In order to make sure your Hanukkah is properly lit this year, we checked in with Rabbi Rachel Barenblat of Williamstown on the proper way to light your menorah this holiday season.

But first, the basics:

  • Hanukkah began Sunday and is celebrated until the last night on Monday, Dec. 6.
  • Hanukkah (alternately spelled Chanukah), means "dedication" in Hebrew, and commemorates the victory of Jewish rebels over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E. and the liberation and "rededication" of the Temple in Jerusalem, according to ReformJudaism.org. It is celebrated among families and friends by singing songs, giving blessings, telling stories, playing games and eating special foods, but most importantly, it’s celebrated by lighting the candles of the menorah.
  • A menorah is a candelabra, which is a large candlestick holder for several candles and has many arms or branches. While a candlestick holds one candle, a candelabra holds many.

“Technically a ‘menorah’ has seven branches while a chanukah menorah, or chanukiyah, has nine branches, for eight candles and one shamash,” said Barenblat.

There is one candle for each night of Hanukkah, and the ninth candle, which sits in the middle, is known as the shamash, which translates to attendant or servant candle. This candle is lit first and is used to light the others.

While it’s technically incorrect to call the 9-branch candelabra a menorah, it’s become more acceptable over time.

The candles are typically lit just after sunset, or when everyone in the household or group is able to gather, except on Friday nights when the candles should be lit before the sun sets. Candles should stay lit for at least 30 minutes before being extinguished, although, many will prefer to let candles burn until they extinguish themselves. The menorah should be placed on a table near a window, and preferably to the left side of the door.

On the first night, you will need two candles, one as the shamash and one for the first night of the holiday. The second night you will add one candle, so you will have a total of three. Because the candles must burn for a minimum of 30 minutes, you should expect to go through an entire box of 44-count Hanukkah candles by the end of the eighth day.

Once you have your menorah, the candles, a light source, a copy of the blessings (if needed) and your family and friends, you’re ready to begin. The candle lighting is done while standing, and can be performed by anyone regardless of age or gender. Here are instructions, transcribed and edited from Chabad.org.

How to place the menorah candles

When placing the candles of the menorah, work from right to left. The menorah has one candle for each night of Hanukkah, which is celebrated for eight nights. There will be an extra candle in the middle, known as the shamash, which is used to light the other candles. 

1. Begin by placing the shamash in the middle. Then place the candles for each night of the holiday from right to left. The candle of the first night will be placed on the far right, and the candle for the second night will be placed in the position to the immediate left of the first. No need to place the other candles until they are needed until the following nights.

2. Once all the candles are placed, it’s time to light the shamash. You may use matches or lighter, but only light this middle candle for now.

3. Put down the flame source and pick up the shamash with either hand. Begin to recite the appropriate blessings.

How to light the menorah

Light the shamash candle first before giving the blessings. Then, take this candle in your hand and light the others, working from left to right. The most recent candle gets the light first. 

4. Once the blessings are finished, begin lighting the candles, from left to right, using the shamash and not the matches or lighter. By lighting the candles left to right, the newest night gets the newest light.

5. And that’s it. Reminder to keep the lit flames within sight for safety reasons. The menorah should not be moved while lit. If a flame accidentally goes out, it’s okay to relight it.

Jess Gamari can be reached at jgamari@berkshireeagle.com.

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Jess Gamari has worked at The Berkshire Eagle since 2016. She was previously a Berkshires Week intern in 2013 and a North Adams Transcript summer intern in 2009.