The Chanukah Menorah

The most significant rite of Chanukah is the lighting of the menorah, a ceremony performed in memory of the Menorah used in the Temple. The Chanukah menorah, also called Chanukiah, has spaces for eight candles all in a row, plus an additional ninth space above the other branches. This last space houses the shamash (the “servant” candle). Any other type of candelabrum (including electrical ones) is not kosher for this holiday.

How to Light the Chanukiah

Two blessings are recited each night of Chanukah. An additional blessing, the Shehecheyanu, is recited on the first night, and there is a specific order for lighting Chanukah candles. On the first night, you light one candle at the far right of the menorah. (On each subsequent night, an additional candle is set to the left of the candles lit the previous night.)

Then you light the shamash and use it to light the other candles, going from left to right. When all the candles are burning, you return the shamash to its holder.

The Chanukah menorah

You may wonder why you light the candles from left to right, or why you don't start with eight candles and remove one for each night. If you have these thoughts, you are in good company. In fact, a famous debate over this topic occurred between the schools of two esteemed sages, Hillel and Shamai.

Since Chanukah is eight days long, the holiday encompasses at least one Shabbat. Do not light the Chanukah menorah after the Shabbat candles since that would violate the mitzvot of Shabbat. Recite the blessings, light the Chanukah menorah, and then light the Shabbat candles.

The House of Shamai proposed that eight candles be lit on the first night, with one removed on each subsequent night, while the House of Hillel believed in just the opposite, saying that as we increase the light, we increase the holiness in the world. As you can see, the House of Hillel prevailed. As to why the candles are lit from left to right — well, it's to honor the newest candle first.

Part of the purpose of lighting the Chanukah menorah is to publicize the miracle of Chanukah and share it with the world. Therefore, it is customary for menorahs to be placed in front of a visible window or even set outside the front door. In Israel, some homes are constructed with cut-outs in the wall next to the front door for the Chanukah menorah to be displayed.

Who lights the Chanukah menorah?

Everyone in the home should light the menorah, though a married woman may be included in her husband's lighting since they are viewed as an inseparable unit (just as the woman lights Shabbat candles on behalf of the entire family). Ideally, every person has his or her own menorah.

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