Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish holiday that celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem sometime during the second century BCE. Each night of Hanukkah, families traditionally light a menorah, a nine-branched candelabra, to symbolize the miracle of a cruse of oil lasting for eight days. But a common question each year is: Which side do the Hanukkah candles start on?
What is the Traditional Side for Lighting the Hanukkah Candles?
The traditional side for Hanukkah candles is slightly different according to the Ashkenazi and Sephardic customs. In Ashkenazi tradition, the candles are lit on the right side of the menorah. In Sephardic tradition, the candles are lit on the left side of the menorah. The practice of lighting the Chanukah menorah developed around the 13th century.
How is the Menorah Lit?
The menorah is traditionally lit in the following way: On the first night of Hanukkah one candle is lit in the far right corner as the Shammash (servant) candle. For the following seven nights, one additional candle is lit on the far right. As further candles are lit, they are placed to the left with each day for a total of nine lights. On the eighth night, all eight lights are burning. The Shammash candle is lit first, and then all the other candles are lit, beginning with the newest candle on the extreme right. This begins the journey back to the original candle in the far right corner that was lit on the first night. The blessings and lighting of the menorah are traditionally done by the father of the household or the oldest son.
The reason why different sides of the menorah are lit depending on Ashkenazi or Sephardic customs can be traced to a dispute between two great scholars of the 13th century. Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman (Ramban) suggested lighting from right to left. Rabbi Aharon HaLevy suggested the opposite, from left to right.
In the end, people practice as their families have always done – from right to left (Ashkenazi) or from left to right (Sephardic). The main point behind both customs is that it would take a person eight days to make it all the way around the menorah, just as it took Hashem eight days to perform the miracle that the Jewish people celebrate during the festival of Hanukkah.
In conclusion, whether you practice in the Ashkenazi tradition and light the Hanukkah candles on the right side of the menorah or the Sephardic tradition and light the Hanukkah candles on the left side, the main idea is to light the prior candles in relative order each night. Hanukkah is the time to come together as a family and celebrate the miracles of ancient times that are an integral part of our Jewish identity today.
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Last update 2023-11-27. Price and product availability may change.