The Role of Hallel in the Celebration of Chanukah, by Rabbi Yosef Blau

The Braita quoted in Shabbat 21b describes Chanukah as days of Hallel VHoda’ah, interpreted by Rashi as the recital of Hallel and Al Hanisim. The Rambam apparently had a different version of the text describing Chanukah as days of Simcha and Hallel. In both versions however, saying Hallel is an intrinsic part of the observance of Chanukah.

This explains why the Rambam delayed his full discussion of the days when Hallel is recited until the laws of Chanukah, even though he mentioned the obligation of saying Hallel earlier in his code. Since the Rambam understands the obligation to say Hallel to be of rabbinic origin, its recital can’t help to define the biblical holidays, although we say Hallel on each of them. It is clear why lighting the menorah is intrinsic to the definition of Chanukah, but less clear why Hallel should be.

The Rambam introduces his discussion of Chanukah with a historical review of the events that led to the holiday. He describes the anti-religious decrees of the (Syrian) Greeks against the Jews, including their defiling the Temple. The first law concludes with the victory of the Hashmonaim through the mercy of the Almighty, their proclaiming a king from amongst the priests, and the return of Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel for two hundred years.

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Chanukah and the Power of Dedication, by Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz

At the beginning of chapter 8 of the Book of Bamidbar, Moshe informs his brother Aharon that God had commanded Aharon to light and clean the menorah. This section of the Torah follows the description of the gifts that were offered by the leaders of all the tribes at the dedication and sanctification of the altar. Utilizing the Midrash, Rashi asks the following question:

“Why is the section of the Torah which deals with the Menorah juxtaposed with the section that declares the gifts of the tribal leaders (Nesi’im)? Because when Aharon witnessed the dedication of the Nesi’im, he became dejected because he was not included with them, not he and not his tribe. God thus said to him, I swear to you that your offering will be greater than theirs because you will light and clean the menorah.”

The Ramban explains why the lighting of the menorah is the greater gift. It is based upon another Midrash in which God commands Moshe to tell Aharon, “there is another dedication where there is the lighting of candles and it will be given to Israel through your descendants. This is an occasion of miracles salvation and dedication . . .this is the dedication of the sons of the Hasmoneans. Thus there is this juxtaposition between this section of lighting of the menorah and the dedication of the altar. The celebration or observance that we call Chanukah thus has great standing in our tradition. It continues for thousands of years after the destruction of the Temple and is observed and is continued by the Jewish people well into their exile and ultimately their return to the land of Israel. It was ordained by God and directly transmitted to Moshe.

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Chanukah and The World’s Oldest Love-Hate Relationship, by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

How do the Greeks go down in Jewish history books? Are they the “good guys” or the “bad guys?” A look at the Chanukah story offers a seemingly obvious answer: the Greeks were the bad guys and the Maccabees were the good guys. However, when taking a closer look at Jewish historical and philosophical sources, the matter is not as simple as it may seem. The clash between Jewish and Greek cultures seems to be so great, only because of the profound similarities. When thinking of the relationship between the Jewish and Greek culture, one cannot help but think of Sigmund Freud’s words: “not infrequently…friend and enemy have coincided in the same person.”

The rabbis teach us that while it is forbidden to write a kosher Torah scroll in any language other than its original Hebrew, there is one exception to that – one can write it in Greek. The rabbis (Megilah 9b) learn this from the verse “May God expand Japheth, and may He dwell in the tents of Shem” (Bereishit 9:27). The rabbis understand this to be teaching that “the beauty of Yefet—Greece—may dwell in the tents of Shem (the Jews).” The fact that the only two languages in which a kosher Torah can be written are Hebrew and Greek, speaks volumes of the place of importance that Greece holds in Judaism.

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The Target Audience of the Menorah, by Uri Himelstein

The Gemara in Shabbos (21b) records that one should preferably light Chanuka candles at the doorway of one’s home. Rashi (s.v. Mibachutz) writes that one lights in a chatzer (shared courtyard) but not in the reshus harabim, whereas, Tosfos (s.v. Mitzvah) writes that one lights at the entrance of one’s house only if it is adjacent to the reshus harabim, but if the house is inside a chatzer, one must light at the entrance of the chatzer adjacent to the reshus harabim.

