuel before being lit, and it became extinguished, there is no obligation to re-light.  But if there was not enough fuel, or the location was too windy, and that is truly why the candles were extinguished, they must be relit in the proper conditions.*

* If there was insufficient fuel, and if not relighting immediately, relight with brachot.  If it was due to the wind, relight without brachot.

Tefillot and Benching

• Full Hallel is recited with a bracha.  Women should say Hallel just as they should light candles, since women were part of the miracle.
• Ashkenazi women should say Hallel with a bracha - Sefardi women, without a bracha.
• In Shmone-Esre and in benching we insert "Al Hanissim".
• Someone who forgot “Al HaNissim”, and completed the bracha, doesn’t repeat the paragraph to say "Al Hanissim", but may insert it at the end of Shmone-Esre before the verse “Yihyu l’ratzon imrey fi”.
• If  “Al HaNissim” was forgotten in benching, it may be added at the end, with the in-troduction “Harachaman hu ya’ase lanu nissim, ka’asher asa l’avotenu bayamim hahem bazman hazeh, B’yimey Matityahu…”.
• The Torah reading is from Numbers 6.  On Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh during Hanuk-ka, two Torahs are used.  The first is for the weekly parsha (or Rosh Chodesh), and the second for Hanukka.
• The Haftara is “Roni Vesimchi”.


• According to the Shulhan Aruch, there is no mitzva to enhance or increase meals.  However, the Rama adds that there is some mitzva to enhance or increase meals since the altar was dedicated at this time, and if there are zmirot and praise to HaShem, the meal becomes a seudat mitzva.
• There is a custom to eat dairy products to commemorate the miracle performed by Yehudit, by serving milk to the enemy.

Summary: How to Make a Spiritual Hanukka?

1. Light candles with olive oil.
2. Light on time.
3. Sing zmirot and speak words of Torah at meals to make them seudot mitzva.
4. Learn Torah - more than usual, to thank HaShem for the miracle of the abolishment of the decrees against learning Torah.  Therefore, joint learning in the family is ap-propriate.

עבור לתוכן העמוד