Latest update: April 9th, 2012
The following general overview of Chanukah is from the Torah Tidbits, a publication of OU Israel. This will be a combination of a halachic review, practical suggestions, useful information, and more. Do not take anything written here as “the last word,” if you have any doubts, check things out with your Rav.
In general, one should prepare his Chanukiya (candelabra) during the afternoon so that there will not be a delay in lighting at the proper time. This is especially so on Friday, Erev Shabbat-Chanuka because things get kind of hectic as Shabbat approaches. (And especially not so for Motza’ei Shabbat lighting – Obviously, no preparation for lighting after Shabbat may be done on Shabbat).
Some have the custom of setting up their Chanukiya in the morning for the evening (this goes for every day – except Shabbat, of course). This not only serves the practical purpose of being ready to light on time without undue delay, but it also commemorates the practice in the Beit HaMikdash called Hatavat HaNeirot, whereby the Kohen (Gadol) tended the Menora and prepared it in the morning for kindling in the late, late afternoon. Since our lighting on Chanuka directly commemorates the lighting of the Menora in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) , this suggestion provides a nice “added touch” to the mitzva and symbolism of Chanuka lighting.
AL HANISIM is added to every Amida (18 Benedictions prayer) and Birkat HaMazon (Blessing after a meal) through-out Chanuka. (There is no reference to Chanuka in Bracha Mei’ein Shalosh.)
Forgetting AL HANISIM does NOT invalidate either the Amida or Birkat HaMazon. That means that neither is to be repeated because AL HANISIM was omitted. However, if one realizes the omission before the end of the Amida, AL HANISIM can be said right before YIHYU L’RATZON, with the modified intro below. In Birkat HaMazon, an omitted AL HANISIM becomes a HARACHA- MAN, right before HARACHAMAN HU Y’ZAKEINU, as follows (there are variant texts for this)…
POINT Brachot (including SHECHECYANU) should be recited BEFORE beginning to light the candles. This complies with the general rule for Brachot of Mitzva, that they be recited immediately before performance of the mitzva, if possible. This means, that even on the eighth night, don’t start lighting the candles until you finish both brachot.
POINT Opinions differ, but a common practice is to place the first candle (or oil cup) in the right side of the Chanukiya. If one lights at the doorpost, then the first candle should be closest to the doorpost, even if it is the left side of the Chanukiya. From the second night on, the custom (one of the customs) is to “load” the Chanukiya from right to left, but to light it, left to right. At the doorpost, one loads it from the doorpost out, and lights it starting with the candle closest to the doorpost. Loading and lighting direction is not crucial to the performance of the mitzva, but there are reasons for the various practices.
POINT The essential performance of the mitzva of Chanuka Lights is the lighting of a single candle each night. The custom that we follow of increasing the number of candles each night is considered HIDUR MITZVA (enhancement of the mitzva). This is not to suggest that anyone should follow the original practice of (just) one candle each night. The Jewish People “across the board” accepted upon itself – a long time ago – the current practice of lighting the number of candles that correspond to the day of Chanuka. One practice that has developed because of this, is to begin reciting HANEIROT HALALU after the first candle is lit, while lighting the others. Alternatively, one can wait until the lighting is done to say HANEIROT HALALU.
POINT One should not just light the Chanuka candles and then go on to business as usual, but rather one should look at the candles for a while, ponder G-d’s miracles, spend some time with the family talking about the message of Chanuka and how it relates to our time, play a little dreidel, sing a song or two, have a snack, have some Chanuka fun.
POINT It is recommended to learn some Torah, share a Dvar Torah, have a family shiur, or something like that, right after candle lighting (or sometime in the evening). The decrees of the Greeks included a ban on learning Torah. Our celebration of Chanuka marks our freedom from Greek oppression, including the ability to learn Torah in public without fear. So let’s do just that!
POINT There is a dispute as to whether the bracha ends NER SHEL CHANUKA or NER CHANUKA. One should follow his own (or family) minhag (custom), if you have one. If not, ask your Rav which wording you should use. (A third opinion is to combine the words with L’HADLIK NER SHEL’CHANUKA.
The following comments are not meant to encourage you to go with the NER CHANUKA version, but they might help explain why some people embraced this text for the bracha. BTW, Rinat Yisrael siddur has NER CHANUKA. So does the GR”A siddur, Eizor Eliyahu. Koren siddur has NER SHEL CHANUKA. So does T’filat Kol Peh.
Candles for Shabbat are candles, in the sense that they produce light (which is their main function), heat, fire – just like “regular” candles. Therefore, the appropriate term for them is NER SHEL SHABBAT, candles of or for Shabbat. So too, SHEL YOM TOV and SHEL YOM HAKIPURIM. Canuka candles are not “regular” candles. We are not allowed to use them – not their light nor heat nor fire. As we say, ELAH LIR-OTAM BILAVAD, (they are) exclusively to look at them. That’s it. They are not candles that are being used for Chanuka. They are CHANUKA CANDLES. Again, this is not meant to discredit referring to them in the bracha as NER SHEL CHANUKA. The gemara and many authorities since, have given the text as NER SHEL CHANUKA. It’s meant to explain why other sources go for the NER CHANUKA.
Additionally, with NER CHANUKA, the first bracha has 13 words, cor- responding to the 13 MIDOT of G-d’s mercy. With the second bracha also having 13 words, the two brachot add to 26 words, 26 being the numeric value of HaShem’s name.
The original place for lighting and displaying of the Chanukiya was outdoors at the entrance to one’s courtyard or home. Over many generations in exile, where lighting outdoors was inconvenient (weather-wise) to say the least, and often dangerous (“neighbors”), the practice evolved to light indoors.
In some circumstances, the lighting was to be done at a window, so that the candles would be visible to passersby in the street. In other cases, the Chanuka lights were lit in a conspicuous location for the attention of the members of the household, especially when it was dangerous to light at the window.
Many people who have come to Israel, still light inside, at the window, as they had been doing in their countries of origin. Others have gone back to the original practice of lighting outdoors, which is common in Israel – especially in Jerusalem.
The following applies to Tuesday, December 20th, the first candle; Wednesday, December 21st, Thursday, the 22nd, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, the 25th, 26th, and 27th. In other words, the six nights of Chanuka that are not Erev Shabbat or Motza”Sh.
WHEN: There are two practices as to when is the ideal time to light Chanuka lights during the week (i.e. except for Friday and Motza’ei Shabbat, when Shabbat affects the timing, as we will soon present).
Minhag Yerushalayim (which many, but not everyone follows) is to light with the setting of the sun. For this year (5772), sunset (taking elevation into account, which is what is done for Jerusalem) ranges from 4:44pm to 4:48pm during Chanuka week. We recommend using 4:45pm as your timing for the first three candles of Chanuka and 4:48pm for the last three candles (remember that Friday and Motza’ei Shabbat are different – see further.) Remember that this timing needs to be slightly adjusted for other locations.
Those who light with sunset should daven Maariv at the appropriate time, obviously after lighting candles. The other opinion (that of “the rest of the world”) is to light when the “light of the sun has left the sky”, i.e. Stars-Out a.k.a. Tzeit HaKochavim). Remember that there are different opinions as to when Stars-Out occurs. Except for Friday and Motza’ei Shabbat, most people will use an earlyish Stars-Out time, in order to be closer to the sunset, and because of Z’RIZIM MAKDIMIM, people who are enthusiastic about doing mitzvot, do them “right away”. 5:05-5:10pm will work for this early Stars-Out time this Chanuka (except for Erev Shabbat & Motza”Sh). Those who light with Stars-Out should light right after Maariv, unless they have a fixed time later in the evening for davening, in which case they can light before.
Candles must burn at least a half hour after stars-out. This was the original time period after dark that people were still around outdoors and defined the PIRSUMEI NISA aspect of the mitzva. Although in our day, people are out later than this time, the halacha only requires the half hour after stars-out. However, it is recommended that one use longer candles or more oil to extend this time (a bit), in recognition of the expansion of the current-day Pirsumei Nisa time-frame. Let’s say that one’s candles should burn at least to 6:00pm.
