Jewish Holidays & Events

Laws and Customs of Chanukah 5778

Cosponsored Anonymously And by Abraham and Chalva Cohen and Family in honor of the Surfside Jewish Community.
For a printable version click here
Special thanks to Rabbi Levi Silman of South Africa for his editing and insightful notes
Erev Chanukah
Tuesday, 24 Kislev / Dec. 12
 Tachnun is not recited at Mincha.[1]
Tuesday night, 25 Kislev / Dec. 12 – Wednesday, 2 Tevet/ Dec. 20
Chanukah is the holiday that celebrates the victory of the miraculous conquests by the small Jewish army led by the Hasmonean family against the vastly superior and larger Greek army led by Antiochus. After the victory, the Jews purified the Temple and found only a small jug of undefiled, pure oil for the Menorah which miraculously lasted eight days.[2] The sages of that generation established an eight-day holiday on the anniversary of the victory and miraculous candle-lighting.
The holiday is called Chanukah which stands for Chanu, they rested (from the war) and kah which stands for chaf- hei (25) and refers to the 25th day of the month of Kislev. Another explanation of the name Chanukah is that we celebrate the rededication of the Altar of the Holy Temple after it was defiled by the Greeks. (Chanukah means dedication.)[3]
On these eight days we light candles (or oil lamps) every night, recite additional prayers and rejoice for this victory.
This article will give a brief outline of the laws and customs related to this holiday.
One should be very careful to light the Chanukah lights.[4] The Talmud says that one who is careful in this mitzvah will have children who are Torah scholars.[5] “To be careful” in this context means that he is particular to light pure oil in a clean and beautiful Menorah.[6]
The Rambam writes, “The mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lamps is very dear. A person should be very careful in its observance to publicize the miracle and thus increase our praise of G-d and our expression of thanks for the miracles which He wrought on our behalf. Even if a person has no resources for food except that which he receives from charity, he should pawn or sell his garments and purchase oil and lamps to kindle in fulfillment of the mitzvah.”[7]
Some say the candles should be lit after sunset. Others say they should be lit after the emergence of three stars. The Chabad custom is to light after sunset and put in sufficient oil to last until a half hour after the stars emerge (at least 50 minutes).[9] This was also the minhag (custom) of the Vilna Gaon.[10]
One who lights after Maariv should prepare the Menorah before leaving to Shul so that he will be able to light immediately upon returning.[11]
If one did not light at this time, one may light as long as there are people walking in the street (if one is lighting outside) or as long as household members are awake (if one is lighting inside the house, see below).[12]
One may even light at the end of the night, before dawn. If one’s household members are asleep, he should wake them as otherwise one may not recite a blessing on the kindling. [13]
One may not, however, light (with a blessing) during the following daytime.
The original mitzvah was to light outside of one’s doorway to the street so that passersby could see the lights and learn about the miracle. At that time, one would only light indoors if it was dangerous to light outside. Nowadays, some light outdoors, just as before, some light in the window so that the lights can be seen from the outside, and some light inside the house in a doorway, opposite the mezuzah.[15] Chabad custom follows the last view.[16]
One who lights in the window should not use a Menorah that has a back to it so that the household members are able to see the lights as well.
In addition, if the window is more than 30 feet from the street level, one should not light in the window (see below) as the lights will not be noticed by those outside.
Two people may light using the same Menorah by using opposite sides of the Menorah on the first three nights as the empty space in between is an indication that they are lit by different people.
Candles vs. Oil[17] 
One may fulfill the mitzvah by lighting with any flammable material using any fuel that will last for at least one half hour. If using candles, beeswax candles are considered most preferable.
It is better to use oil rather than candles. It is best to use olive oil as this oil burns brightly and was the oil used in the Bait HaMikdash.
In addition, it is better to use cotton or linen wicks as these provide a smooth flame.
The oil need not be edible nor does it need to be kosher.[18]
One should not use candles for some of the lights and oil for the others as it may appear that these were lit by two different people.[19]
One may not use a candle that has two wicks as this resembles a torch rather than an individual light.
One should endeavor to acquire a nice Menorah in order to beautify this Mitzvah. If possible, one should use a silver Menorah.
How High?[20]
It is best to place the Menorah on a stand that is more than the three tefachim (handbreadths, approx. 9 inches) and less than ten tefachim (approx. 30 inches) from the floor. This is to emphasize that the purpose of the Menorah is solely for the Mitzvah and not for light.
If The Menorah is lower or higher than these heights, it is still acceptable. But if it is above 20 amot (approx. 30 feet), one does not fulfill their mitzvah as the menorah will not be noticed by people.
