Dear B’nai Shalom members, families, and friends:

With the ongoing Corona virus lockdown and all its rules, regulations, and restrictions, I am hopeful that the holiday of Chanukah will enter your homes with joy and celebration and bring up the level of happiness in each B’nai Shalom abode.

To best celebrate the holiday and to be aware of the halachot (laws) pertaining to Chanukah, I share the following information with you that I hope will be helpful and informative:

Typically, we light the Chanukah candles in one’s own home. Difficult as it may be in other years, in a twist of fate, THIS YEAR, that seems to be less of a problem than in previous years because of our needing to stay locked down and safe in our own homes. If COVID-19 permits, one CAN fulfill this mitzvah in other places such as in a hotel or in someone else’s home. The PREFERRED place is still in one’s own home unless that cannot take place.

Lighting should take place while family members are still awake in one’s own home AND while people are still on the street. This permits us to fulfill the directive of “Pirsumei Nisa,” making known the miracles of Chanukah. Naturally this is best done when people, walking along the street, can see and observe the lights kindled in the homes of the Jewish families, celebrating and helping to publicize the joy and miracles of the holiday.

It is interesting to note that in Israel, many families use an outdoor Chanukiyah (Menorah specifically for Chanukah) especially made for lighting outside, resisting the outdoor elements. While spending time in Israel during Chanukah, one cannot help but feel the REAL and all-pervasive joy of witnessing home after home, family after family, displaying their outdoor Chanukiyot creating an authentic and all-encompassing feeling of festivity and celebration.

When lighting the Chanukiyah, we recite three brachot (blessings) the first night one lights — the third bracha being the “Shehechayanu” blessing. We recite the first two brachot every night of lighting. If, for some reason, one was unable to light the Chanukyah the first night of Chanukah, one then says three brachot, including the “Shehechayanu” blessing, the first night one DOES light, even if that is not necessarily the first night of the holiday.

In lighting the candles, one might find the second bracha (thanking G-d for the miracles G-d performed for us) sounding familiar. That is because this is the same second bracha said on hearing the Megillah on Purim.

Each morning of Chanukah, the full Hallel prayer is recited, including Shabbat morning. If Hallel is forgotten when one is davening the Shacharit (morning) service, one can still say Hallel later in the day while it is still daylight.

People who are in Aveilus (mourning during the months of bereavement following the death of a parent) do not say Hallel. If one is in shul and Hallel is said, one can leave the sanctuary to avoid being part of the recitation of Hallel or, if this is not possible or practical, just remain in one’s seat but not saying the words of the Hallel prayer.

Men who are in Aveilus CAN continue throughout Chanukah to daven from the Amud, as the Shliach Tzibur, (acting as “chazzan”), leading the service. In doing so, the Aveil (the mourner) should relinquish the Amud (should step down) when Hallel is being recited.

In our daily davening, we add the additional holiday selection “Al HaNisim” to the silent Shmoneh Esrai (the silent Amidah) as well as to the Birkat HaMazon (the Grace After Meals). We do not repeat either the Amidah OR the Birkat HaMazon if it is forgotten.

There is a special Torah reading each day of Chanukah, which is taken from Parshat Naso, dealing with the dedication of the Mishkan (The Tabernacle).

Sephardic custom follows a candle lighting style that typically has one menorah for each member of the family; Ashkenazic custom typically has one menorah for the entire family. These minhagim (traditions) are not ironclad and can be switched around from year to year and even from night to night, as necessary.

The main, LIGHTING CANDLE, the Shamash, only needs to be noticeably different from the other candles and not necessarily higher. The other candles need to be all the same height.

According to halacha, (Jewish law), one cannot use the Chanukah candles for light or heat. This is stated in the “HaNerot Hallalu” prayer, which is recited immediately after lighting the candles, before singing “Maoz Tzur.”

There is a minhag (tradition) not to do work during the burning of the candles. This is only a minhag and does not have the same guiding force of halacha (Jewish law).

On Friday night, the Shabbat candles must be kindled AFTER the Chanukah candles but ALL before sundown. The typical Chanukah-style candles last only 35-45 minutes, which creates a problem. The candles need to remain lit for 30 minutes INTO darkness which is not for an entire hour AFTER lighting the Shabbas candles. Therefore, on Friday night, either oil should be lit (which lasts for a substantial amount of time) or Shabbat-style candles need to be used for the lighting of the Chanukiyah. Either of these solutions will solve the problem of the lights not remaining lit for a sufficiently-long period of time.

When lighting the Chanukiyah in shul, the brachot (blessings) are recited and can be said by someone who has ALREADY lit candles in his/her home.

On Motzei Shabbat, (the conclusion of Shabbat), Havdalah is said before lighting the Chanukah lights.

In the shul, the Chanukiyah is placed on the South wall, just as the Menorah in the Beit HaMikdash (The Holy Temple) was in the south.

While it has developed as part and parcel of the celebration of Chanukah in America, there is nothing about giving gifts on Chanukah. At the same time, there really isn’t a rule prohibiting the giving of gifts on Chanukah.

I hope that these guidelines and reminders will help enhance the celebration of Chanukah in all of your homes and with all of your families.

And, G-d willing, may we NEXT YEAR be able to celebrate Chanukah in a more NORMAL fashion, without COVID-19 restrictions, in good health, safety, and security. And next year, may we be in Jerusalem, and celebrating with the ENTIRE COUNTRY and truly feeling the spirit and joy of Chanukah as it was meant to be.

With Torah blessings,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin