The laws of Chanukah. This year Chanukah starts Sunday evening on December 21.


1. The holiday of Chanukah is celebrated by our people in remembrance of victory over the enemies who wanted to destroy our religion and bring the Greek culture into our midst. It is interesting to note, that there were many Jews who considered the Greek way of life much more attractive than old style – Jewish. In fact, our religion then was already more than a thousand years old. Since then, more than two millennia have passed and the Greek culture is basically gone; the Jewish has remained. Nevertheless, we still hear that our religion has become outdated and that it is necessary to import the culture of the modern "advanced" Western world into it. The lesson of German Jews is quite often recollected: they openly named the German culture – the highest point of civilization until the Germans showed the most terrible barbarity during World War II.


2. Though the enemy’s armies were better trained and surpassed the Jewish guerrilla troops many times, the Jews won. Therefore we say in our Chanukah prayers: “You have given the strong into the hands of weak, the numerous into the hands of those small in number”. It is necessary to understand that the victory was attained not due to the selflessness of fighters or the genius of the generals who supervised the military actions, but only because the Creator was on our side.


3. After the victory, the Jews first tried to restore the service in the Temple. They managed to find very little olive oil suitable for lighting the menorah. This oil should have sufficed only for one night but the Creator made one more miracle for His servants; the oil burned for eight days until new oil has was prepared. In honor of this, our sages established the commandment of lighting the Chanukah candles for eight days.


4. There exist different customs regarding the time of candle lighting. Some light at the time of sundown. Most people light when it gets darker – 25, 30, 40 or 50 minutes after sundown. There are also those who wait for complete darkness – 72 minutes after sundown. The candles must be long enough to burn till half an hour after nightfall. In any event, if the candles were not lit on time, they can still be lit later during the night. However, if a person is lighting the candles alone after midnight, he should not recite the blessing over them. This is the general principle: when there is a dispute regarding the possibility of performing a certain mitzvah, we do the mitzvah but do not recite the brocha. The reason for this is that it is strictly forbidden to make a vain blessing.


5. On Friday night we light Chanukah candles before sundown before lighting the Shabbos candles. The reason of course, is because we cannot ignite fire on Shabbos. After Shabbos, the Chanukah candles are lit only when it gets dark. Most people wait until 72 minutes after sundown.


6. It is preferable to place the candles so that they can be seen from the street. Therefore, those who live on the first or second floor usually put the candles next to the window. Others place the candles near the door, on the left side. This way, the one that enters is surrounded by mitzvos – the mezuzah is on his right and the Chanukah candles on his left. The candles should not be placed below 12 inches from the floor; it is preferable that the flames will be below 32 inches from the floor.


7. According to the law, it is sufficient to light one candle per household. However, the Talmud teaches us that those who are extra careful about performing the commandments light one candle on the first day, two on the second, etc, until they light eight on the last day of Chanukah. Among Ashkenazim, the custom is that all the men in the household light the candles, but among Sephardim only the head of the household lights. If there are no men in the household, then a woman lights the Chanukah candles.


8. Three blessings are pronounced before lighting the candles on the first day and two brochos are made on each consecutive day; these blessings are printed in the Sidurim. After the lighting, one is not allowed to move the Menorah. If the candles got extinguished by themselves, it is not necessary to light them again.


9. One can not make personal use of the light of Chanukah candles. The custom is to light an additional candle and place it higher than the rest, on the side, so that in case one forgets and uses the candles accidentally (to count money for example) it will be considered that he is using the light of the additional candle.


10. If one is found in a hospital or flying in an airplane during Chanukah, he should discuss with a Rabbi how to fulfill the commandment of lighting the candles. Similarly, in case one is moving to a new apartment or will be outside his home during Chanukah, he should talk to a Rabbi.


11. During Chanukah we add certain prayers to Shemone Esre and to “Birkas Hamazon” – the blessing after eating bread. We thank the Creator for bringing the miraculous salvation. If one forgot to mention the additional prayers he does not have to recite the prayers over. We also recite the six psalms of Hallel during the morning prayers throughout all eight days of Chanukah.