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CHANUKAH Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is observed for eight days, beginning on the evening of the twenty fifth day of the month of Kislev. This year, (2023), Chanukah starts Thursday, December 7, (after nightfall), and lasts for eight days thru Friday, December 15. Please see special instructions below for Friday and Saturday Menorah candle lightings.

Chanukah is a wonderful holiday of renewed dedication, faith, hope and spiritual light. It's a holiday that says: "Never lose hope."

Chanukah commemorates the victory, thru the miracles of Hashem, of a small band of Maccabees over the pagan Syrian-Greeks who ruled over Eretz Yisroel (Israel).



Chanukah has two meanings. First, and foremost, it means “dedication” because it was on Chanukah that the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) was purified and rededicated to the service of Hashem, in 165 BCE, after many years of pagan defilement. For more about Chanukah and "dedications" click here.

The other meaning gives us an easy way to remember the Hebrew date of the holiday: “Chanu” means “they rested”, and “Kah” (composed of the Hebrew letters for 25 - “Chof and Hay”) means “on the twenty fifth” (day of Kislev).

Chanukah is also called "The Festival of Lights" referring to the flames kindled on each night. It is also called "The Festival of Light" as Chanukah is the victory of the forces of "light" - which include faith and loyalty to Hashem and the Jewish tradition and the will to fight for these beliefs - over the forces of "darkness," represented by the hedonistic lifestyle of the ancient Syrian-Greeks.


The year was about 165 BCE. A large group of men led by Judah the Maccabee climbed to the top of a mountain overlooking Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). It was the same mountain from which, many centuries later, the Crusaders would launch their attack against the Moslems and from which, the Jordanian artillery would shell Yerushalayim in 1967. In 165 BCE, however, Judah and his men, with the help of Hashem, were about to complete a great victory, a triumph that lives on as the miracle of Chanukah.

After the death of Alexander the Great, conqueror of the world and friend of the Jewish people, his Empire was divided among his generals. Eretz Yisroel (the land of Israel), - the Kingdom of Judea - was added to the Empire of Antiochus III. When Antiochus Epiphanes became king of the Syrian-Greeks, he was not content to accept the taxes and loyalty of the Jews as his predecessors had done. He wanted the Jews to lay aside their Torah and ancient religion, and, in their place, substitute the Hellenistic Greek culture and Grecian idols.

King Antiochus bore down on his Jewish subjects with a measure of ruthlessness, stubbornness and cruelty that earned him the nickname Antiochus the Madman. (For a related story of bravery and courage about Chana & her Seven Sons, click here). He defiled the Beit Hamikdash - by filling it with pagan idols and sacrifices of pigs. He forbade the Jews to observe the commandments of Brit Milah (circumcision), Rosh Chodesh (the New Moon), and the Shabbat. Jewish women were systematically mistreated.

Jews who dared to remain loyal to their faith were brutally tortured and murdered. If a woman had her infant circumcised, she was murdered, the baby publicly hanged, and all who participated in the Brit ceremony were executed and their property confiscated. Against this backdrop, Jewish resistance began to ebb and it seemed inevitable that the last remnants of resistance would soon be wiped out.

Then, one courageous old man turned the tide. His name was Mattisyahu and he was a Kohain - head of the Hasmonean family, from the Judean town of Modi'in near Lod. The Syrian-Greek governor of Mattisyahu's region set up an idol in Modi'in, rounded up the townspeople, and introduced an "enlightened" Jew who would sacrifice a pig on the idol in recognition of the decree of Antiochus. Old Mattisyahu stepped forward and slew the traitor.

With the rallying cry of, “Mi La’Hashem Ay-li (Whoever is for Hashem, let him come to me)," he called the people to rebellion. A pitifully small number responded at first - the people were numb with fear and hopelessness - but Mattisyahu's five sons led the way. They fought the Syrian-Greeks, retreated to the mountains, and began a guerrilla war against the Syrian-Greeks and their Jewish allies. Mattisyahu had not long to live, but on his death bed he charged his sons to carry on the struggle. The glorious brothers heeded his command. He passed on the leadership to his second son, Judah the Maccabee, who was a mighty warrior and a charismatic leader.

Many miracles happened. Outnumbered a hundred to one, Judah and his men won many battles. Jews came to join him. In a few years, he had defeated the mightiest armies of Syria. Victory belonged to the Jew, the pure, the righteous, the loyal defender of the Torah. Following the rebellion, the kingdom of Israel was restored for 200 years, until the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash.

So it was that Judah and his men climbed the mountain above Yerushalayim and saw that there was no resistance. On the twenty fifth day of Kislev, they marched into the Holy City and immediately made their way to the Beit Hamikdash where they saw a sight that left them shocked and angered. Idols, filth, impurity were everywhere. They rummaged through the ruins seeking at least one flask of pure olive oil with which to light the makeshift menorah they hastily put together.

Flask after flask they found - every one of them defiled. Finally - another miracle! One small jug, sufficient for only one day, remained with the seal of the Kohain Gadol intact! Quickly, with trembling hands, they poured it into the menorah and lit it. It would be eight days before they could manufacture more oil for the next lighting, but meanwhile, they lit what they had.