(Since Rabbeinu Tam’s Stars-Out is 5:50-5:55pm during Chanuka week (this year), one might try to have his Chanuka lights burn at least until 6:25-ish. This is not a requirement, but it does acknowledge the different opinions concerning Stars-Out. Treat this as an off-the-record suggestion, especially in light of the reality that the Pirsumei Nisa time is later into the night than it was in the time of the Gemara.) Anyone who lights after Stars-Out during the week, needs candles or oil to last at least a half hour – preferable longer.
Friday, December 23rd
It is preferable to daven Mincha before lighting Chanuka candles, but one should not miss out on a minyan to daven before lighting. The Israel Center has a Mincha minyan at 12:10pm on the Friday, Erev Shabbat Chanuka (December 23rd) to facilitate this. Chanuka candles should be lit BEFORE Shabbat candles – even if different people are lighting each. Count on 5-10 minutes before the posted Shabbat lighting time; adjust according to your household’s experience. Save Ma’oz Tzur for the Shabbat table – it saves some time and helps bring Chanuka to Shabbat Chanuka.
* In Jerusalem, some follow the practice of delaying Shabbat candle lighting for 20 minutes (4:25pm this year, instead of the scheduled 4:05pm) and lighting Chanuka candles right before Shabbat candles. ** For Maale Adumim and Petach Tikva, for those who generally light Shabbat candles at the Jerusalem time, they can delay 15 minutes, since their sunsets are about 5 minutes earlier than Jerusalem’s. Places whose Shabbat candle lighting times are 18-22 minutes before sunset, should keep to their posted times. Care should be taken when lighting early (as on Friday, but even during the week for a variety of reasons) to…  Never light before PLAG mincha – use 3:40pm as the red line; it works for the whole Chanuka this year, In Jerusalem. For elsewhere in Israel, either check your local calendars or pad this time by a few minutes. Outside of Israel, the times are most likely to be different – a local calendar should definitely be consulted.
 Make sure the candles are long/fat enough – or that there is sufficient oil – to last the required amount of time after stars-out, and then some. They should last at least until 5:50-6:00pm (using the later Shabbat-out time as TZEIT), but preferably somewhat longer (as mentioned above).
Motza”Sh, Dec. 24th
Candles for Motza’ei Shabbat should be set up from before Shabbat so as not to delay the Chanuka candle lighting any more than necessitated by Shabbat. (This is not required by halacha, but it is a highly desirable thing to do, which reflects a love for this mitzva.)
Many shuls will daven Maariv on Motza’ei Shabbat Chanuka earlier than usual (13-17 minutes after sunset is an acceptable Tzeit HaKochavim time for the reciting of the Sh’ma – even though Shabbat is not over yet). This allows people to get home closer to “right after Shabbat” and maximize the time that Chanuka candles will be lit during their “prime time”. OBVIOUSLY, one cannot light Chanuka candles – or even set them up – before Shabbat is out. But by having set up for Motza”sh on Friday, and by davening Maariv a little earlier, and by hurrying home, unnecessary delay can be avoided and the prime time for candles can be maximized.
On the note of setting up on Friday for Motza”Sh lighting too: Since on Friday we will light four candles, and we need five for Motza”Sh, you either need a second Chanukiya for the job, or you can set up four of the five candles for Motza”Sh in the blank section of the Chanukiya and then remember to add the fifth candle with minimal additional time. Have your matches and helper candles ready too from before Shabbat.
Which goes first? Havdala or Chanuka candles.
This is a topic that bears yearly review because of how fuzzy our memories can sometimes be. TWO MITZVOT TO PERFORM – Havdala and Chanuka candles. By the rule of TADIR (that which is more frequent should be done first), havdala should be said first. And by logic, one should “finish” with Shabbat and then light candles for the next day of Chanuka, which is Sat. night / Sunday. Many authorities hold that on Motza’ei Shabbat, one should say havdala first and then light Chanuka candles. This opinion is followed by the majority of Chanuka-candle-lighting Jews all over the world. The Maharal (among others) is vehement in his insistence that we cannot possibly consider doing something so “weekday-ish” as lighting candles, unless we have first said havdala. He rejects any contrary arguments. (Even if you want to point to the halachic permission we have on Motza’ei Shabbat to do certain things before havdala (provided, of course, it is after Shabbat time-wise and we’ve either davened Maariv with ATA CHO-NANTANU or at least said BARCH HAMAVDIL… - answer the phone, for example, with Chanuka candles the objection would be based on instituting candle lighting as a permanent task before havdala. This first opinion objects to the formalizing of such a weekday activity before the havdala ceremony.