The Blessings[21]
When lighting the first night, one should say the three blessings of
1)      Lehadlik ner (shel[22])  Chanukah
2)      She’asah nissim la’avoteinu
3)       She’hechiyanu
On subsequent nights one should only recite the first two of these blessings.
It is customary for Chabad Chassidim to wear a gartel (belt for prayers) while kindling the Menorah, but it is not necessary to don Shabbat clothes. Some Chassidim wear Shabbat clothes during the lighting or even throughout Chanukah.[23]
The Direction[24]
The common custom is to place the first candle on the extreme right of the Menorah and then to add one additional candle to the left of that one on the second night and so on. The lighting should begin with the new candle and then move towards the right. This follows the concept of “turning towards the right.”[25]
Some say that one should set up the first candle on the extreme left of the Menorah and then add new ones to the right of this one. The lighting begins with the lamp that was kindled first and moves to the right.[26] (This is not the common custom)
The Shamash
It is forbidden to benefit from the Chanukah lights. This is one of the reasons we use a shamash (an extra candle) so that if we inadvertently use the light, it should be considered that we’re using the light of the Shamash. For this reason, the Shamash should be placed higher than the other candles.[27]
In addition, it is customary to not light one Chanukah candle from the other. [28] The shamash is therefore used to light all of the candles.
If the shamash goes out, one may not relight it from a Chanukah candle.
Chabad custom is to use a shamash made out of beeswax.[29]
After Lighting
It is best to sit near the candles for a half hour after the lighting. This does not apply on Fridaynight when one should go to shul to pray after lighting the candles.[30]
Who Lights?[31]
  • The basic obligation is that one person should light one candle per night of Chanukah.
  • It is a better mitzvah for each family member to light a candle each night.
  • The best mitzvah is to add one candle every night so that one light one on the first night, two on the second night etc.
In practice, it is Ashkenazi custom for every household member to light one on the first night, two on the second and so on.
This includes children who have reached the age of education in mitzvot.
Sefardic custom is that only the head of the household lights a Menorah, and he adds one for each night.
Boys light a while before the bar mitzvah. Girls do not light. A woman fulfills her obligation through her husband. See sefer haminhagim
In any case, it is proper for all of the members of the household to gather during the lighting of the Menorah so that everyone hears the brachot and participates in the mitzvah.
The mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights applies to men and women equally. The sages established this rule, despite the fact that Chanukah is a time-bound mitzvah from which women are normally exempt, because the decrees of the Greeks affected the women as well as the men. In addition, the salvation of the Jews came about through the efforts of a woman, Yehudis, who killed the powerful Greek general Helipurni.[33]
It is customary that women fulfill their mitzvah by the lighting of their husband, father, or other male family member. Nevertheless, if a woman wishes to light her own Menorah, she may do so, and she may recite a bracha.[34]
If a woman lives alone, she should certainly light her own Menorah with a bracha. A man may light on behalf of a woman in her home and recite the brachot for her if she cannot do this herself. (Needless to say, the laws of Yichud must be observed.)[35]
If one eats at a friend’s or relative’s house on Chanukah but will not be sleeping there, but will rather go home to sleep, he must light in his own home. This applies to both men and women.
A man who is a (sleepover) guest in someone else’s house for Chanukah need not light separately if he is married and his wife is lighting back home in his house. He should nevertheless be present at a Menorah lighting in order to hear the blessings.
In this situation, if one wishes to light himself, he may do so as long as he intends to not fulfill the mitzvah by the lighting of his wife. Some say that he may only do this if he lights before the time that he expects his wife to light.
A man whose wife is not lighting in his house (because he’s not married or if they are both traveling) must either light himself (this is preferred) or participate in the lighting of his host. He may participate by giving the host a coin in order to acquire some of the candles or by the host simply giving him some of the oil (or candles) as a gift.
One who is traveling during Chanukah should try to arrange his travel plans so that he will not be traveling throughout any of the nights of Chanukah. One should then light the Menorah either before he departs or when he arrives. If one’s travel arrangements make this impossible, one should consult a rabbi as to how to proceed.
Before Lighting[37]
From a half hour before the time of lighting, one should not be involved in anything that will be distracting and cause him to forget about the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah lights. This includes:
  • Eating (grain foods larger than the size of an egg)
  • Studying Torah (one may study during the half hour before sunset but should stop during the half hour before the stars emerge).
  • Business activities
For How Long?
