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How to Light the Menorah

How to Light the Menorah

Light Up Your Environment!


Why We Light the Menorah

Some 2100 years ago the Land of Israel came under the rule of the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus, who issued a series of decrees designed to force his Hellenistic ideology and rituals upon the Jewish people. He outlawed the study of Torah and the observance of its commands, and defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with Greek idols.

A small, vastly outnumbered band of Jews waged battle against the mighty Greek armies, and drove them out of the land. When they reclaimed the Holy Temple, on the 25th of Kislev, they wished to light the Temple’s menorah (candelabrum), only to discover that the Greeks had contaminated virtually all the oil. All that remained was one cruse of pure oil, enough to last one night—and it would take eight days to procure new, pure oil.

Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil lasted eight days and nights, and the holiday of Chanukah was established.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, we light the Chanukah menorah (also known as a chanukiah) on each of the eight nights of Chanukah. This year, we start lighting the menorah on Tuesday night December 12, 2017.

The Menorah

The basic elements of a kosher menorah are eight holders for oil or candles and an additional holder, set apart from the rest, for the shamash ("attendant") candle.

The Chanukah lights can either be candle flames or oil-fueled. Since the miracle of Chanukah happened with olive oil – the little cruse of oil that lasted for eight days – an oil menorah is preferable to a candle one, and olive oil is the ideal fuel. Cotton wicks are preferred because of the smooth flame they produce.

Whenever purchasing a mitzvah article, we try to buy the most beautiful one that is within our means. So, if at all possible, go for the silver menorah. Beautifying a mitzvah is our way of expressing our appreciation to G‑d, and showing how dearly we hold His commandments.

The eight candles of the menorah must be arranged in a straight, even line, not in a zigzag or with some lights higher than others. If it is an oil menorah, the oil cups must hold enough oil to burn for the required time – at least 30 minutes on weeknights, and up to one-and-a-half hours on Friday evening (see Special Shabbat Rules below). If it is a candle menorah, the candles should be large enough to burn for the required time.

Electric menorahs are great for display purposes, and are a wonderful medium for publicizing the Chanukah miracle. But the Chanukah lights used to fulfill the mitzvah should be real flames fueled by wax or oil – like the flames in the Holy Temple.

The Shamash

The shamash – the "attendant" candle that is used to kindle the other lights – sits a bit higher or lower than the other candles, on the ninth branch of the menorah. Many Jews have a tradition to use a beeswax candle for the shamash.

Though the shamash's primary function has been served once the candles have been lit, we don't extinguish the shamash. Instead, we set it in its place adjacent to the other lights, ready to "serve" in case a candle blows out. Another reason why we leave the shamash lit is because it is forbidden to use the Chanukah lights for any practical reason. This way, if a candle is needed, the shamash is available for use, preserving the sanctity of the mitzvah lights.

Who Lights the Menorah

Men and women alike are obligated to participate in the menorah lighting. In some families, the head of the household lights the family menorah while everyone else listens to the blessings and answers, "Amen." In many other families, all members of the household, including children, light their own menorahs. Either way, it is important for everyone to be present and involved when the Chanukah miracle is festively commemorated.

Where to Light

Light the menorah in your own home. If you are traveling out of town, set up your menorah wherever you will be staying for the night. If you will be spending the night in a Jewish home, you have the option of giving your host a dollar or so, a symbolic contribution towards the menorah expenses, and then you are covered by his/her menorah lighting - or better yet, light your own menorah too. Two candles are more powerful than one!

Students who live in dormitories or their own apartments should kindle menorahs in their own rooms or in a communal dining area. In places where this is prohibited, a rabbi should be consulted as to where to kindle the menorah.

In the home, there are two preferred locations for the menorah.

You can set up the menorah in a central doorway. Place it on a chair or small table near the doorpost that is opposite the mezuzah. This way, when you pass through the doorway, you are surrounded by two mitzvot - the mezuzah and the menorah. Ideally, the menorah lights should be between 12 and 40 inches off the ground.

Or you can set up your menorah on a windowsill facing the street. This option should only be exercised if the window is less than thirty feet above ground-level.

Make sure the menorah is on a sturdy, fireproof surface that is out of the reach of children and not near curtains or other flammable materials (more safety tips).

When to Light

The Chanukah lights are kindled every night of Chanukah. The Maccabees chased away the forces of darkness with swords; we do it with light.

The custom of many communities (and such is the Chabad-Lubavitch custom) is to light the menorah shortly after sunset. In other communities, the menorah is kindled after nightfall (approximately thirty minutes after sunset). Read more on the exact time to light here. Either way, the menorah must contain enough fuel to burn for at least thirty minutes after nightfall.

Note: The standard Chanukah candles only last approximately 30 minutes. If using those candles, then light after nightfall every night.

Regardless of the custom you follow on other Chanukah nights, on Friday night the menorah is lit before sunset, and on Saturday night it is lit after nightfall. (See Special Shabbat Rules below for more information.)

Ideally, you should light the menorah at the earliest possible opportunity. Only delay if you are awaiting the arrival of family members who wish to be present when the menorah is lit. The Chanukah lights may be lit as long as there are people in the streets, or as long as there is another family member awake to participate - but no later than one half hour before dawn. (If no other household member is awake and the streets are already quiet, light the menorah without reciting the blessing.)