At first glance, it is hard to understand motivatied Tosfos to say this. After all, the Gemara just says “Mitzvah lehanicha pesach beiso mibachutz,” implying that entrance of one’s house is always the appropriate place to light. Why does Tosfos understand that this is only true when the house is adjacent to reshus harabim? Tosafos bring two proofs to their position: Firstly, the Gemara on 23a says that if there is a chatzer with two doorways, one must light in both of those doorways. If Rashi is correct and one is obligated to light at the entrance of one’s home, why would the Gemara discuss a case where one if lighting at the entrance of their chatzer. Tosafos further point to a Gemara on 23b that says a ner (meaning, a container where on places oil, as Rashi explains there) with two openings (two wicks), may be used by two people to fulfill the mitzvah. Tosafos say that this must be referring to a case where there are multiple houses in a chatzer and therefore there are many people lighting in one place: the entrance to the chatzer adjacent to reshus harabim. According to Rashi, why would multiple people light in one place? They should all be lighting at the doorways of their own homes. [i]

Rashi addresses both this issues.[ii] Regarding the Gemara on 23a about a chatzer with two doorways, Rashi (s.v. Chatzer) explains that there Gemara is referring to a house which has two doors leading into the chatzer. Regarding the Gemara on 23b about one ner with multiple wicks, Rashi (s.v Shtei) explains that multiple people would want to be yotzei in the same location if a household is trying to fulfill the mitzvah according to the level of mehadrin, where one candle is light for each family member. The Maharsha points out the Tosafos does not understand the Gemara this way, because if the Gemara was limited to a case of people fulfilling the mitzvah at the mehadrin level the Gemara should have specified this. Furthermore, Tosafos couldn’t have said that it is a case of mehadrin min hamedhadrin, because they hold that mehadrin min hamedhadrin involves only one person lighting.

At the end of the day, however, it seems that Rashi’s position is difficult. Why does he explain the Gemara on 23a to refer to a house with two openings into a chatzer when the simple reading of the Gemara is in accordance with the view of Tosafos, that the chatzer has two openings into reshus harabim. Additionally, later in the same beraissa there Gemara quotes that if one lives in an attic, one should light in a window close[iii] to reshus harabim, implying that the lighting earlier in the beraissa was also done facing reshus harabim.

Perhaps we can suggest that Rashi and Tosafos argue over the correct definition of pirsumei nisa – does it mandate publicizing the miracle of Chanukah to the entire world, or just to one’s family. Tosafos assumes that pirsumei nisa’s intended audience is the general public, in which case the menorah must be placed near the reshus harabim. Rashi, however, things that both audiences are intended, and the halacha takes them both into account. One can’t light in their one home because that would lack in pirsumei nisa for the general public, but one can’t light at the entrance to one’s chatzer either, as that would lack in pirsumei nisa for one’s family. Therefore, one should light at the entrance of one’s home in order to accomplish both pirsumei nisa for one’s family and for, to a limited extent, the public. If this is case, it is understandable why Rashi understood the Gemara on 23a differently that the simple reading, and ignored a minor proof from Tosafos on 21b.

However, we still have to understand what led Rashi to assume that this definition of pirsumei nisa is correct. Perhaps his source was another Gemara on 21a which says that, at a basic level, one fulfills the mitzvah of Chanukah with one candle per household. A higher level, mehadrin, is fulfilled by lighting one candle for each member of the household, and the highest level, mehardin min hamehadrin, is fulfilled by changing the number of candles lit as the holiday progresses. Tosafos (s.v Vehamehadrin) and the Rambam (Hilchos Megillah Uchanukah 4:1) dispute the correct way to the fulfill mehardin min hamehadrin. Tosafos says that this level refers back to ner ish ubeiso, and each household would only light one menorah. They contend that if we say that each member of the household were to light depending on the night, then that would override the entire point of lighting in the this manner which is to make it clear to onlookers which night of the week it is. If, for example, there were six candles on the first night because there are six members of the, or there were three members of the house lighting three candles on second night, one would not be able to recognize that the number of candles lit correspond to the day of the holiday. The Rambam ignores this claim and contends that the Gemara builds each level on top of the other, with the fulfillment of mehardin min hamehadrin including the practice of mehadrin to light for each family member. I would contend that Rashi agrees with this approach, because it is the simpler way of reading the Gemara and Rashi doesn’t comment otherwise. How would the Rambam and Rashi respond to Tosafos’ problem? Perhaps they would say that we really don’t care about the onlookers and their perspective. The principle concern is for the members of the household who understand the number of candles they are seeing, not for the general public.[iv]

[i] The Rashba (s.v. Ner) brings another Gemara as a proof to Tosfos, which is the opinion of R’ Yehuda quoted later on 21b that a storekeeper who lights his Chanuka candles in the public domain is not considered to be negligible if a camel laden with tinder was caught aflame by his menorah (since it was within his right to place the candles outside), which implies that one would be lighting the candles in the Reshus Harabim, because the owner of the camel would have no claim if he were trespassing into the Chatzer. The Tosfos Harosh (s.v. Mitzvah) points out that this isn’t a valid proof, because it could just be that the store was located adjacent to the Reshus Harabim.