As mentioned above, the Menorah should preferably burn for at least a half hour after dusk. If the lights become extinguished during this time, it is not necessary to rekindle them though it is preferable to do so.[38]
It is permissible to move the Menorah after this time.[39]
If one wishes to extinguish the lights after this time, it is best to make a condition to this effect before lighting.[40]
It is customary that while the candles are burning women do not do work such as laundry, ironing, and sewing. This is referring to the time that the candles must actually burn (see above). The types of work permissible on Chol Hamoed (e.g., cooking and basic cleaning) are permissible.[42] Some are strict even regarding such work.[43] The reason for this custom is to ensure that one not use the light of the Menorah for one’s own activities. Women are particular about this more so than men since they had a great part in the miracle as explained above.
Leftover Oil
The oil that is left after the Chanukah lights go out may not be used for other purposes. One may, however, use the leftover oil for the following nights of Chanukah. After Chanukah, the leftover oil should be burned separately in order to ensure it will not be used improperly.
If one made a condition before he kindled the Chanukah lights that the leftover oil not be sanctified, he may use it or dispose of it however he sees fit.[44]
In any case, the oil that remained in the bottle may be used for any use although it was purchased for the purpose of Chanukah.[45]
If it is already the time to pray maariv (the evening service), one should pray before one lights the Menorah. This follows the principle of doing what is more common before what is less common (tadir veshe’eino tadir, tadir kodem). This is certainly true if one has a minyan (quorum) with which to pray now and will not have one later.
 If one doesn’t want to pray maariv at this time (e.g., he usually prays with a later minyan), he may light the Menorah first and pray maariv later.
HaNeirot Halalu[47]
After lighting the Menorah, we recite HaNeirot Halalu. This short paragraph explains the reason for our lighting these candles. By reciting this paragraph we show that our intent in lighting the candles is to praise G-d for His salvation. This is an essential aspect of the fulfillment of the Mitzvah.[48]
Some say that one should start reciting this paragraph as soon as they finish lighting the first candle. Others say that one should first light all the candles before reciting this prayer. This is the Chabad custom.[49]
One who does not recite this paragraph has still fulfilled the mitzvah.[50]
Lighting in Shul[51]
It is customary to light the Menorah in shul between Mincha and Maariv. This lighting is simply to publicize the miracle and is not for any person to fulfill their obligation. Even the person who lit the Menorah and recited the brachot must light again in his home with the brachot. On the first night, the one who actually lit in shul should not repeat the She’hechiyanu blessing when he lights at home unless there is someone in his home who did not hear that blessing yet.
It is customary in many shuls to light the Menorah without a bracha before Shacharit (morning service) as well.[52]
On Erev Shabbat, if the hour is late, the Menorah should be kindled in shul before Mincha. One may recite the blessings even if a minyan has not yet arrived as the minyan will arrive while the candles are still burning.
Lighting in Public Places[53]
The Chabad custom is to light the Menorah in public gathering places in order to publicize the miracle of Chanukah. One should only recite the brachot if a minyan (ten Jewish adult men) is present. All those who were present at such a lighting must light again in their own homes.
Erev Shabbat Chanukah[54]
Friday, 27 Kislev / Dec. 15
On Erev Shabbat Chanukah (the Friday of Chanukah) one should light the Chanukah candles before lighting the Shabbat candles.
  • If a man forgot and lit the Shabbat candles first, he may still light the Chanukah candles (if Shabbat has not yet begun).
  • If a woman forgot and lit the Shabbat candles first, she may not light the Chanukah candles, but she may instruct someone else to do so.
One should use candles (or oil) that will last until a half hour after dusk. One who has small candles should use at least one large candle that will last for this amount of time.
Order of Mincha
On this Erev Shabbat, it is best to pray Mincha before the Chanukah lighting. This is because when lighting the Menorah early, one is considering that part of the day to be like nighttime. One should therefore pray Mincha (which must be prayed during the daytime) beforehand. Minchah here precedes the Chanukah lights, just as in the Beis HaMikdash the offering of the Tamid sacrifice (which Minchah parallels) always preceded the lighting of the Menorah. Moreover, this order precludes an anomalous sequence of events since the time for Minchah ends at sunset, while the Chanukah lights properly belong to the forthcoming evening.
One should not pray Mincha early if it means that he will miss praying with a Minyan.
A Menorah that was lit for this Friday night is muktzah and may not be moved on Shabbat even after the candles go out, even if it is in the way. In fact, if the Menorah was placed on a tray or table, and it is the most significant item on that tray or table, the entire tray or table becomes muktzah.
One who wishes to move the Menorah on Shabbat should place it on a tray or a table that is not specifically designed for it and also place a challah or Siddur on the tray or table before Shabbat. If he has done so, he may move the entire tray after the candles go out, if it is in the way.