The flames of the menorah burned and burned and burned and burned and burned and burned and burned and burned. For eight days they burned. (I bet you counted). Those eight miraculous days were chosen as the eternal symbol to commemorate the miracle of Chanukah - the eight day long Festival of Lights, where we light the Menorah each evening, publicizing the miracle Hashem performed some 2000 years ago.


The question then arises, since the oil was adequate for one night, only seven days were miraculous. Why, then, wasn't Chanukah made a seven day festival? Many answers have been given over the years. Here are a few:
  • One extra day of celebration was proclaimed to commemorate the miracle of the military victory.
  • The Syrian-Greeks did such a thorough job of defiling the Beit Hamikdash, that it was a miracle to find even that one jug of oil. So the first night's lighting, too, was miraculous.
  • Knowing that it would take eight days to secure new oil, the Maccabees decided to ration the oil they found. They used only one eighth each night - yet that little bit of oil burned until dawn every single night.
  • After pouring the oil into the cups of the menorah, the Maccabees saw to their amazement that the oil jug was still full. A miracle - even on the first day!
  • After burning all night, the cups of the menorah were still full the next morning.
  • On each night, the Maccabees made very thin wicks in order to conserve oil. Nevertheless, the menorah burned with bright and hearty flames just as if the wicks had been of normal size.


NOTE: This is just a very basic introduction. A competent authority should be consulted with any questions.

The Menorah (or Hanukkiya in Hebrew), that we use today, is a nine-branch candelabra. On each night one more candle is added and lit, beginning with one candle on the first night of Chanukah and ending with the eighth on the final evening. The ninth branch is reserved for the shamash, the servant light, which is lit first and used to kindle the other lights of the Menorah. The candles of a menorah must be of equal height in a straight row. The shamash, should stand out from the rest (i.e. higher or lower).

The best time to light the Chanukah candles is at nightfall. The whole family and guests should be present. Young children should also be encouraged to light the candles. Students and singles who live in dormitories or their own apartments should kindle menorahs in their own rooms. If someone can't be home by nightfall, we may light as long as people are still up and about - either at home or out of doors.

On Friday afternoon, the Chanukah lights (which will burn until 1/2 hour after nightfall) are kindled BEFORE the Shabbat candles are lit. On Saturday night, AFTER Shabbat ends, (after nightfall), the Chanukah lights for Saturday night are lit. See below.

The miracle of Chanukah, of course, involved pure olive oil and that's why it is preferable to kindle the Chanukah lights with cotton wicks and olive oil. Candles are perfectly all right, however. Many people prefer them because they give a steady, clean flame.

The generally accepted custom is to place the menorah at a window so that it can be seen from the street. This is because we are required to proclaim the miracle publicly by means of the lights. Or, the menorah may be placed on the left side of a doorway opposite the mezuzah on the right side, so that we may be surrounded by mitzvot as we light the menorah. (such is the custom of Chabad-Lubavitch).

The lights must burn for at least half an hour into the night, (after nightfall), during which time no use may be made of the light. The standard small colored Chanukah candles will burn long enough, but - a word of caution - during the last few days of Chanukah when many candles are lit, if the family menorahs are too close together, the intense heat will cause the candies to burn down in less time. For some Chanukah safety tips, click here.


On the first night of Chanukah, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, three Brachot (blessings) are said. (For the Brachot, Click Here). The third and last one, Shehechiyanu, is omitted all the other nights of Chanukah. The candles are lit after completion of the brachot.

The first day’s candle is placed at the far right side of the menorah. On each succeeding day, an additional candle is placed to the previous night's candle's left. The lighting is done from left to right, in other words, the new candle of each night is lit before the old one(s). Light the shamash (extra candle) first. Then use the shamash to light the candles from left to right.


This year, (Friday, December 8, 2023), the Chanukah Lights should be kindled early, BEFORE the Shabbat Lights (which are lit 18 minutes before sundown). Additional oil or larger candles should be used for the Chanukah Lights to ensure that they will last a full half hour after nightfall.

 Note: From the time the Shabbat candles are lit (Friday evening) until Shabbat ends (after nightfall Saturday night) and the Havdalah prayer (separating Shabbat from weekday) is recited, the Chanukah menorah should not be re-lit, moved or prepared.

Chanukah lights for Saturday night, Dec. 9, 2023, are kindled AFTER Shabbat ends (after nightfall).



After kindling the first candle (and on the second and later nights) while the others are being lit, this simple prayer is recited. It declares that we kindle these lights in memory of the miracles Hashem performed "in those days at this season," through the brave priestly family of Mattisyahu. It concludes by declaring that all through the eight days of Chanukah, the lights are holy - and are not to be used as a light source; only to be seen as an expression of gratitude and praise to Hashem for his miracles. For the words, Click Here.

One should not benefit from the light of the candles, only from the shamash and other sources of light. During the time the candles are burning, it is customary to sit by the candles, sing songs and tell stories relating to the holiday. Work should not be done in the proximity of the burning candles.