ON THE OTHER HAND… there is a strong argument for lighting Chanuka candles before havdala. First of all, Shabbat is over when it is 5:21pm (to use Jerusalem time as an example – substitute your location’s Shabbat out time) AND one has said Havdala in davening (ATA CHONANTANU in the Maariv Amida) OR at least said BARUCH HAMAVDIL BEIN KODESH L’CHOL. The Havdala with wine, spices, candle, is NOT what ends Shabbat – it is what honors the departing Shabbat (and permits eating and drinking). Even so, havdala should go first, except for one very important factor: The prime time (and according to some opinions, the only time) for Chanuka candles is ticking away – namely, the first half-hour after dark. We cannot, of course, light Chanuka candles when it is still Shabbat. But we should maximize the portion of time of the “half-hour after” once we are allowed to light. Havdala will wait; Chanuka candles will not.
Therefore, the OTHER opinion is that Chanuka candles go first and then havdala. Remember: Shabbat must be over – both with time and havdala words – before one may light Chanuka candles. And this procedure comes with the additional reminder not to use the Chanuka candles for havdala (or even to light the havdala candle from one of the Chanuka candle), since one may not benefit from the Chanuka lights, and the bracha in havdala is specifically upon using the light (hence the examining of fingernails, etc.). Chanuka candles first is the opinion of the Vilna Gaon and many others, and is Minhag Yerushalayim. (Remember that not everyone in Yerushalayim follows the practices known as Minhag Yerushalayim and some people elsewhere do.)
So which is it? This dispute is one of the few in halacha that is resolved: “Whichever opinion you follow, you have performed correctly”. Either procedure may be followed. Family and community custom should play a deciding role in this issue. Again, a Rav should be consulted, especially if one is considering a change of his/her practice.
Some add that those who light outdoors should follow the custom of lighting before havdala. Those who light indoors can take their pick. Remember: Shabbat is paramount. In case of doubt as to whether Shabbat is being encroached upon, one should NOT light Chanuka candles yet. It must be DEFINITELY after Shabbat before lighting. But one should not unnecessarily delay the fulfillment of the mitzva of Chanuka candles. A note for Rabeinu Tam people: Those who end Shabbat throughout the year 72 minutes after sunset and consider it to be the correct halachic time, must keep it on Motza’ei Shabbat Chanuka, even though it means losing “prime time” for Chanuka candles. Those who hold Rabeinu Tam as a CHUMRA (a strict measure, but consider the earlier time as halachic), may end Shabbat earlier on Motza’Sh Chanuka, in order to fulfill the mitzva of Chanuka candles at their better time.
In shul, by the way, it is the universal practice to light Chanuka candles before saying havdala, this to maximize Pirsumei Nisa in a situation where everyone present will be leaving for home shortly. At home, people will still be there for the Chanuka candles, so there is no need to light before havdala (according to those who follow the first opinion).
A nice touch!
Those who say havdala first can light the Shamash for the Chanuka candles with the havdala candle before extinguishing it, thus dovetailing the two mitzvot.Those who follow the second opinion can light the havdala candle from the Shamash (not one of the Chanuka candles), thereby dovetailing one mitzva into another.
On Motza’ei Shabbat, when we light after Stars-Out, it is sufficient for the candles to burn for half an hour. Still, it is preferable that they last longer. This has to do with the fact that in our time, people are out in the streets later than in times past and Pirsumei Nisa (publicizing the miracle) applies later than the original “half-hour after stars-out”.
More on timing…
If, because of one’s work or travel schedule, one has to choose between lighting early or late, or between lighting early or appointing someone to light for you at the proper time, or between lighting late and appointing someone to light for you at the proper time – one should consult a Rav for a p’sak based on how early and how late, and any other relevant factors.
