The enlightening tale behind the festival of Hanukkah

Jews across the globe pay homage by lighting candles for eight days.

By Hakham Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie

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Published: Sun 13 Dec 2020, 11:05 AM

Last updated: Sun 13 Dec 2020, 1:06 PM

The miracle of Hanukkah occurred approximately 22 centuries ago on the 25th day of Kislev 3591, when the Hashmonaim, family of Kohanim, reconquered the Holy Temple from the Greeks, regained their freedom to practice sacred duties, and found pure oil that miraculously burned for eight days.

Observance of Hanukkah begins

Our sages recognised the importance of this miracle and declared Hanukkah as "Days of Praise and Thanksgiving to the Almighty". Every Jewish household must celebrate by lighting the Hanukkiah (or Menorah) to symbolise the eight days during which the oil burned miraculously.

These days are to be celebrated with happiness and joy. While there is no obligation to make feasts or a commemorative dinner, it is fitting to sing traditional hymns - pizmonim and zemirot - during the meals on these days. Some homes prepare all kinds of pastries such as mamul, gheraibe, karabij, sambusak, (borekas), sufganiot (fried doughnuts), etc.

One may not engage in any activity one half an hour before Hanukkiah lighting time, such as eating a meal, studying, or any other activity that might distract one from lighting the Hanukkiah on time. It is customary for women to refrain from doing housework on the first and last day of Hanukkah, especially during Rosh Hodesh, including the first half hour after the Hanukkiah is lit. Some say that even men should refrain from doing any work during that time, but one may be lenient for men when it is necessary. Hanukkah presents and gifts are not a Sephardic custom.

The lighting ceremony

Both men and women are obligated to light the Hanukkiah. It is the Sephardic custom that the father lights for the entire family. In the absence of the father, the mother should take the responsibility upon herself to light. Children even above the age of bar or bat mitzvah may participate by lighting the additional candles of a given night, while those under five years of age can only light the shamash (extra candle).

All candles must be placed in a straight line, and should be at the same height, except the "shamash", and the Hanukkiah should be placed in open view of as many people as possible, ideally on the left side of the door or a window. If the window is either not in the public view, or it is not possible to put it near the window, then the Hanukkiah should be placed on the dinner table, where the family members will see it. The Hanukkiah must be placed at least one foot off, and no more than 40 feet, above the floor.

The proper time to light is by nightfall, which is 15 minutes after sunset, with the whole family gathered together. The Hanukkiah should contain enough oil or wax to burn for 30 minutes after nightfall. Candles are placed from right to left, and lit from left to right. One candle and the shamash is lit on the first day, and a candle is added until the eighth night when all of them are lit. The lighting must take place where the Hanukkiah will remain; it is not to be moved once lit.

Prayers on Hanukkah

During the entire eight days of Hanukkah, one is obligated to recite the full Hallel with its blessings. "Yehi Shem" is recited in both Shahrit and Minha; Tahanun is omitted. The paragraph of "Al Hanissim" continuing with "Bime Matitya" is added during the Amida, in the blessing of "Modim", as well as in the Birkat Hamazon in the blessing of "Nodeh". If Al Hanissim is omitted one does not go back.

Hakham Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie, M.D. is the Senior Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates.

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