Maoz Tzur is the universal song of Chanukah. It traces eras of oppression - Egypt, Babylon, Haman, the Syrian-Greeks, the nineteen centuries since the Second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed and praises Hashem for redeeming Bnei Yisroel after each of them. A song of hope, it fills Jews with the courage to face the future and stresses the desire to a return of the Beit Hamikdash and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheira Beyomainu, (May it happen speedily in our days), Amen. For the words, Click Here.


Al Hanissim is a passage that is added on the days of Chanukah and Purim to the Birchat Hamazon (Grace after Meals) and Shmoneh Esrei (the Amidah - Silent Prayer) for morning, afternoon, and evening. It starts by expressing thanks to Hashem for the miracles of Chanukah and Purim. Then follows a section that is said on each specific holiday with details of the respective miracle that occurred on that holiday.

Al Hanissim makes no mention of the miracle of the oil, per se. (The Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 21b, does however put emphasis on this miracle). Al Hanissim, focuses on both the physical and spiritual victories of the small band of Jews over the Syrian-Greek oppressors, and the guardian role of Hashem in the history of the Jews.

Al Hanissim refers to the miracles that occurred "bayamim hahem bazman hazeh, (in those days, at this time)." Some say that it only refers to the miracles Hashem performed for our ancestors; others say that it also contains a large element of praise for the countless hidden miracles that Hashem performs for us every day. For the words, Click Here.


During the eight days of Chanukah, the entire Hallel (Psalms of praise taken from the Psalms of David), is recited every day in the Shacharit (morning) prayers.

In addition, there is a special reading from the Torah Scroll each morning in the synagogue. The readings recall the offerings of the Nesiyim (Princes), heads of the Tribes of the Bnei Yisroel, during the inauguration of the Mishkan.



It is customary that women do no housework for the first half hour that the Chanukah lights are burning.


First of all because the Syrian-Greeks mistreated Jewish women systematically thru their vicious laws.

Secondly, because a major figure in the victory was a Jewish woman named Yehudit, (Judith). She won the confidence of the Syrian-Greek general Halifornus. Then, after making him sleepy with wine and cheese, she decapitated him. When she hung his head out the window, the Syrian-Greek army was demoralized and the Jewish victory was greatly facilitated.


The dreidel was introduced as a special treat for children. During the long winter nights of Chanukah they are given a respite from their studies and given this special Chanukah toy with which to wile away the time.

The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top, also called a "s'vivon," in Hebrew. It is traditionally used to play a lively Chanukah game. The dreidel has on it's four sides, letters that tell the Chanukah message: a great miracle happened there - as if to say, "Play children, enjoy your beautiful gifts and your even more beautiful holiday. But remember, it was given us as a miracle by Hashem, our Creator and we will show our gratitude with renewed dedication to Him.

"In Eretz Yisroel (Israel), the dreidel bears the letters Nun, Gimel Hay, and Pay standing for "Nes Gadol Hayah Po", a great miracle happened here. In the diaspora, (around the world), however, the dreidel says the letters Nun, Gimel Hay, and Shin meaning "Nes Gadol Hayah Shom", a great miracle happened there (in Eretz Yisroel). So even the dreidel is no idle toy. As it spins, it delivers a message.



Each player places some dollars, quarters, dimes, or would you believe pennies, candies, raisins, or nuts into a kitty, and each player takes a turn spinning the dreidel.

"Nun" means nothing, you win nothing, you lose nothing.

"Gimel" means you take the whole kitty.

"Hay" means you win half of what's in the kitty.

"Shin" (or in Israel - "Pay") means "put in" - you lose, and must put one ...more into the kitty.


The Syrian-Greeks decreed that the teaching or studying of Torah was a crime punishable by death or imprisonment. But the children defiantly studied in secret; and when Syrian-Greek patrols were spotted, they would pretend to be playing an innocent game of dreidel.


On Chanukah, it is traditional to give all children Chanukah gelt (money) and/or presents. Of course, this beautiful custom adds to the children's happiness and festive spirit. In addition, it affords parents an opportunity to give children positive reinforcement for exemplary behavior, such as diligence in their studies, and acts of charity.

Chanukah Gelt should be given to children after lighting the Menorah. The children should be encouraged to give charity from a portion of their money.

- A

Jewish tradition and religious observances are not exclusively tied to the synagogue. Judaism is an entire life experience that even permeates the kitchen.

So it is that Pesach (Passover) is symbolized by the matzo and by a host of delicacies that have become integral parts of every Seder table. Rosh Hashana has its honey flavored foods. Purim has its hamantaschen, all of them contributing to the completeness of the holiday celebration.

Chanukah is no exception.

Which Jewish home hasn't enjoyed sizzling potato "latkes" on Chanukah.

Why Chanukah?

Because the ancient miracle took place through a jug of oil, so Jews for over 2,000 years have commemorated the event with delicious oily delicacies and fried food. And because the Jewish heroine Judith used cheese and milk to help her lull Syrian-Greek General Helipornas to sleep so that she could kill him, dairy delicacies like luscious cheesecake are Chanukah delights.

For a few tempting recipes, Click Here. Try them. Enjoy them. We hope they add a special flavor to your holiday.

Return to Main CHANUKAH page

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