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By: Rabbi Daniel D. Levy



                      Why is this holiday called Hanukah?

A– The word “Hanukah” is composed of two parts: Hanu and kafheh. We translate it to mean that the Jewish people camped on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, after defeating the enemy. This significant event marked the end of the battle to recapture the Temple.

B– Although the actual inauguration of the Mishkan in the desert did not take place until Rosh Hodesh Nissan, the building of it was completed by the 25th of Kislev. According to this explanation, the word “Hanukah” means Hinuch Hamishkan – the dedication of
the Mishkan.

C– The Kaf Hachaim brings down that the services performed in the Bet Mikdash, which had ceased due to the threat of our enemy, resumed on this day, the 25th of Kislev. For this reason, the day was called “Hanukah,” meaning the rededication of the Temple. Hanukah is a most appropriate time for one to dedicate their energy to serving Hashem, just as the Jews rededicated their service in the Bet Hamikdash.




               This holiday is the only one that falls out
               at the end of the Hebrew month, during the
               long, dark winter nights. Is there any
               significance to that?

Yes. The spiritual lights of this holiday are so powerful they can illuminate our souls even in the darkest nights of our bitter and lengthy galut (exile).



3            What Is The Origin of the custom of playing
               dreidel on Hanukah?

The Sefer Minhagim of the Hatam Sofer relates how he played with a silver dreidel on one of the nights of Hanukah.

The Bnei Yissachar (Maamar 2:25) explains that the letters on the dreidel pertain to the special abilities of a person.

Gimmal = gufani – which refers to one’s physical strength.

Nun = nafshi – which refers to the spiritual strength of the soul.

Shin = sichli – which refers to one’s intellectual abilities.

Heh = hakol – which means ‘everything’.

Babylon, Madai, and the Greeks correspond to these forces. The word Mashiach has the same numerical value as Nun Gimmal Heh Shin (358) leading us to believe he will override these negative forces.

The Otzar Minhagei Yeshurun brings that the Greeks decreed that it was forbidden to learn Torah. When the enemy approached, the Jews played dreidel to conceal their involvement in Torah study. The handle that spins the dreidel is spun from on top, symbolizing Itaruta Dilela – the heavenly arousal that Hashem bestows from above. In comparison, on Purim, the grogger spins from below, symbolizing Itaruta Diltata –the Jewish peoples’ self-motivated awakening which aroused Heavenly mercy from above.



               In what way can one transform a simple
               Hanukah party into a spiritual and
               festive meal?

The Shulhan Aruch (Orach Haim 370:2) states that the numerous meals eaten on Hanukah are not collectively considered a mitzvah. This is because they were not instituted by the Rabbis. After all, the primary miracle was connected to the candles (not like Purim, where the main miracle did happen through a meal.)

The Ramah, however, is of the belief that there is a small mitzvah to eat these meals since the Hanukat Hamizbeach (rededication of the altar in the Bet Hamikdash) was during this period of time. He suggests that by singing praises to Hashem at the Hanukah meal, one has the power to transform a simple dinner into a Seudat Mitzvah (Tanchumah.) Giving over words of Torah is another powerful means by which to transform the meal into a Seudat Mitzvah.



                      Is the Hallel recited in a Beit Avel
               (mourner’s house) on Hanukah?

The Shaare Teshuvah (O.C. 643:1) brings to light an argument between the Pri Hadash who says it should not be recited, and the Eliyah Rabbah (131:9) and Machazik Berachah who say it should be recited. The Kaf Hachaim is of the opinion that it should be recited.

Likewise, there is a machloket (argument) over whether an Avel himself is obligated to recite the Hallel. The Mishnah Berurah (643:1) brings down the opinion of the Birkei Yosef, who says an Avel should not recite Hallel. Many take issue with this (including the Kaf Hachaim, the Hida in Machazik Berachah and Rabbi Akiva Eiger) and insist that the obligation of reciting Hallel on Rosh Hodesh is only a custom, whereas on Hanukah it is a full-fledged obligation and part of the integral theme of the holiday. Hacham Ovadia also believes this to be true. Thus a mourner should go with the majority opinion and recite Hallel.



               On Hanukah, what are the appropriate
               Torah readings?