[ii] This is all assuming that Rashi holds that one would actually light at his house inside the courtyard, not like the Ritva (s.v. Mitzva) who says that Rashi really agrees with Tosfos and that Rashi is just saying that when one lights at the entrance to the courtyard adjacent to the Reshus Harabim, he should be place his menorah inside the courtyard. However, the Ritva’s understanding is difficult in light of the Rashi on 23a that we discuss.

[iii] Although, perhaps the language of Semucha would actually imply like Rashi that the window isn’t directly opening to Reshus Harabim but is the window of the house that is closest to the Reshus Harabim (one manuscript of the Meiri, in fact, has the language of Pesucha which implies that it is directly opening to the Reshus Harabim).

[iv] This might relate to the idea of Hadlakas Neiros Chanuka being a Chovas Habayis (meaning, that since it is a Chiyuv that is incumbent on the household, therefore it must be done in way that the household actually sees it) for more on this idea see Beikvei Hatzon (Siman 20). Additionally, the Gra (O.C 672:2) explains that the Rambam argues on Tosfos because he holds that the reason that we change the number of candles each night is based on Maalin Bekodesh (which would apply to each member of the household) as opposed to Tosfos who says that it has to be recognizable because it is based on the number of days. (The Gra and Beikvei Hatzon were pointed out to me R’ Dovid Willig.)

Lighting the Menorah Outside the Heichal, by Aryeh Helfgott

During Chanukah the paragraph of “Al ha-nissim” is inserted into shemonah esrei and birchas ha-mazon. Towards the end of “Al ha-nissim” it says: “ve-hidliku neiros be-chatzros kodshecha,”- “and they lit the candles [of the menorah] in Your holy chatzer.” The word ‘chatzer’ in context of the mikdash generally refers to the courtyard area outside of the heichal. But, the menorah, as we know from the Gemara Menachos (28b), was situated inside the heichal, directly opposite the shulchan. Why, then, does this line imply it was lit in the chatzer?

The Chasam Sofer in his derashos on Chanukah (Vol.1, pg. 67) suggests that the Chashmonaim moved the menorah from inside the heichal out to the chatzer due to the fact that the Greeks had placed idols in the heichal, making it unusable for the avodah. The Chasam Sofer bases himself on the Rambam in Hilchos Bias Mikdash (9:7) who says that a non-kohen may light the menorah, and since a non-kohen may not enter the heichal, the menorah may be taken out into the chatzer in order to be lit. Thus, the idea of lighting of the menorah outside the heichal does have a halachic support.

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A Difficulty in Rabbeinu Gershom Regarding Chanukah Candles, by Yisrael Friedenberg

The Gemara in Menachos (41b) says: “It was stated: Rav holds that one may not use one candle to light another, and Shmuel holds that one may. […] Abayei said: With regard to every law but these three (including the one quoted above) [Rabba] followed the opinion of Rav, but for these three he followed Shmuel.” Rashi and others point out that the Gemara refers to the candles lit on Chanukah. (See the poskim in Orach Chayim 674 regarding other obligatory lightings.)

Rabbeinu Gershom on the Gemara explains like Rashi, that the discussion here is about Chanukah candles, but adds an explanation of Rav’s position. He writes: “[According to Rav] one may not light one candle with another because one thereby diminishes the [object of] mitzvah.” At first glance this seems innocent enough. He simply intends to explain that Rav’s objection stems from a concern that using a mitzvah-purposed candle to light other candles – even other mitzvah candles – causes the former to be somehow diminished.

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Chanukah: Publicizing the Miracle, by Rabbi Yosef Blau

In the recital of Al HaNissim on Chanukah we thank Hashem for the many miracles in the military victory of the Chashmonaim over the Greek Syrians who had persecuted the Jews.  Rashi’s comment on the question of the Talmud in (Shabbat 21b), mai Chanukah, on which miracle was the celebration of Chanukah based, clearly assumes a focus on only one specific miracle.  Our obligation to publicize the miracle is restricted to the miracle of the crucible of oil that lasted for eight days.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that when thanking Hashem for the miracles He has done for us, we are required to be expansive.  In both the Amida and Birchas haMazon, Al HaNissim is recited within the framework of the blessing thanking Hashem. If one accepts the textual version of this prayer that adds the connective vav in u’vezman hazeh, this expansion is extended to our own times.  This concept is demonstrated as well in the Seder night in the later part of the Haggadah.