Lighting the Menorah

1. Arrange the lights on the menorah. Ensure that there is enough oil, or that the candles are big enough, for the lights to burn until half an hour after nightfall (or, if lighting after nightfall, for one half hour). On the first night, set one candle to the far right of the menorah. On the following night, add a second light to the left of the first one, and then add one light each night of Chanukah - moving from right to left.

2. Gather everyone in the house around the menorah.

3. Light the shamash candle. Then hold it in your right hand (unless you are left-handed).

4. While standing, recite the appropriate blessings.

5. Light the candles. Each night, light the newest (left-most) candle first and continue lighting from left to right. (We add lights to the menorah from right to left, while we light from left to right.)

The Menorah Blessings

Before lighting the Chanukah candles, we thank G‑d for giving us this special mitzvah, and for the incredible Chanukah miracles:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר חֲנֻכָּה
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בִּזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech ha-olam a-sher ki-de-sha-nu be-mitz-vo-tav ve-tzi-va-nu le-had-lik ner Cha-nu-kah.
Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech Ha-olam she-a-sa ni-sim la-avo-te-nu ba-ya-mim ha-hem bi-zman ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.
Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.

On the first night of Chanukah, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 (or the first time on Chanukah you perform this mitzvah), add the following blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לִזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech Ha-olam she-heche-ya-nu ve-ki-yi-ma-nu ve-higi-a-nu liz-man ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Relish the Lights

After you finish kindling the menorah lights, place the shamash candle in its designated place on the menorah. At this point it is traditional to sing Chanukah hymns such as Haneirot Halalu and/or Maoz Tzur.

Linger around the menorah for about half an hour (aside for Friday afternoon, when Shabbat preparations are in full gear). Share some Chanukah stories with your family, enjoy a draidel game and indulge in some traditional hot latkes (fried potato pancakes) or sufganiot (fried donuts)! (See Chanukah Foods.)

For the first half hour after the candles are lit (or until half an hour after nightfall, if the menorah was lit before dark) the menorah should not be transferred from its place. If a flame dies out during this time, it is best to relight it. After this time, the menorah can be moved if necessary, and there's no need to rekindle extinguished flames.

Many women refrain from performing household chores during the first half hour that the lights are burning, to honor the brave Jewish women who played a significant role in the Chanukah victory.

Audio of Haneirot Halalu:

Audio of Maoz Tzur:

Special Shabbat Rules

It is forbidden to light a fire on Shabbat, which extends from sunset on Friday evening until nightfall of Saturday night. Therefore, on Friday afternoon, light the menorah before the Shabbat candles. Shabbat candles are traditionally lit eighteen minutes before sundown. Use additional oil or larger candles for the Friday night Chanukah lights, as they must remain lit until one half hour after nightfall - approximately 1½ hours after the Friday afternoon lighting time. Note: The standard 30-minute Chanukah candles cannot be used on Friday.

For the duration of Shabbat, do not relight any flames that have gone out or move the menorah, nor should you prepare the Saturday night Chanukah lights during the Day of Rest.

On Saturday night, light the menorah after Shabbat ends at nightfall. Traditionally, the menorah is kindled immediately after the havdalah service.

Public Menorahs

In addition to the menorahs placed in the doorways and windows of Jewish homes, the sages instituted the practice of lighting the menorah in synagogues in order to further publicize the Chanukah miracle. The synagogue menorah is placed near the sanctuary's southern wall (reminiscent of the Temple menorah that was also located along the sanctuary's southern wall), and is kindled before sunset, immediately after the afternoon prayers.

Those in attendance in the synagogue, even the one who actually kindles the menorah and recites the blessings, have not fulfilled their personal menorah lighting obligation. They are still required to kindle the menorah at home.

Ideally, the synagogue menorah should be rekindled in the morning, so that it remains lit throughout the day (whenever people are present).

In times past, the synagogue was the most public Jewish venue. Today, however, the reality is such that many Jews do not visit the synagogue on a daily basis. The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, therefore encouraged the erection of menorahs in public areas to maximize the reach of the radiance of the Chanukah lights and to publicly proclaim the timeless message of the Chanukah victory of light over darkness.

If you are considering constructing a large outdoor menorah yourself, the maximum height of a kosher menorah is around 31 feet. People don't normally look up higher than that, and a taller menorah wouldn't serve the intended purpose.

Illustrations by Yehuda Lang. To view more artwork by this artist, click here.
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Rebeca Feldman New Braunfels, TX December 18, 2017

Thank you for the teaching. I just learned how to light my menorah correctly. I would love to buy the menorah on your video. Do you have information as to where to buy it? I would like to try doing it with the oil vs. the candles. Reply

Peter Sutton Lewes, UK December 17, 2017

What is the authority that requires us to place candles from right to left but light them from left to right? Reply

Rabbi Mendel Adelman December 18, 2017
in response to Peter Sutton:

Hello Peter,

The Talmud (Sotah 15b) writes that one should always light the candles "turning towards the right".

