Guest post by R. Israel Rubin
Excerpted from the new book, The How & Why of Jewish Prayer: A Guidebook for Men and Women. The book may be ordered by visiting this website: link or by sending an email to [email protected]. About the author: link
The eight-day festival of Chanukah, a post biblical festival of lights, starts on the 25th of Kislev. It celebrates the courageous battles by Yehudah haMaccabee and his forces against the pagan armies of the Syrian-Greeks. The triumphant Maccabeans then entered Jerusalem and purified the Beit Hamikdash. A new altar was built to replace the defiled one. New holy implements were fabricated including a menorah, a table, an incense-altar and parochet (curtains). The rededication of the Beit Hamikdash [The Holy Temple] was set for the 25th of Kislev. With this dedication, once again the daily sacrificial service was renewed along with the chanting of Hallel, singing and playing of musical instruments by the Levites. The decisive triumph against the religious persecution led to religious liberty and national self-determination.
The altar was to be consecrated with the renewal of the sacrificial offerings, accompanied by song, the playing of musical instruments, the chanting of Hallel.
The celebration of lighting one candle the first night and an additional candle on each succeeding night is associated with the miracle of an undefiled jar of oil found in the Beit Hamikdash. This jar held only enough oil to light the menorah for one day, yet it supplied enough oil for all eight days. Chanukah lights (oil or candles) are lit both in the synagogue and at home, and should be lit between “sunset and until there is no wanderer left in the street.” The menorah should be placed outside the entrance of the house.
If one lives on an upper floor of a building, the menorah should be set on the window, facing the street. The aim was to publicize the miracle. According to the Talmud women should also light the Chanukah candles since “they were also included in the miracle.”
Three blessings are recited on the first night and two on subsequent nights. The first blessing is for kindling the candle (or oil); the second is for the miracle; and the third (first night only) is the Sh’Hechiyanu. A short prayer, Hanerot Hallalu [See any Siddur] is then recited, followed by singing of Ma’Oz Tzur and other songs.
The halachah mandates the use of an additional candle, called a shammash, to kindle the other candles. This circumvents two bans: (1) one may not light one Chanukah candle with another candle, and (2) One may not use a Chanukah candle for any practical purpose including illumination.
A synopsis of the Chanukah chronicle is inserted into the Shemoneh Esrei and the Grace after Meals.
Tachanun is not recited, nor may one fast or eulogize the dead.
The Whole-Hallel is chanted on each of the eight days.
The Torah, Parashat Ne’si’ im, is read on each of the eight days, each day having its own segment from Numbers 7:1 to 8:4. The Temple dedication is patterned after the dedication of the Tabernacle in the desert. Special Haftarot are set down for the Sabbaths of Chanukah.
Psalms 30 is recited in many synagogues after services.
On Chanukah children amuse themselves with dreidels (a wooden or metal spinning top which has engraved on each of its four sides the letters nun-gimel-hei-shin. Children also receive gifts of chocolate Chanukah money.
Latkes (fried pancakes) and Sufganiyot (jelly filled doughnuts) are eaten by many during Chanukah.
 Shab. 23a
From a shiur by HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein , “The gemara in Shabbat 23a states that women have an obligation to light Chanukah candles because “af hein hayu b’oto ha-neis”—they were also part of the miracle (meaning either that they were in the same danger as the men were or that they played a key role in bringing about the salvation). This phrase finds parallels in the gemara within the discussions of a woman’s obligation to hear the Megilla on Purim and to drink four cups of wine on the night of Pesach. As these are all time-bound positive commandments, women should be free from any obligation to fulfill them, but their historical involvement in the events being commemorated brings them back up to a level of obligation.
Shifting gears, if we are to say that Chanukah candles are the exception to the rule, in what way are they an exception? The Pri Chadash suggests that Chanukah candles may not be as strict as Megilla, since it is possible for a person to pay another person a small amount so as to be included in his lighting. Rav Yoseif Dov Soloveitchik suggests a stronger difference between the two. By Chanukah candles, the mitzva is “ner ish u’beito,” not a personal obligation on each individual but rather an obligation that each house have a candle lit. Thus, while a child cannot make a candle into an object of a mitzva (“cheftza shel mitzva”), a woman certainly can do so and thus may light for others. This point is made by the Orchot Chaim, who states that the obligation of a man is with regard to his household, and a woman has the ability to fill this role on his behalf.