Guide to Hanukkah candle-lighting readings

So you’re hosting your first Hanukkah gathering for friends and family and you want to conduct the evening perfectly. First, don’t forget the challah bread and the latkes! But more importantly, make sure you’re prepared with the menorah, the candles, and the proper readings for the candle-lighting ritual. We consulted Andrew Fish of Gallery Judaica in Los Angeles to help us get it just right.

Menorah and candles

A generation ago, there was essentially one type of menorah – a metal candelabra-style deal. In recent years there has been an explosion in unbelievably creative menorahs by world-renowned artists. Some even incorporate your broken wedding glass into the design. Consider purchasing a special menorah to serve as a focal point for your celebration. Some families even have multiple menorahs. Purchase a box of Hanukkah candles, which comes with the 44 candles you will need for the eight nights of Hanukkah.

How to place and light the candles

After some debate, the accepted way to place the candles in the menorah is from right to left each evening, and then light them from left to right. The taller candle is called a shammus and is lit with a match, then used to light the other candles. Each night one new candle is added to the menorah. On the first night just the shammus and the far right candle are lit, on the second night the shammus and two candles are placed and lit, and so on. Once the candles are lit you let them burn out on their own, which is usually between a half hour to an hour.

First night reading

As you light the first candle of Hanukkah, you read a special blessing called the Shehecheyanu. The Hebrew reading is Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam shehecheyanu v'kiyimanu v'higi'anu laz'man hazeh. (Amein), which translates to “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season (Amen).” This blessing is not only for the first night of Hanukkah, but is used for most happy occasions and holidays honoring the specialness of it. After this blessing, you then say two more blessings that are also used on nights two through eight of Hanukkah called the Blessing over Candles, and Blessing for Hanukkah.

The blessing over candles

The next two readings are said together on each subsequent night of Hanukkah. The first is the Blessing over Candles, which is used for any candle lighting in the Jewish faith. This blessing is Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu l'had'lik neir shel Chanukah. (Amein), which translates to “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the lights of Chanukkah. (Amen).”

Blessing for Hanukkah

The next blessing is said after the Blessing over Candles as you use the shammus to continue to light the candles in the menorah. The blessing is Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam she'asah nisim la'avoteinu bayamim haheim baziman hazeh. (Amein), which translates to “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time.” This reading honors the original miracle of Hanukkah.

Songs to sing

Though not technically part of the candle lighting, many families like to sing fun Hanukkah songs as a way to cap off the evening. Children learn these songs in school, so they often help the adults along with the lyrics. Some popular songs include “Oh, Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah,” “Maoz Tzur,” “The Dreidel Song,” and “Blessings for Menorah.”

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