Going Up? A Chanukah Lesson
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18th Century Chanukiya, Venice, Italy, from the collection of the National Library of Israel
The laws of lighting Chanukah lights are discussed in the Talmud. Read the description with Rabbi Steinsaltz's explanation below.
    תנו רבנן מצות חנוכה נר איש וביתו והמהדרין נר לכל אחד ואחד והמהדרין מן המהדרין.
    The Sages taught in a baraita: The basic mitzva of Hanukkah is each day to have a light kindled by a person, the head of the household, for himself and his household. And the mehadrin, i.e., those who are meticulous in the performance of mitzvot, kindle a light for each and every one in the household. And the mehadrin min hamehadrin, who are even more meticulous, adjust the number of lights daily.
    Pretend that you don't know how to light Chanukah candles.
    • What practical details aren't told in the Talmud's description? What is left unclear?
    • What are some of the possibilities for the number of lights that are lit each day? Try to think of as many possible answers as you can.
    The Talmud continues with a famous disagreement between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel over how to "adjust the number of lights daily".
    בית שמאי אומרים יום ראשון מדליק שמנה מכאן ואילך פוחת והולך ובית הלל אומרים יום ראשון מדליק אחת מכאן ואילך מוסיף והולך
    Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagree as to the nature of that adjustment. Beit Shammai say: On the first day one kindles eight lights and, from there on, gradually decreases the number of lights until, on the last day of Hanukkah, he kindles one light. And Beit Hillel say: On the first day one kindles one light, and from there on, gradually increases the number of lights until, on the last day, he kindles eight lights.
    • What is the difference between the two opinions?
    • What do YOU think could be the reasoning behind each opinion?
    • Which opinion to you agree with more? Why?
    • Why do you think we follow the opinion of Beit Hillel?
    • If we follow the opinion of Beit Hillel, why do you think Beit Shammai's opinion is presented also in the Talmud?
    • Whose opinion is presented first? Why do you think that is? What do you think we can learn from that?
    Click on the title of Shabbat 21b above to open the text in a full screen.
    Skim through the rest of the rules about lighting Chanukah lights.
    Give directions for lighting Chanukah lights for someone who has never done it before.
    Possible activities include:
    • Recording a how-to video for lighting Chanukah lights.
    • Designing a brochure or poster with instructions for candle lighting.
    • Writing a list of directions in the comment box below.