Motzoei Shabbat[56]
In shul it is customary to light the Menorah before havdalah. The reason for this is to delay the formal departure of Shabbat as much as possible. The one lighting should make sure to recite havdalah in his prayers or to say baruch hamavdil bein kodesh lechol before the lighting.
In one’s home it is customary to first recite havdalah and then light the candles. This follows the principle of doing the more common mitzvah first. Some have the custom to light before Havdalah in the home as is done is shul.[57]
One who lights after Havdalah should recite Veyiten Lecha after the Menorah lighting.[58]
Some have the custom to light the Menorah first even in the home.[59]
During the eight days of Hallel we recite the complete Hallel during the morning service (shacharit). A mourner who is acting as the chazzan should not be the chazzan for Hallel but may lead the rest of the services. This is the Chabad custom. Some say he should not be the Chazzan for the entire shacharit during Chanukah. Some say he should not be the Chazzan at all during Chanukah.[60]
Al HaNissim[61]
During Chanukah we recite the paragraph of Al HaNissim during the second to last blessing of the Amidah and during the second blessing of the grace after meals.
If one forgot to say this prayer and he did not yet say G-d’s name at the end of the blessing, he should return and say it and continue his prayers from that point on.
If one already said G-d’s name at the end of these blessings, one need not (and may not) repeat these blessings, the Amidah or the Grace after meals. Nevertheless, if one remembers before completing the Birchat HaMazon, he may add a Harachaman for Chanukah where the HaRachamans are normally added for Shabbat and Holidays (after the paragraph of Mimarom). One can then say the paragraph of Bimai Matityahu etc.
See the Siddur for more details on this law.
Some say that one need not have any additional meals on Chanukah as Chanukah primarily celebrates the religious victory of the Jews over the Hellenists. Some say that it is a mitzvah to have meals with which to celebrate this miracle since Chanukah was a military victory as well.
In practice, if one recites Torah thoughts at these meals, they are considered to be “mitzvah meals.”
Some have the custom of eating dairy of Chanukah to commemorate the brave acts of Yehudit who killed a Greek general by feeding him cheese and wine.[63]
No Fasting[64]
It is forbidden to fast on any of the days of Chanukah. This includes a Yahrtzeit and a Chattan and Kallah on their wedding day. Some say that one may also not fast on the day before and the day after Chanukah. [65]
No Tachnun
During Chanukah we do not recite Tachnun (confessionary prayers) during the prayers.
Torah Study
It is proper to add in Torah study during Chanukah to commemorate the fact that under Greek occupation we had been unable to study Torah and that as a result of the miracle, we were able to study again.[66]
It is customary to give extra charity on Chanukah.[67]
These days are propitious to cleanse the blemishes of one’s soul by giving Tzedakah.  In addition, since these days are propitious for the coming of Mashiach, we try to hasten his arrival by giving Tzedakah.
It is customary to give monetary gifts on Chanukah to one’s family members. This is to commemorate the fact that during the Greek occupation we did not have control over our own property and that this was restored to us in G-d’s great kindness.
The Chabad Rebbes would distribute Chanukah gelt to their families on the fourth or fifth night of Chanukah.[68]
Other Customs:
It is customary to eat foods fried in oil such as latkes and donuts (sufganiyot).[69]
Some have a custom to play Draidel. This commemorates how the Jewish children would switch from studying Torah to playing games when the Greek inspectors would arrive.
On the 27th of Kislev the Alter Rebbe was freed for Soviet Imprisonment for the 2nd time.[70]
Rosh Chodesh
Sunday night, Monday and Tuesday, Kislev 30 and Tevet 1 / Dec. 17-19
On the days of Rosh Chodesh we add Ya’aleh VeYavo for Rosh Chodesh in the Amidah and in Birkat HaMazon. Musaf is also added. We say full Hallel on these days as we do the rest of Chanukah.
Zot Chanukah
Tuesday night and Wednesday, Tevet 2 / Dec. 19 and 20

The last day of Chanukah is called Zot Chanukah and has special significance.

  • It is the final day of the Teshuvah season which begins on Rosh Chodesh Ellul.[71]
  • It is a segulah to pray on this day for children. This is alluded to Torah reading of this day which contains 89 verses. The word taf in Hebrew (which means small children) has the gematria of 89.[72]
  • We are especially joyous on this day in that we were able to rejoice (and fulfill the mitzvot) on all of the eight days of Chanukah.[73]
May we merit the rebuilding of the Third Bait HaMikdash speedily so that we may kindle the grand Menorah once again!

