Here’s a quiz:
What is the primary mitzvah of Chanukah?
a) Eating latkes (potato pancakes)
b) Giving Chanukah gifts or gelt (money)
c) Publicizing the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 days
d) Playing Dreidel
The correct answer is C. While the customs of Chanukah include eating latkes, giving monetary and other gifts and playing dreidel, the only actual mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah and display the lights, thus publicizing the miracle when the lights in the Holy Temple burned for 8 days.
In order to fulfill this mitzvah of publicizing the miracle, the menorah/chanukiah should be lit where it can be seen by the public. Chanukah lights were originally lit only in the doorway of the home, opposite the mezuzah, facing the street. However, it is now common practice outside of Israel to place the menorah in a window facing the street.
In order to make certain that the lights are visible, the menorah is lit after sunset. (There are two opinions regarding the correct time to light, so please consult your local rabbi.) On Friday evening, however, the menorah is lit before the Shabbat candles and extra oil (or longer candles) are used.
If one is unable to light at the appropriate time, one may light later in the night, as long as there is someone else in the house who is awake (thus fulfilling the requirements of publicizing the miracle).
If it is very late and no one is awake, one should light the menorah without the blessings.
If there are still people in the street or in the apartments of a facing building who would see the lit menorah, it is also permitted to light and say the blessings.
If the menorah was not lit at all during the night, there is no "make-up" lighting during the day.
NOTE: Please be sure to review fire safety procedures with your family.
For more information about Chanukah, visit NJOP's Chanukah webpage (click here).
This Treat was last posted on November 29, 2010.
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