Lighting the Chanukiah
The only specific mitzvah involved with Chanukah is the lighting of the chanukiah (Chanukah menorah or candelabrum) on each of the eight nights of the festival. The chanukiah has nine lights, in contrast to the menorah that has only seven. In ancient times each light consisted of an oil lamp with a wick, but in modern times many people prefer the convenience of using candles; either is acceptable. All the lights except one are at the same level (elevation), with the ninth light being at a different elevation so that it may be easily distinguished from and not confused with the other lights. This is because eight lights represent the eight days for which the ‘miracle of the oil’ lasted, whereas the ninth light is merely used to ignite the other lights.
The accepted procedure of lighting the candles is to start with one candle being lit and end up with eight candles lit on the last night, by increasing the number of candles each night. For example, on the third night three candles are lit and so on. This is to emphasise the increase in joy of commemorating the Chanukah miracle. By the end of the festival forty-four candles should have been kindled in total. The Talmud also suggests an alternate practice, decreasing the candles from eight on the first night to one on the final night, but nevertheless the practice is as described previously.
Each night the candle should be placed in the menorah, from right to left. The chanukiah has eight holders, plus an additional one at a different elevation to hold the shammash, which is the candle used to light the others. The candles are lit from left to right using the shammash, so that the new candle is lit first. To view a video on how to correctly light a chanukiah, see the bottom of this page.
The candles should be lit after evening has begun and should burn for at least half an hour. Two blessings are recited when lighting the chanukiah. On the first night an extra blessing is said. The blessings are said immediately before lighting the chanukiah. It is customary to sing “HaNerot Halalu” (“We Kindle These Lights”) whilst lighting the chanukiah and “Maoz Tzur” (“Rock of Ages”) after lighting the chanukiah.
The chanukiah is usually placed in the front window of the house, on the opposite side of the doorway from the mezuzah. It is an old custom to light the chanukiah in the doorway. This is done to publicise the miracle by making the lit chanukiah visible to those in the street.
The Chanukah lights are sacred. Therefore it is forbidden to use the light shed by the chanukiah candles for any purpose besides the commemoration and celebration of the miracle of Chanukah. Many people have a custom not to perform any work whilst the Chanukah lights are burning.
On Shabbat the Chanukah lights are lit before the Shabbat candles on Friday Night, and after Havdalah on Saturday night.
The candles used for Chanukah are often available in an assortment of colours, to further symbolise the happiness felt during this time.