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The Significance of the Miracle of Chanuka, by Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz


The Talmud provides us with two and a half pages of intricate discussion which deal with the various aspects of the mitzvah of lighting the candles of Chanuka. See Shabbat 21a-23b. It provides us, however, with a very brief description of the origins and nature of the holiday itself. The description that it does provide is vague and is incomplete, to say the least.

The Talmud states:

What is Chanuka (which can be understood as “why do we observe Chanuka?” Rashi states, “for which mitzvah was it established?”) that the Rabbis tell us, on the 25th day in the month of Kislev are the days of Chanuka which are eight, when we are not permitted to mourn on these days nor to fast on them? When the Greeks entered the Temple sanctuary, they defiled all the oils in the Temple. When the kingdom of the Hasmoneans overwhelmed them and defeated them, they (Hasmoneans) checked and only found one tin of oil that still remained intact with the seal of the High Priest, but it only contained enough (oil) to light for one day. A miracle occurred in it (oil) and they (Hasmoneans) lit it for eight days. The following year, these days were established and made into holidays for the saying of Hallel and thanksgiving (i.e. the prayer of Al Hanisim in the third section of the Amidah.) Shabbat 21b

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Of Blessings and Miracles: Birchas Hadlakas Neiros Chanukah as a Function of Pirsumei Nisa, by Meir Goodman

The ubiquitous practice of lighting Chanukah neiros in shul between mincha and ma’ariv finds its source in the Rishonim and is codified in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 671:7). The Mechaber, in the middle of a discussion regarding the correct placement of the Menorah in, or outside, of one’s house, states, “And in the Beis HaKnesses, one places it by the southern wall, and we light and bless on it for pirsumei nisa.”  Elaborating on this minhag, the Rema adds that one does not fulfill his obligation to light Chanukah neiros through this hadlakah; one must return home and light again.

In the Beis Yosef (ibid.) the Mechaber brings two sources for this practice. He first suggests that lighting Chanukah neiros in shul was instituted for the sake of guests who do not have a house to light in, just as Chazal instituted Kiddush in shul on Friday night to accommodate the guests who eat, drink, and sleep there. The Beis Yosef states that the Kol Bo (Siman 44) offers such an approach. There are a few questions here: If the Beis Yosef means to refer to guests who do not sleep in the shul, they should light wherever they are spending the night, alongside their hosts, not in the shul. If the guests are sleeping in the shul, why do they not light the Menorah themselves? Furthermore, the Kol Bo himself does not actually say that the practice was instituted for the sake of guests. Instead, he writes that the neiros are lit to be motzi those who are not baki or zariz, which raises an obvious and serious issue: how can the obligation to light be fulfilled by those who are either not baki or zariz outside the auspices of a home, when the Halacha clearly mandates lighting in a bayis?  

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They Breached the Walls of My Towers: Gentiles on the Temple Mount

“The Greeks gathered against me, back then, in the Chashmonaim days, and they breached the walls of my towers…” (Ma’oz Tzur). The Mishnah (Middos 2:3) writes that gentiles may not enter the innermost parts of the Beis haMikdash. A barrier, called the soreig, was erected to delineate the threshold beyond which gentiles could not pass. When the Greeks entered the Temple, in indignation over this law of ours, they cut thirteen breaches in the soreig. When the Chashmonaim retook the temple, they enacted a law that anyone who passed one of the breaches should bow to Hashem in thanks for our victory over the Greeks.

Is the law forbidding gentiles from entering the inner recesses of the Temple still in force nowadays? Although the Rambam and the Ra’avad (Beis haBechirah 6:14-15) seem to disagree about whether the Temple Mount retained its sanctity after the Temple’s destruction, the Mishnah Berurah (561:5) rules that it did indeed retain its sanctity. Along similar lines, R. Kook (Mishpat Kohen 96) writes that, absent a clear consensus on the issue, as far as biblical laws are concerned, we must follow the stringent opinion, namely, that the Temple Mount’s sanctity is still in force. R. Ovadiah Yosef (Yabia Omer 6, YD 26) cogently notes that the Temple Mount still has some sanctity, but not the same level of sanctity as it had in the Temple eras. Finally, the Tzitz Eliezer (vol. 10, no. 1, ch. 9) suggests, based on a Biblical verse, that in the Ra’avad’s times, the gentiles’ dominion over Eretz Yisrael had temporarily removed the Temple Mount’s sanctity and the laws associated therewith. However, now that Jews once again own Eretz Yisrael, the sanctity and its attendant laws have returned to their former force.

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