GENERAL LAWS OF CHANUKAH
This section deals with general laws of Chanukah. These
guidelines should not be relied upon as authentic Halacha.
In cases of questions or doubts a competent Orthodox Rabbi
should be consulted. Questions as to what to do when one is
away from home, when one is ill, types of oils and wicks,
the use of electric lights and such, specific laws regarding
Chanukah lighting on the Shabbos, mistakes in the order or
number of lights, etc. should all be directed to a competent
authority on Jewish Law.
- On each of the eight
nights of Chanukah, candles are lit to recall the miracle
of the oil. All family members assemble for the lighting,
in order to publicize the miracle.
- One candle is lit on the first night of Chanukah. Every
night a candle is added to the previous day's number so
that eight candles are lit on the eighth night of
- It is customary for each member of the family to light
their own Chanukah candles. The only exception to this
rule is the wife, who fulfills her obligation with her
- If a number of people are lighting their candles in one
place, each one's candles should be in a separate area, so
that the number of each person's candles can be clearly
- A child who is old enough to light candles should be
allowed to do so.
- Among Sephardic Jews it is customary for one family
member to light candles for the entire family.
- Some people enhance the mitzvah by using olive oil
instead of candles. This is because the miracle in the
Temple occurred with olive oil.
- The candles or wicks must be arranged in a straight
line. There must be at least the width of a finger between
- One may not use a candle made from braided wicks.
Similarly, one may not put a number of wicks into a bowl
of oil if there is no separation between them. In these
cases, the candles resemble a torch or flaming fire, which
may not be used to fulfill this mitzvah.
- It is prohibited to use the light from the Chanukah
candles. Therefore, a separate candle, called the shamash,
is lit. The shamash is used to light the other candles.
The shamash must be separated from the other candles,
either by placing it a little bit away from the other
candles, or by placing it a little bit higher than the
other candles. This is so one can see how many Chanukah
candles were lit that night.
Where and When to
- The Chanukah candles should be lit by the entrance of
one's house, if the entrance faces a public domain. This
is to publicize the Chanukah miracle. The candles must be
lit in the place where they are to remain, rather than
being lit inside the house and taken outside later. The
candles should be placed within a tefach of the entrance.
If the entrance has a mezuzah, the candles should be
placed to the left of the doorway, opposite the mezuzah.
If one does not have an entrance that faces a public
domain, the candles should be lit on a windowsill that can
be seen from the street.
- The candles must be at least three tefachim above the
ground. It is a mitzvah to place them less than ten
tefachim above the ground. However, if the candles are
placed higher than ten tefachim, one has fulfilled the
- Anyone living in a place which is higher than twenty amos (approximately two feet) from the street should ask a
Rav where to light Chanukah candles.
- The Chanukah candles are lit at nightfall. One halachic opinion is that one should light the candles at
sunset, and the other halachic opinion is that one should
light the candles when the stars appear.
- Those who daven Maariv before candle lighting time,
should kindle the Chanukah candles immediately after
Maariv. Those who daven Maariv in the proper time, that
is, after three medium size stars appear, should
preferably light the Chanukah candles before Maariv. They
should, however, place sufficient oil or long enough
candles in order to burn for a half hour after stars
- If one had not kindled nor davened Maariv and stars
appeared, he should daven Maariv first and then light.
- One who did not light his candles at either of these
times can light them any time during the night, as long as
members of the family are awake and present at the
- The candles (or oil) must burn for at least half an
hour after the stars appear. This rule applies whenever
the candles were lit. If one lights with oil, he must make
sure he has enough oil to burn the required amount of time
when he lights his flames.
- One may not add oil after the flames have been lit.
- The candles must be set up so the wind will not
extinguish them while they are burning.
- Women observe the custom not to do work for the half
hour that the candles are lit as a reminder not to use the
candles for any purpose. This custom is observed
specifically by women, because one of the Chanukah
miracles occurred through a woman, Yehudis, the daughter
of the High Priest Yochanan.
- It is customary to eat dairy dishes on Chanukah. This
custom originates with Yehudis. Yehudis fed the Greek army
commander cheese to make him thirsty, and then wine to
intoxicate him. When the Greek commander fell asleep,
Yehudis decapitated him, the result being that his forces
fled. In this way, the Jews were saved.