[1] Hayom Yom 24 Kislev
[2] See Shabbat 21b and on, Rambam, Laws of Chanukah, Chapter 2
[3] See sources quoted in Likutei Sichot, vol. 20:633
[4] O.C. 671, 1
[5] Shabbat, 23b Rashi D. H. Banim
[6] Peleh Yp’etz, vol. 2 entry Ner Shabbat and Ner Chanukah
[7] Laws of Megillah and Chanukah, 4, 12
[8] O. C. 672
[9] See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 672:1, and Pri Chadash, there. See also HaYom Yom, Kislev 25
[10] Mishnah Berurah, 672:1
[11] Ibid
[12] O.C., 672:2
[13] Mishnah Berurar, 672:11
[14] O. C. 671
[15] Rama, ibid 7
[16] Sefer Haminhagim. See there that its not customary to be particular about which direction the Menorah should be facing
[17] O.C. 673
[18] One may not use fuel that is a forbidden mixture of meat and milk (Mishnah Berurah, 673, 2)
[19] Mishnah Berurah, ibid
[20] O. C. 671, 6, Mishnah Berurah, 26
[21] O. C. 676
[22] As per Sefer HaMinhagim, Chabad does not say the word “Shel.” See sources given there
[23] Sefer HaMinhagim Chabad
[24] O.C. ibid
[25] O.C. 676, 5
[26] Opinion of the Vilna Gaon, cited in Mishnah Berurah, 676, 9
[27] O.C. 673, 1 and Sefer HaMinhagim Chabad
[28] See O.C. 674
[29] Sefer Haminhagim, Chabad. Oil is not used as it is difficult to maneuver an oil lamp and use it to kindle the other lights.
[30] Sefer HaMinhagim, Chabad
[31] O. C. 675
[32] Ibid
[33] See Rama on O.C. 670:2 Rama
[34] Ibid, Mishnah Berurah, 9
[35] Magen Avraham, 676, 4
[36] O.C. 677
[37] Sha’ar HaTziyun 672, 14
[38] Mishnah Berurah, 673, 27. As stated in Sefer HaMinhagim, the Chabad custom is to relight it.
[39] Sefer HaMinhagim
[40] Mishnah Berurah, 672, 7
[41] O.C. 670, 1
[42] Responsa Kinyan Torah, 7, 52
[43] Responsa Rivevot Efrayim, 1, 436
[44] Ibid
[45] Biur Halacha, 677, 4
[46] O. C. 672
[47] O.C. 671, 4
[48] Halichot Shlomo, 16, 9
[49] See commentaries on O.C. 676:4 and Sefer HaMinhagim Chabad
[50] Aruch HaShulchan
[51] O.C. 671
[52] See sources quoted in Shevach HaMoadim, page 107
[53] See Netivim Besdeh Hashlicht by Rav L. Y. Raskin of London, pages 242 – 257
[54] O.C. 679
[55] See O.C. 279
[56] O.C. 681
[57] See Rama and Mishnah Berurah on O.C. 681:2 and HaYom yom 26 kislev
[58] Sefer HaMinhagim
[59] Piskei Teshuvot, 681, 9
[60] O. C. 682, 2. Mishnah Berurah, 671, 44, Biur Halacha, 132 and Sefer HaMinhagim Chabad
[61] O. C. 682
[62] O. C. 670, Mishnah Berurah 6 and 7
[63] Ibid, Rama 2
[64] Rama, 670, 3
[65] See Mishnah Berurah, 686, 1
[66] See Shela, end of inyanei Tefillah that these days are most appropriate for assiduous Torah study more than other days.
See also Kedushat Levi (Derushim LeChanukah, D.H. Yadua) “On these days G-d begins to shine the rays of his Torah upon us.”
And Minhagei Chatam Sofer (89, 1) that it was during the days of Chanukah that the secrets of the Torah were revealed to Moshe Rabeinu.
[67] Mishnah Berurah 670, 1, Magen Avraham beginning of Hilchot Chanukah and Sefer Haminhagim Chabad
[68] HaYom Yom 28 kislev, Igrot kodesh 28:75-77
[69] see Hayom Yom 28 kislev
[70] See Hayom Yom for the day.
[71] Orot Tzadikim – Chanukah, by Rabbi Aharon Meizlish, page 127 in the name of the Benei Binyamin
[72] Orot Tzadikim, ibid in the name of the Chamar Tava
[73] Orot Tzadikim, ibid in the name of the Atzei Chayim

                                      Wishing you all a Happy Chanukah!

Aryeh Citron

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