Chanukah Candles

This resource deals with the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanukah and its symbolic significance.

Resource Ages: 6-8, 9-11

Source

Blessings over the candles:

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has sanctified us with God’s commandments and commanded us to light a Chanukah candle.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל חֲנֻכָּה.

 

 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

On the first night, there is an additional blessing:

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this moment.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

After lighting the candles, it is customary to sing (Ashkenazi tradition in parentheses):

We light these lights because of the miracles and wonders, deliverances and victories You performed for our ancestors in those days at this time through Your holy priests.
Throughout the eight days of Chanukah these lights are holy and we are not permitted to make any other use of them, except to look at them, that we may give thanks and praise to Your great name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your deliverances.

הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ אֲנַחְנוּ [/שֶׁאָנוּ] מַדְלִיקִין עַל הַנִּסִּים, וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת, וְעַל הַנִּפְלָאוֹת [וְעַל הַמִּלְחָמוֹת], שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לַאֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ [בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה] עַל יְדֵי כֹּהֲנֶיךָ הַקְּדוֹשִׁים. 

וְכָל שְׁמוֹנַת יְמֵי חֲנֻכָּה הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ קֹדֶשׁ [הֵם], וְאֵין לָנוּ רְשׁוּת לְהִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בָּהֶם, אֶלָּא לִרְאוֹתָם בִּלְבָד כְּדֵי לְהוֹדוֹת לִשְׁמֶךָ עַל נִסֶּיךָ [וְעַל ] נִפְלְאוֹתֶיךָ ו[/וְעַל] ישׁוּעוֹתֶיךָ:

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How do Jewish rituals and practices enrich the way I experience my life and the world?
  • Why/how might Jewish practices be meaningful for me even if I don’t define myself as “religious”?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • What do the Chanukah candles symbolize?
  • How are the Chanukah candles connected to historical events?

Background for Teacher

On Chanukah Jews are commanded to light candles on each of the eight days of the festival. The custom is to light the candles in a nine-branch candelabra or chanukiya; the ninth branch is intended for the shamash (a candle used to light the...

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On Chanukah Jews are commanded to light candles on each of the eight days of the festival. The custom is to light the candles in a nine-branch candelabra or chanukiya; the ninth branch is intended for the shamash (a candle used to light the other candles). We begin by lighting one candle and add another one every night. The purpose of lighting the Chanukah candles is to publicize the miracle of Chanukah and and so there are laws to insure that the candles will be seen, for example the chanukiya is placed facing outwards, and it is lit at a time when there are people outside, so that it can be seen by people walking in the street and they will be reminded of the miracle of the holiday.

The miracle that the chanukiya publicizes is the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks and the miracle of the small jug of oil. According to the account in the Book of Maccabees and accounts from other sources, in 167 BCE, Antiochus IV, king of the Seleucid kingdom issued decrees against the practice of Judaism in the Land of Israel, which was under his control at that time. He took over the Temple and installed a statue of the Greek god Zeus. The Jews, under the leadership of the Maccabees, launched a rebellion which ultimately led to the establishment of an independent Jewish kingdom in the Land of Israel. During this rebellion, the Maccabees reconquered the Temple. They purified it, removed all of the pagan altars, and prepared it for the service of God. They lit the Temple’s menorah and, for eight days, they celebrated the dedication (chanukah) of the Temple and its return to Jewish hands. To commemorate the miracle of the victory of the few over the many, the Maccabees established a holiday to be celebrated for eight days each year: the holiday of Chanukah. 

In the Babylonian Talmud, which was written many years after the revolt, we find the first mention of the additional miracle that is celebrated on Chanukah: the miracle of the small jug of oil. According to the description in the Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 21b), the rebels could find only one small uncontaminated jug of oil for lighting the menorah. Despite the fact that there was only enough oil for one day, a miracle took place and this small amount of oil lasted for eight days.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study
How to Do It?
  • Show this video that tells a concise version of the holiday story and includes pictures of candle lighting on Chanukah (the video is about Chanukah candles until 1:20; the rest is about different customs on the holiday). The students can say what they see in each picture, or you can talk about the pictures based on the story told in the subtitles. Explain the general background of Chanukah and the connection between lighting Chanukah candles and the miracle of Chanukah/the oil jug.
  • Draw a candle on the board and ask the students to name at least three things for which candles are used in the Jewish world. (You can expand further if the following things are not mentioned: Chanukah, Shabbat candles, Havdalah candle, yahrzeit (memorial) candle). Discuss the reason we light candles – what do they signify? How are they different from light produced by electricity? What emotions arise when a candle is lit?

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. Why do we light Chanukah candles? (Refer to the miracles mentioned in the blessings said over the candles and explain the connection between them and Chanukah candle lighting.) 
  2. Why are Chanukah candles lit specifically in the window or entrance of a home? Who is meant to see the candles? 
  3. Why do you think Our Sages specifically chose candle lighting to remember the miracle? 
  4. What other customs on Chanukah are connected to the holiday story? Explain. (You can show the second part of the video suggested above in “Optional Hooks”.) 
  5. What was the “darkness” that the Maccabees faced? What was the “light” they illuminated? What can be learned from this about different situations we face in our own lives?
  6. The main menorah in the Temple is mentioned often in the Chanukah story. Today’s chanukiya is based upon it. How are the chanukiya and menorah similar to one another? How are they different? Why does the chanukiya include eight candle holders and a shamash (“helper”) candle?
  • Watch this video about Chanukah candle lighting and hold a model Chanukah candle lighting ceremony in class (if it is forbidden to light candles in school, you can use electric candles). This can be done during a class Chanukah party that includes songs and skits about Chanukah prepared by the students. You can also have the students make their own chanukiyot and then do a model class Chanukah candle lighting in which each student lights the chanukiya they made.  
  • Refer to the question asking what the chanukiya and Chanukah candles symbolize. Ask the students to design a chanukiya that relates to the Maccabbean victory, the miracle of the oil jug, or an additional element of the holiday. 
  • Ask each student to find a nice or particularly interesting picture of a chanukiya and make a presentation that includes all of the pictures. You can show the presentation in class and ask each student to say a few words about the chanukiya they chose what they found interesting about it or why they chose it. 
  • Older students: Have the students watch this presentation showing different chanukiyot from around the world.
    Divide the students into pairs. Each pair will choose three different chanukiyot and compare them using a chart with the following categories: country, historical period, material used, shape of candle holder (suitable for oil/candles), pictures, Jewish symbols, Hebrew letters. Afterwards, discuss with the students what characteristics they noticed in each of the chanukiyot and why. Ask the students to point to a unique characteristic they noticed in one of the chanukiyot they focused on, and have them explain whether they think it is related to the holiday and why; or, if there is no connection, why they think the artist nevertheless added that particular detail.
  • Learn about how the menorah has been used as a symbol throughout the ages, from the Temple to the Arch of Titus and the modern-day symbol of the State of Israel. You can search the internet to find pictures of each of these symbols. 
  • Expand upon the topic of light using The Light and the Dark resource, and about the connection between light and the Maccabean victory using  the Light as a Symbol of  Good resource.  
  • Expand upon the story behind the holiday using The Holiday Story resource.
  • You can show the students this video made at the Technion in Haifa, in which two engineers light the chanukiya using a Rube Goldberg machine that they created.
  • Listen to this audio recording of children singing the Chanukah candle lighting blessings. 
  • This video about Chanukah candle lighting includes the blessings written in Hebrew and English, as well as English transliterations of the Hebrew words.  
  • How to light the Chanukah candles – an informational video (in English).
  • Watch this video showing a Yemenite Chanukah candle lighting, with pictures.