Friday, December 14, 2012

Shabbat and Hanuka candles

Every night we light the Ḥanuka candles after sunset, but today, Friday, we should light the Ḥanuka candles BEFORE sunset:, approximately at 4:05 - 4:10 p.m. (N.Y. time). Why? Because at 4:11 p.m. we light Shabbat candles (see here), and Ḥanuka candles must be lit before that.

Another specific rule for Friday's Ḥanuka candles: while every night the candles should last at least for half-hour, on Friday, the candles should last for more time. So, make sure your candles have enough oil, or are long enough to burn for approximately one hour after sunset. 

It is customary to light the Ḥanuka candles in the Synagogue. And today the candles should be lit also before sunset (if possible, after Minḥa). The berakha should only be recited if ten or more people are present there at the time of lighting the candles.  

For Ḥanuka candle-lighting after Shabbat ends, see this

When spending Shabbat at your parents/in-laws house etc., do you have to light your own candles in your room or at home before you leave?

If you will spend Shabbat at you parents/in-laws, once you're at their house, you (spouse, children) are considered part of the extended family of your parents, and since you also partake the same food, boarding, etc. you are included in their Ḥanuka candle-lighting without further requirements. So, you don't really need to light your own Ḥanukia.

However, if you and your family are going to your parents/in-laws/relatives house after Shabbat began, or just for dinner, then you should light Ḥanuka candles normally at your own house. In this case, it is recommended that you don't leave your house while the candles are lit, to avoid any fire hazard!

Shabbat Shalom,  Ḥodesh Tob and Ḥanuka Sameaḥ!

Ḥanuka candle lighting in NYC        4:05 PM
Shabbat candle lighting in NYC       4:11 PM
Shabbat ends in NYC                        5:11 PM

WATCH Against all odds by Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafler
 and Torah Live

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hanuka and Rosh Hodesh Tebet

Tonight and tomorrow we will celebrate, besides Ḥanuka,  Rosh Ḥodesh Tebet.

In the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) the name of this month is Ḥodesh ha'asiri, the tenth month. In the Tora the months are named numerically (first, second, etc) counting from Nisan. The name Tebet was coined in Babylonia, same as the other commonly used names of the Hebrew months (Nisan, Iyar, Ḥeshvan, etc.).

Some years, like this year, Rosh Ḥodesh Tebet is observed for one day and some years --last year, for example--for two days. Why? Because Kislev, the preceding month, consists sometimes of 30 days (ma-le) and some years of only 29 days (chaser). The 30th day of the preceding month is always the first day of Rosh Ḥodesh of the next month, and the second day of Rosh Ḥodesh is the 1st day of the new month. This year Kislev has only 29 days, so tomorrow, we will celebrate Rosh Ḥodesh Tebet for one day only. 

The month of Tebet itself, is always 29 days long. And because of this lack of variation in its length, Rosh Ḥodesh Shebat, the month which follows Tebet, will always be celebrated for just one day (the 1st of Shebat).

Tonight and tomorrow we will say Ya'ale veYabo and 'al haNisim in the Amida and Birkat haMazon. 
In the morning we read the full Halel, then we take out two Sifre Tora. On the first one we read the Rosh Ḥodesh portion, but instead of dividing it into four Aliot, as we do every Rosh Ḥodesh, we divide this text into three Aliot. In the second Sefer Tora we read the text corresponding to the 6th day of Ḥanuka. We also say Musaf of Rosh Ḥodesh, including 'al haNisim.

                                     HAPPY HANUKA 

                        Do you have any idea how hard it was to find a Jewish zebra?                           

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tora reading for Hanuka

During the eight days of Ḥanuka, we read the Tora in the morning.  Now, what Biblical text was chosen by the Rabbis to be read on Ḥanuka and why? 

Let me first explain the question. On every Jewish Holiday we read in the Tora a portion corresponding to that specific Holiday. During the eight days of Pesaḥ, for example, we read eight Tora portions alluding to the Exodus from Egypt, the Miṣvot of Pesaḥ, the Pesaḥ sacrifice, etc.  But the events of Ḥanuka happened around the year 160 BCE, and were not recorded in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). The Rabbis, therefore, had to choose a Biblical text to be read, which somehow will be related to Ḥanuka.

Our Rabbis chose the section of Naso in the book of baMidbar ('In the desert'), dealing with the inaugural offerings of the tribal leaders at the time of the dedication of the mizbeaḥ (=altar of the Tabernacle).


