Eight important steps to lighting your Hanukkiyah


Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By William Jackson


Introduction: Since Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is not a requirement in scripture all of it’s customs are rabbinical traditions to include lighting the Hanukkiyah. These eight steps were assembled using only Jewish sources (see references).


  1. What are the requirements for a Hanukkiyah?
  • A Hanukkiyah is like a *Menorah but instead of seven branches it has 9 light holders.
  • First there are eight light holders in a row for each day of Hanukkah. These should not be in a zigzag, circle or semicircle. Being in a straight row allows people to see what day of Hanukkah we are in.  Historically, Hanukkiyah candles being in a straight row prevented them from being confused with earlier pagan symbols.
  • There is a ninth light holder that is set apart from the other eight, usually above the others. This ninth light holder is for the “shamash” which means servant.

Note: Electric menorahs are good for decoration, but you need the old-fashioned one to fulfill the mitzvah.

  1. When do we light the Hanukkiyah?
  • Light the candles after night fall.
  • The one exception is Sabbath. On Friday night light the candles before the Shabbat candles.
  • Gather everyone around when lighting the Hanukkiyah.


  1. How should you add the candles to the Hanukkiyah? Add the candles from right to left as you are facing it. The amount of candles that you add will equal what day of Hanukkah your on.


  1. Give the Blessing before lighting the candles:


“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.”

On the first night of Hanukkah add this verse: ”Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.”

  1. How to light the Hanukkiyah?


  • Light the shamash and use the shamash to light the other candles.
  • Only use the shamash, do not use other candles to light each other.
  • The candles are lit from left to right.
  • The shamash stays lit and is returned to its place. This is done for these two reasons.

In case a candle blows out you will use the shamash to re-light it.

Back in the day, if a candle was required as a source of light, the shamash could be used.  Hanukkah candles should not be used as a practical source of light.

  1. Where do we display the lit Hanukkiyah?
  • Display it in an open place for others to see, i.e. a front window.
  • Don’t use it for any other purpose when lit such as:

A light for reading

A candelabra for the dinner table

  1. How long should the Hanukkiyah stay lit? It should stay lit for 30 minutes. While it is lit, people usually talk about Hanukkah and participate in Hanukkah events (enjoying games such as dreidel and eating holiday foods).



Note: On Sabbath (Friday night) it stays lit for an hour and a half, at least 30 minutes beyond nightfall.  Be aware some Hanukkah candles will only burn for 30 minutes.


  1. So why eight days: In 1 Maccabees 4:56 it states after the Maccabees secured the temple “…they celebrated the re-dedication of the altar for eight days and joyfully made entirely burned offerings. They offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise”.   This may have been done for eight days to reflect the original dedication ceremony done by Solomon which was eight days (2 Chronicles 7:9).



This quote by Judaism 101 is the traditional story we often hear “According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the re-dedication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.” (Chanukkah, The Story, Judaism 101)


*What’s the difference between a Hanukkiyah and a Menorah?  A real Menorah (Exodus 37:17-24) has 7 branches for lights whereas a Hanukkiyah has 9 light holders.




Rabbi Mordechai Becher, The Laws of Chanukah, Ohr Somayach International


Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, Chanukah (Hanukkah) How to light, Chabad.org


Dr. Ron Wolfson, Hanukkah Candle Lighting Ceremony, MyJewishLearning.com,


Rabbi Shraga Simmons, ABC’s of Chanukah (Hanukkah), aish.com