How Do We Light the Hanukkah Menorah?

Answered by
Rabbi Julie Zupan

menorahmenorahמְנוֹרָהSeven- or nine-branched candelabra; commonly refers to the nine-branched Hanukkah lamp; plural: menorot.  is lamp or candelabrum, usually with seven branches. A hanukkiyahhanukkiyahחֲנֻכִּיָּהNine-branched candelabra used during Hanukkah – eight branches for each night of the holiday, plus another branch (often taller, central, or more prominently displayed) for the shamash (helper) candle, which is used to light the others.  is a menorah used specifically on the holiday of Hanukkah. The hanukkiyah includes eight branches, enough to hold one light for each day of the holiday, and one extra branch to hold the shamashshamashשַׁמָּשׁHelper candle used to light the other candles in a menorah. , the extra light used to light the others. Originally, olive oil lamps were used as the source of light; today, many families prefer to use candles.

The hanukkiyah is lit shortly after dark on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah and blessings are recited.

On the first night, one light is put on the right side of hanukkiyah. On each subsequent night, an additional candle or lamp is placed to the immediate left of the previous night’s. The candles are lit from left to right, so we begin with lighting the newest light.

Because these lights are intended for the sole purpose of making the story of Hanukkah known rather than for practicality, the shamash is used to light the other candles. If we do use the Hanukkah lights for a practical use, we say we are using the light of shamash! Some families also observe the custom of keeping on a secondary light source in the same room.