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Hanukkah – Questions and Answers

Levivot

Why is the festival called “Hanukkah?”

 

The name denotes the day of victory: “Hanu Koh” – they rested on the 25th day, in other words, on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, the Maccabees rested from their enemies. Another reason: following the Maccabees’ victory, the Temple was purified and “Hanukat HaBayit” was made – the Temple was rededicated.

 

Why Eight Days?

 

In memory of the miracle of the oil in the Temple. After the Hasmoneans (small in number and weak) were miraculously victorious over the Greeks (many in number and strong), they entered the Temple and saw that the Greeks, when they ruled Jerusalem, defiled all the oil that was dedicated to lighting the Temple menorah. One small untouched container of oil was found, oil that the Greeks had missed and did not defile. The amount of oil was enough for only one day. Yet this tiny amount of oil miraculously lasted for eight days, until fresh and pure oil could be brought. Since then, in commemoration of this miracle, every year we light Hanukkah lights for eight days and remember the miracles of those great days.

Why do we play with a dreidl?

Since we should sit near the lights for a half-hour after we light them, the game was made up in order that also the children would have an interesting experience. On the dreidl are written four Hebrew letters – Nun, Gimmel, Heh, Peh (in the Diaspora the fourth letter is a Shin). These letters are the initials of the words “Nes” = “Miracle,” “Gadol” = “Great” “Haya” = “Was” “Po” = “Here” (and in the Diaspora: “Sham” = “There”). This game is purely for fun and enjoyment and never for money.

 

Why do we eat latkes?

There is a custom to eat cheese latkes on Hanukkah, because one of the miracles occurred through cheese. A Jewish widow named Yehudit (Judith) managed to find favor with the Greek military leader, Holofernes. In the evening, she gave him tasty salt cheese that made him thirsty, and then she gave him wine until he became drunk. When he was totally drunk, she cut off his head and announced her action to the Jews, who immediately opened attack on the enemy camp and were victorious. In memory of this miracle, on Hanukkah we eat cheese dishes.

Why do we eat donuts?

On Hanukkah we eat foods fried in oil in order to remember the miracle of the oil.

 

Why do we light a “Shamash?”

Since it is forbidden to make use of the Hanukkah lights, we therefore light an additional light, the “Shamash” whose light we may use. The “shamash” also reminds us of the Cohen who used to light the Temple menorah.

 

Why do we light Hanukkah lights from left to right?

We place the first Hanukkah light at the right side of the Hanukiah, because the right side is considered more important. However, since we add a light on each successive day of Hanukkah, we first light the new light, and then the light to its right, and so on each succeeding day. Thus the light on the furthest right is always the last to be lit.

 

Why do we give Hanukkah money?

Since it is a mitzva on Hanukkah to give more charity, we give our children a few coins for them to give to charity.

 

Hanukiah – Who Knows?

What is a kosher Hanukiah?

The Hanukiah is just a technical solution for lighting the Hanukkah lights and is not important in and of itself. One can light the candles without a Hanukiah, for example, to stick the candles on a flat surface or on a window ledge, or to use wide-mouthed glass bottles filled with oil, to insert a wick (with floater) and light. However, a Hanukiah is preferable in order to add adornment and honor the mitzva. Thus it does not matter what material the Hanukiah is made from, as long as the Hanukkah lamps are not to close to each other, so that they will not look like one large torch, for then, the obligation of the mitzva is not fulfilled. There should be a space of 2 cm. (I inch) between each candle or oil cup.

A Hanukiah whose branches are not in a straight line should not be used. The “shamash” should be separated from the Hanukkah candles, either placed above them, or on the side, in order that it be known that it is not counted with the number of Hanukkah lights of the evening.

 

What candles should be lit?

On Hanukkah any sort of candle may be lit. People who want to be meticulous with the mitzva use olive oil. Olive oil gives a special light and reminds us of the miracle of the oil. Care should be taken to have enough oil in the cups to burn for at least a half-hour, and preferably, 50 minutes.

 

Who needs to light Hanukkah lights?

Everyone in the household may light his / her own lights in his / her Hanukiah. Some married women have the custom to rely on their husband’s lighting, but in many households the children each light their own Hanukiah.

 

Where do we place the Hanukiah?

At any entrance in the house or the window ledge. The Hanukiah can be placed on a chair, stool, or table by the entrance opposite the mezuza. If you want to place the Hanukiah on the window ledge, you should check that it can be seen from the street.

 

When do we light?

It is preferable to light at sunset (in Israel, this year, around 4.38 p.m.).

 

How many candles do we light?

 

On the first evening we light one candle plus the “shamash.” On the second evening we light two candles plus the “shamash.” On the third evening, we light three candles plus the “shamash” and so forth, until on the eighth evening we light eight candles plus the “shamash.”

 

From which candle do we start?

 

The first light is set on the right side of the Hanukiah. The second light is set next to it. The third light is set next to it, and so forth. But the lighting always starts with the new light. We start lighting from the left and continue lighting from left to right. The light at the furthest right will always be the last lit.

 

How do we light on Friday evening?

 

 

On Friday evening Hanukkah lights are lit before Shabbat. First, the Hanukkah lights are lit, and then the Shabbat candles. Since on Friday, the Hanukkah lights are lit earlier than usual, the candles should be bigger in order in order for them to last at least 70 minutes. (It is also nice to see them burning during the Shabbat meal.)

 

How do we light on Motze Shabbat?

 

We light only after Shabbat has ended. First, Havdalah is said, and afterwards the Hanukkah candles are lit.

 

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