The Shulhan Aruch (O.C. 682:1) states that the sacrifices of the Nesiim (heads of each tribe) in Parashat Naso is read on Hanukah. This is because the completion of the Mishkan occurred on the 25th day of Kislev and corresponds to the first day of Hanukah. [Mishnah Berurah ibid]. The prevailing Sephardic custom, in accordance with the Shulhan Aruch, is to begin the initial reading on the first day of Hanukah with Birkat Kohanim, since the miracle happened through them. Many Ashkenazim have the custom to commence right after that point beginning with the words Vayhi Kehalot Moshe. On the eighth day of Hanukah, the reading begins with Bayom Hashemini and continues through the end of the parasha, concluding with the first verses of Parashat Be’haalotecha, which mentions the making of the menorah.



               Is one allowed to fast for a yahrtzeit
               or for any other reason on Hanukah? 

The Ramah (O.C. 670:3) brings that one should not fast on Hanukah even for the yahrtzeit of a parent. Regarding taanit chalom (the customary fast for specific bad dreams), Hanukah has the same halachah as Shabbat in regards to which dreams render it apropos to fast.



               What should one do if he forgot Al Hanissim?

The Shulhan Aruch (O.C. 682:1) states that Al Hanissim should be recited in Birkat Hamazon and in the Amidah on all eight days of Hanukah. (In the Amidah, Al Ha’nissim can be found in the blessing of Modim). If one accidentally omitted it, one should not repeat the Birkat Hamazon or Amidah, since saying this beracha is not a Torah obligation (Mishnah Berurah 682:3). However, if one remembers that he forgot to say it while he is in the midst of the beracha of Modim, or Birkat Haaretz in Birkat Hamazon, one should return to the beginning of this blessing and recite Al Hanissim. This is the case as long as he did not yet conclude the beracha with Hashem’s name.

The Biur Halachah (114:5) mentions that one should insert Al Hanissim in the midst of Birkat Modim at the place that he remembers and continue with ve’al kulam. The Ramah (682:1) recommends that if one forgot Al Hanissim in Birkat Hamazon one should say Harachaman – The Merciful One. The two relate to one another. In both, we’re essentially asking that Hashem perform miracles for us just as He did with our forefathers at this time of year generations ago. Even places that have the custom to pray an abbreviated Minhah without hazarat hashatz (repetition of the Amidah) should have the hazan repeat the Amidah in order to say aloud the significant prayer of Al Hanissim on Hanukah.



               Is it customary to eulogize one
               who has passed away on Hanukah?

The Shulhan Aruch (O.C. 670:3) states that the only type of person who is eulogized on Hanukah is a Hacham (distinguished scholar), and only when the deceased is present.

The Kaf Hachaim (O.C. 670:19) proclaims that it is customary to give the Avel (mourner) a seudat havraah (first consoling meal) on Hanukah as usual. Likewise, the regular laws of burial and sitting shivah are applicable on Hanukah. However, many have the custom not to go to the cemetery on Hanukah at the conclusion of shivah, 30-day, or one-year yahrtzeit. Doing so can arouse crying and eulogizing which should be avoided on these joyous days. To prevent this from occurring, it is recommended to go to the cemetery right before or right after the holiday.



                 Are women obligated to recite Hallel
                on Hanukah?

There is an argument amongst the poskim (Rabbinic authorities) regarding whether or not women are obligated to recite Hallel on Hanukah, just as they are obligated to light the Hanukah candles since they were an essential part of the miracle. The Moadim Uzmanim (Vol. 2;146) explains that the mitzvah to light the Hanukah candles was instituted because of the Hanukah miracle specifically (which women were part of), whereas the mitzvah to recite Hallel on Hanukah is part of a general obligation to thank Hashem when he makes miracles for us and saves us, as we do on holidays. Saying Hallel is therefore considered a time-bound mitzvah, which women are exempt from. He does recommend, however, that women recite the Hallel regardless, to fulfill all opinions. Hacham Ovadia (in Hazon Ovadia) is of the opinion that women are exempt from reciting Hallel on Hanukah just as they are exempt from reciting Hallel on all other holidays. However, if they would like to recite Hallel, they may do so without a beracha.