1. Ḥanuka means 'inauguration', and it remind us that once the Greeks were defeated, the Jews rededicated the altar --which had been defiled by pagan offerings-- to HaShem. The Parasha we read is also about the dedication of the mizbeaḥ in the Tabernacle (zot Ḥanukat hamizbeaḥ).

2. In the dessert, the Tabernacle was completed on the 25 of Kislev. The same day we celebrate Ḥanuka.

3. On the last day of Ḥanuka, we read in beha'alotekha the paragraph dealing with the lighting of the Menora, which remind us of the miracle of the oil.

4. Me'am Lo'ez brings an additional reason. The tribe of Levi did not participate of the offerings at the time of the dedication of the altar, narrated in the Tora. During Ḥanuka, however, the Ḥashmonayim --Cohanim descendants of the tribe of Levi-- were the ones who recovered and rededicated the altar. 

READ  Jews and War  
"The Macabees realized that there is a time to fight" ,by Rabbi Benjamin Blech, from

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

HANUKA: Celebrating Jewish Victories

In the days of the second bet haMiqdash (Temple of Jerusalem),  there were many holidays, besides Ḥanuka, which celebrated the military victories of the Macabeem (or Ḥashmonayim) over the powerful Greek army. 

Some of them were: 
  1. The 13th of Adar, when the Jews celebrated "Yom Niqanor", because in that day the Macabeem defeated the large army of the Greek general Niqanor. 
  2. The 14th of Nisan, when they recovered the city of Ceasarea. 
  3. The 22nd of Elul, when the Ḥashmonayim brought to justice those who betrayed them joining the enemy's army (meshumadim). 
  4. The 22nd of Shebat, the day that Antiochus himself came with his powerful army and surrounded Yerushalaim with the intention of destroying it and killing all the Jews. That day, news came to Antiochus about the Parthian rebellion against him in the capital city of his Empire. Antiochus was forced to abandon his plans against the Jews. He took his army back to Greece where he was defeated and killed.    

These and other holidays are mentioned in the famous Meguilat Ta'anit.     

After the destruction of the second Bet haMiqdash, in the year 68 ACE (some say: 70 ACE) the Rabbis thought that it did not make sense to celebrate these national holidays while we are defeated, enslaved and in exile. They suspended all the celebrations of military victories brought by Meguilat Ta'anit (batela meguilat ta'anit) and indicated that the only Holiday that should still be celebrated was Ḥanuka, because of the miracle of the oil.  Accordingly, Ḥanuka's celebration does not emphasize the military aspect of it but mainly the miracle of the oil. That is why we celebrate Ḥanuka by lighting the candles. Still, during Ḥanuka's prayers ('al hanisim) we mention the victories of the Macabeem and we recite the Halel, thanking HaShem for the miraculous ways He saved our ancestors from their powerful enemies.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

HANUKA: Sephardic vs. Ashkenazi traditons

There are no major differences between the Sephardic and the Ashkenazi traditions in the order of Ḥanuka candle-lighting, just a few minor variations. 

Some of them are:

1. The Ashkenazi tradition is to say the Berakha: "lehadliq ner shel Ḥanuka", while Sepharadim say: "lehadliq ner Ḥanuka", without the word "shel." It is interesting to know that, although there is not semantic difference between the two versions, the original version of the berakha (as per Maimonides; see MT,  Ḥanuka 3:4 ) was "lehadliq ner shel Ḥanuka".  

2. In the Ashkenazi Minhag, the auxiliary candle (shamash) is lit first and with it one lights the rest of the candles.  The Sephardic Minhag is to light all the candles first, with a regular match or candle, and the shamash is lit at the end. In this case, the shamashis seen as auxiliary because it avoids benefiting from the light of the candles, not necessarily for lighting with it the other candles.  

3. In most Sephardic communities, it is customary to light only one Ḥanukia for all members of the family. In many Ashkenazi communities the custom is to light one Ḥanukia for each member of the family. Following the Ashkenazi tradition, for example, a student who lives in his own apartment would light his or her own Ḥanukia with Berakha (even if he is still depending on his parents). Incidentally, this is also the case regarding Shabbat candles: while according to the Sephardic Minhag only the mother would light the Shabbat candles,  in the Ashkenazi Minhag the daughters also light their own candles, saying Berakha for it.

4. Playing with the Dreidel, spinner or sebibon is originally an Ashkenazi custom, that Sepharadim did not use to practice in the past. Same as Ḥanuka Gelt (money or gifts to the children).

Obviously, in these matters there is no right or wrong. Each person should follow his community's and family's traditions.