The Shulchan Aruch (676:5) quotes that the best way to light is to put the candle in the rightmost spot the first day, and add one to the left each subsequent day, so that you are always "turning towards the right" when lighting. Reply

Ebrac SALFORD December 17, 2017

Am I allowed to light menorah which is placed on a full size table( so small kids won't touch). Or is it too high?
Is lighting on low table as mentioned in article a halacha or just a hiddur mitzwah? Reply

Rabbi Mendel Adelman December 18, 2017
in response to Ebrac:

Hello Ebrac,

The heights mentioned in the article are the ideal. In the event that they do not work for you, the menorah is still just fine if higher than that (See Sefer Haminhagim Chabad). Reply

Dave Hollywood, CA December 14, 2017

Best explanation of Hanukkah and how to observe it I've seen to date. I will keep this link. Reply

Anonymous Toronto December 14, 2017

I've just learned to light the menorah starting from the far right candle on the first night and each subsequent night first light the candle to the left of the previous night's candle. Thank you! Reply

Louise Amstesterdam December 16, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Menorah lighting Great and positive response
This site has helped me a lot . Reply

KSL Los Angeles, CA December 13, 2017

Thank you! That was helpful.

חַג חֲנֻכָּה‎ Reply

Anonymous December 11, 2017

Can I use menorah for hanukkah? 7 branches Reply Staff December 11, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

On Chanukkah we use an 8 branched menorah as we light candles for 8 consecutive nights as described above. If you don't have a proper menorah contact a Chabad center near you to request one via Reply

Yohanon Glenn Florida USA December 11, 2017

I have seen a Chabad rabbi light the candles with a candle and then light the shamash with the candle he used for the others.
In our house, for the EVOO-fueled lights we use a candle to first light the Hanukah wicks and then the shamash wick. Perhaps other Sefardim & Mizrachim do it as we (and Chabad) do. Reply

Susie Parker Carlsbad December 11, 2017

Can somebody tell me where I can hear the lighting of the Hanukkah candles blessing....I forgot it Reply Staff December 11, 2017
in response to Susie Parker:

Sure you can access audio blessings at this link. Reply

ראובן מימי ביש December 8, 2017

חג שמח Reply

Anonymous New York December 29, 2016

Todah rabah. Mitzuyan. Reply

Sarah K. CountrywithoutMenorahs December 26, 2016

What is the Mitzvah exactly Hallo, you mean the Mitzvah is to make the Chanukiah in a way that people from outside can see it? But what if you live in a very high floor ? Maybe it can translate into making it public to those people that enter the place you live and dont know what is Hanukah ? (Also: Maybe this is safe in Israel or USA but I am not sure about some other places.) Best, Reply

Simcha Bart for December 26, 2016

Height of Menorah Since the Mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles is to publicize the miracle, our sages state that at 20 cubits (about 30 feet) the flames are out one of one's natural line of sight, thus we are missing that core component of the Mitzvah to publicize the miracle. Please see the lecture on Tractate Shabbat here from minute 49 about this.

Simcha Bart for December 25, 2016

Re: Chanukah How to We arrange the lights from right to left since we give preference to the right in all matters - please see 260661 about this. Yet we kindle the newest candle first as it indicates the greatness of the miracle of Chanukah that every day was a greater miracle than the day preceding it.

The reason the candles have to be the same height and in a row that it should be recognizable the number of candles that are being lit.

The candelabrum in the holy temple was only seven but we light 8 to symbolize the eight days of the miracle of the oil. The 9th candle is a Shamash - service candle, used to kindle the others, and is not part of the number of candles. For more about the significance of eight candles please see here Reply

Sarah K. Shamayim (just joking!) December 25, 2016

approximations Dear all, since I am away from home, and I could not find to buy Chanukiah/Menorah here, I made myself one, keeping the rules of the arrangement in principle. Hopefully it is ok as an approximation. I write it as an idea, in case anyone else has similar problem. Best, Reply

Sarah K. December 25, 2016

We are ourselves the Chanukiah/Menorah ? Dear all, just to share with you, I had an experience like a kind of light was thrown inside my head during sleep yesterday evening and it waked me up and I was marvelling how wonderful it was ! I though today when thinking back to it maybe someone is lighting us like the candles of the Chanukiah ! We are a nice Chanukiah/Menorah ourselves? Best, Reply Staff via December 25, 2016

To Pam Yes you light the amount that needs to be lit on the second day and say all three blessings if you didn't light the previous night. Reply

Pam Albuquerque December 25, 2016

new menorah if I can't get my menorah until the second day do I start with day 2? Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Ricerside, CA USA via December 24, 2016

Without thinking, you dismiss the elderly... Many elderly can not light fires for one or more reasons. First, their hands shake and they are at risk of dropping the candles. Second, many live in a rest home where they are not allowed to light a fire. You didn't mean to insult us, but it was insulting to say that electric menorahs are only for looks. Reply

Meira Shana San Diego via December 24, 2016

Personal Inside and Public Outside I light my candles right to left - but the electric for the window from left to right, but in the same way as if I was outside lighting the bulbs through an open window. Reply

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