Sometimes a less-than-perfect performance of a mitzva is a fine, acceptable “second best”. Sometimes, not. Lighting Chanuka candles early or late is a poor second, at best (except when Shabbat insists on early or late, depending upon which end of Shabbat is at issue). Lighting early lacks an element of Pirsumei Nisa at the time of lighting – which is when the mitzva is performed – because a candle flame is not eye-catching during full daylight. Lighting late is not so good because of the time-period for Pirsumei Nisa from the days of the Gemara remains the optimum time (and some say the ONLY time) for the fulfillment of the mitzva. Although we follow other opinions, and basically allow lighting any time of the night, it is far less than ideal to light late. A “good” excuse makes it okay, but not great.
One should consult a Rav especially for recurring situations, such as coming home late from work or school, and the like. Remember that having someone light for you is a valid alternative to your lighting for yourself, and sometimes it is even the preferred alternative. Ask your Rav.
Many shuls sing L’CHA DODI to the tune of MA’OZ TZUR on Leil Shabbat Chanuka. And, of course, at the table, there are many Chanuka songs to add to your usual Friday night repertoire of Z’mirot and songs. Remember, although Chanuka does not require a SEUDAT MITZVA, any meal (especially, but not only, on Shabbat) with songs, stories, and relevant Divrei Torah becomes a special Chanuka Seuda.
We say Full Hallel on all 8 days of Chanuka.
Chanuka Torah Reading
Torah reading for Chanuka is from Parshat Naso, Bamidbar 7 (known as Parshat HaN’si’im) and the beginning of ch. 8. It is the portion of the Torah that tells of the dedication (CHANUKA) of the Mishkan during the time of Moshe Rabeinu and the generation that came out of Egypt. On Chanuka, we celebrate the rededication of the Beit HaMikdash during the time of the Chashmo- na’im – hence the choice of Torah reading.
On “regular” days of Chanuka, one Torah is read from; three people are called to the Torah. On Rosh Chodesh (two days, this year), two Torahs are read from; four Aliyot (3+1). On Shabbat Chanuka, two Torahs; 7 Aliyot plus Maftir – see further.
First day of Chanuka – WED 25 Kislev – December 21st
On each day of Chanuka, the portion of the Nasi (tribal leader) of the day will be read. On the first day, the reading starts with the introduction to Chanukat HaMizbei’ach (the dedication of the Mishkan) and continues to include the day one Nasi of Yehuda (Nachshon b. Aminadav). Specifically, for the first Aliya, we read the 11-pasuk intro with the allocation of wagons and oxen to the Levi families for carrying the parts of the dismantled Mishkan (except for K’hat, which carries the sacred vessels on their shoulders). Some communities begin with the 6-pasuk portion of Birkat Kohanim which immediately preceeds parshat HaNesi’im. This is appropriate because the battles and dedication of the Second Beit HaMikdash, which we celebrate with Chanuka, was done by the Kohein family of Chashmona’im.
This year, we read Parshat Mikeitz in the first Torah – 7 Aliyot, as usual for Shabbat. Then, in a second Torah, we read the 6-pasuk portion of Reuven’s Elitzur b. Sh’dei-ur for the Maftir (day 4 of Chanuka). The Haftara, which is exactly the same as the one for Parshat B’haalot’cha, is from the book of Zecharia and includes the description of a vision of a golden Menora. It ends with a message that is as fresh today as it ever has been. “Not through armies and not through might , but through My (HaShem’s) spirit…”
Yes, we need an army, and tanks and planes, etc. etc. But our ultimate and foolproof weapon against our enemies is the spirit of G-d which we are granted when we remain faithful to HaShem, keep His Torah and Mitzvot, and live by His values.
8th day of Chanuka – WED 2 Tevet – December 28th
ZOT CHANUKA: First and second Aliyot split the Nasi’s portion of the 8th day, Gamliel b. P’datzur of Menashe.
For the third Aliya, we read the portions of days 9, 10, 11, and 12, and then the summary of the gifts from all twelve days, and then the first part of B’haalot’cha, the portion of the Menora. The name ZOT CHANUKA comes from the Torah reading.
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