What Is a Hanukkiyah?

hanukkiyah Credit: iStock

The Hanukkiyah, also known as the Hanukkah menorah, is a candelabra used in the celebration of Hanukkah. It consists of eight candleholders in a line, with an additional candleholder in the center set higher than the others. The center candle on a Hanukkiyah is called a Shamash, and is used to light each of the other eight candles. Hanukkiyot can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, as long as they have eight main candleholders and a Shamash. While Hanukkiyot today use candles, the original Hanukkiyot were oil lamps.

Hanukkiyot and Menorahs
While a Hanukkiyah is a type of menorah, the two words are not synonymous. A menorah is a symbolic object, representing the history and traditions of the Jewish Faith. Instead of having eight candleholders and a Shamash, menorahs have seven evenly spaced candleholders. Menorahs were present in the early temples in Jerusalem, and were used by the high priests, known as the Kohanim. They were lit by the priests each evening using olive oil. In synagogues today a light called “Ner Tamid,” or “Everlasting Light” can be found above the Torah. This light represents the menorahs from the original temples in Jerusalem that were destroyed in 70 C.E.

Origin of the Hanukkiyah
The Hanukkiyah is lit during Hanukkah to commemorate a miracle recorded in the books of the First and Second Maccabees. According to the story of Hanukkah, after Jewish revolutionaries had defeated the Syrians, they were able to take back their Temple in Jerusalem. They wished to purify the Temple, but the purification ritual required that they burn the menorah for eight days, and they only had one day’s worth of oil. They decided to light the menorah with the day’s worth of oil and, miraculously, the menorah stayed lit for the full eight days.

How to Light the Hanukkiyah
Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights, is celebrated each December in recognition of the miracle. During the eight days of Hanukkah, a candle on the Hanukkiyah is lit each evening. Each day increases the amount of candles lit by one, so by the last day of Hanukkah, all eight candles are lit. Each candle is lit using the ninth candle, or the Shamash. Each night, the Shamash is lit first, then is used to light each of the other candles.

Candles on a Hanukkiyah are lit from left to right each night, with the last candle to be lit in the leftmost spot. This is to prevent the first night’s candle from always being lit first, and indicating that the first night is the most important night of the holiday. The lit Hanukkiyah is typically placed in a window to remind others of the miracle of the Hanukkah oil.