6.02.2008

Thought on Creating a Chanukah Menorah

Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is probably the most recognized of Jewish holidays. This is most likely because it usually falls tandem to the more universally celebrated Xmas. As such, I’m choosing to offer specifics on creating Chanukah menorahs, better referred to as chanukiyahs. If you aren’t familiar with the story behind this holiday, just Google it – there’s information aplenty out there!

The main symbol of Chanukah is the menorah, or chanukiyah, a candelabra (of sorts) that holds nine candles – eight celebratory, symbolic lights and one flame called the shamash (see below). I’m specifically using the word “flame” since chanukiyahs can use either candles or oil to produce the flame/light.

Even though we’ve all seen chanukiyahs take different forms and shapes, there are certain rules governing their kashrut (religious requirements). Of course, as with everything else, there are discrepancies regarding these requirements. So, with your permission, I’ll ruminate on some of them.

Of course, the most basic requirement of any chanukiyah is that it have eight sources of light and, additionally, a place for a ninth source, which is called the Shamash, or “attendant” candle. This must be located on a different level than all the other candles – traditionally it is higher – to distinguish it as the Shamash. Why bother with a ninth, attendant candle? There are several reasons. We are forbidden from having a basic, functional use for the Chanukah flames themselves, beyond their symbolism. This would be considered demeaning to what they stand for. Therefore, we can’t light one Chanukah flame with another, use their flame for any purposes of illumination if there is no other light, etc. The Shamash is the stand-in for all these purposes, intentional or accidental.

You see, the main purpose of the Chanukah lights is to let us, and the world, know which night of the holiday we are celebrating. Going back to the elevation of the Shamash, its elevation sets it apart and lets others know it isn’t included in the candle count for that particular night.

Since the purpose of the chanukiyah is to let the world know about the miracle which occurred and which night we’re celebrating, a true, kosher chanukiyah will have all the candles in a straight line, neither protruding nor receding, so anyone looking at it can clearly count how many flames there are that night. Many artists aren’t aware of this requirement. If you check the shops, there are many, many chanukiyahs that don’t adhere to this. I’ve made chanukiyahs that don’t completely adhere to this rule as well. So, I would just advise people to take this into consideration when creating a design, since it might prevent more observant people from purchasing that particular creation.

Previously I spoke about how chanukiyahs can either use candles or oil to produce the flame. No matter what you opt to use, be aware that the flame needs to burn a minimum of 1-1/2 hours. As a result, the candleholder placement should keep candles far enough apart that their proximal flames don’t melt the candles faster than is necessary. An oil receptacle should hold enough oil (traditionally olive oil) to last this amount of time as well.

If you care to include candle lighting information with your chanukiyah, probably a nice touch, the following is what you need to know:

When lighting the chanukiyah, you place each night's lights or oil/wicks starting from right to left. Then, because we always celebrate the current night first, they are lit from left to right, always lighting the newest candle/wick first.

The blessings to recited while lighting the chanukiyah:

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam Asher Kidshanu B'mitzvotav V'tzivanu L'hadlik Ner Shel Chanukah.

Blessed is Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, by whose mitzvot we are sanctified and who commands us to kindle the lights of Chanukah
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Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam Sheh-Asa Nissim Lah-vote-ay-nu bah'yamim hah-haym ba'zman ha'zeh.

Blessed is Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who performed wonderous deeds for our ancestors in days of old, at this season.
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A third blessing is recited on the first night only: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam She-he-che-yanu v'ki-ye-manu v'he-gi-yanu la'zman ha-zeh.

Blessed is Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, for giving us life, sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.

1 comment:

redd said...

What a fabulous post!
I have to admit I felt a little silly when I got to the blessing and started singing out loud. My son looked at my funny.