Monday, December 3, 2018

A Ten-Light Chanukah Menorah?

In a summary of the Chanukah customs of Persian Jewry (Shlomo Tal edition, 1981, pg. 189-190), three options are offered regarding how to kindle the Chanukah lights. First, the common custom is listed, which is to kindle one light on the first night and add a candle each subsequent night. The second custom listed is to kindle three candles on the first night and add an additional candle each subsequent night. According to this tradition, one would end up lighting 11 candles on the final evening of Chanukah. The third custom suggested, called for lighting eight lights on the first night of Chanukah and adding eight additional lights on each subsequent night. According to this practice, 64 lights would be kindled on the last night, and a total of 288 lights would be kindled by one person over the entirety of Chanukah.

Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber, in his seminal work on Jewish customs, Minhagei Yisrael (vol. 1, chapter 23, pp. 167-168) claims that while the first listed custom of Persian Jewry is widespread throughout Jewry, the third custom is an anomaly, and Professor Sperber could not find any support for it.

Professor Sperber attempted to justify the second custom of lighting three lights the first night and add a light each subsequent night. The addition of the Shamash, the server candle which lights the other lights, serves a dual function. First, since one is not permitted to kindle from one light to another (Shabbat 22a), a separate wick is needed to illuminate the Chanukah lights. Second is the consensus of most halachic opinions that one must not use the light of the Chanukah candles for personal benefit. One should not, for example, read by the Chanukiah (Chanukah menorah), as that would be a prohibited use of the light. In order not to violate this precept, the sages added an additional light, the Shamash, so if one were to benefit from the lights of the candles, we assume it was from the additional light, not one of the lights fulfilling the mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights.

Professor Sperber postulates that lighting three candles the first night would accomplish the two goals of the Shamash – represented by two Shamash lights - and the one candle for Chanukah lighting. He notes that Chanukiyot have been discovered that have room for the eight Chanukah lights and two more spaces, i.e. ten in total. Many, if not most, of the Chanukiyot we use, actually have an extra space for the Shamash in addition to the places for the eight lights.

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