Dear B’nai Shalom members, families and friends,

We will soon be preparing to celebrate the joyous holiday of Chanukah and, in order to best fulfill the spirit of the holiday, I share with you the following concerning the laws and traditions of the holiday:

Typically, candles are kindled in one’s own home. This should take place soon after darkness comes, about an hour after the stated time for Shabbat candles. This mitzvah can be fulfilled in other places such as a hotel room or someone else’s home but there are a few considerations to keep in mind. If one is in a hotel, one needs to take into account safety regulations and the hotel’s rules about having an open flame in one’s room. If one IS permitted to light the Menorah in the hotel room, I strongly suggest NOT going out, leaving the room during the time the candles are burning. If one is going to be away from one’s home from the onset of darkness well into the night, one can light candles in someone else’s home, either using one’s own Menorah (if one chooses), or a separate, different Menorah borrowed from one’s host. Aside from one’s emotional attachment to one’s own Menorah, there is no halachic consideration attached to lighting one’s own Menorah — that which is owned by the one lighting the Menorah.

If at all possible, lighting should take place while people are awake AND while people are still outside, potentially present on the street. This allows for the fulfillment of the objective of “Pirsumei Nisa,” publicizing — making known the miracle of the lights of Chanukah.

Interesting to note, the lighting of the Menorah frequently takes place OUTSIDE in Israel in weather appropriate Menorahs which resist precipitation and the wind. In this manner, the objective of “Pirsumei Nisa,” publicizing — making known the miracle of the lights of Chanukah is done in a preferred, enhanced way.

We recite three brachot (blessings) the first night of Chanukah BUT if for some reason, one fails to light the Menorah on the first night of Chanukah, the person lighting WOULD say all three brachot on the first night that s/he IS lighting. The first two brachot are said on all other nights of Chanukah. The third bracha: “Shehechayanu,” is said ONLY on the first night that one lights. You may notice that the second bracha (for the miracles G-d performed for us) is also said on hearing the Megillah on Purim.

We recite full Hallel each day of Chanukah in the morning service. This would take place whether or not one davens in shul or wherever Shacharit (the morning service) is recited. There is NO Musaf service for Chanukah other than the sixth day of Chanukah (which is ALWAYS Rosh Chodesh Tevet, and sometimes the seventh day of Chanukah as well). We add the prayer: “Al HaNissim” to the silent Shemonah Esrai (the silent Amidah) and to the Birkat HaMazon (the full Grace After Meals). We do not repeat the silent Shemonah Esrai or the Birkat HaMazon if one forgot to say “Al HaNissi HaNissim.” We read the Torah each day of Chanukah, with the reading coming from Parshat Naso, dealing with the dedication of the Mishkan (the Holy Tabernacle.

Sephardic Jews typically have one menorah for each member of the family; Ashkenazim typically have one menorah for the entire family. These minhagim are not ironclad and can be switched around from year to year and even from night to night, as necessary.

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. One cannot use the candles for light or heat. (See the HaNerot Hallalu prayer, said after reciting the blessings).

Only the brachot (blessings) NEED to be said at lighting the candles and nothing more. The recitation of the HaNerot Hallalu or Maoz Tzur is traditional but not required.

There is a minhag (a tradition) not to do work during the burning of the candles. This is only a minhag (tradition) and does not have the same full force prohibitive requirements that we have with the prohibitions of certain activities on Shabbat.

There potentially is a problem with the lighting of the Menorah on the Friday night of Chanukah because the Shabbat candles must be lit AFTER the Chanukah candles but before sundown. The typical Chanukah-style candles last only 35-45 minutes which would mean that the Chanukah candles would NOT burn the requisite amount of time into darkness if the typical Chanukah-style candles are used. Therefore, thicker, larger candles must be used that will burn 30-40 minutes INTO darkness, AFTER Shabbat begins.

In shul, the Menorah is kindled and the brachot are recited, and can be said by someone who has ALREADY lit candles.

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

And finally and without meaning to dampen the hopes, joys, or traditions of many families, there really is no connection to gift giving or receiving presents on Chanukah. This practice certainly makes people happy and clearly Chanukah is a happy and joyous holiday, but the same level of celebration can be achieved through playing dreydle, eating latkes, sufganyiot (jelly doughnuts) singing songs, and spending time with family and friends. In order NOT to be accused of being a Chanukah grinch, I should also include the point that there is no such restriction or prohibition AGAINST giving gifts. No harm done.

Happy Chanukah to all!
With Torah blessings,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin