Some customs for the holiday of Hanoukah

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1)The custom in Egypt was not to say Sidouq HaDin all 8 days of Hanoukah.

2)The custom amongst all Middle Eastern and North African Jewish communities is to only use pure olive oil for the Hanoukah lights. The reason being that this is considered to be the best way to fulfill the commandment and because the holiday miracle occurred through olive oil.

3)When lighting, the custom as brought down by Maran, Hakham Yosef Karo, in his Shoulhan ‘Aroukh, is to start with the light on the right. Meaning that on the first night when you are going to light, you begin with the wick closest to your right hand. On the second night, you begin with the wick adjacent to the one you lit on the first night, them you light the one of the first night. On the 3rd night, you begin with the newest wick, and work your way back to the right.

And such is the manner on each night. By the last night you’ll be lighting that closest to your left hand first and moving to your right. In the same manner that we write English or any Western language.

Since the custom is to use oil wicks and not candles, we light with a candle and after the obligatory lights are kindled, the Shamash, or extra wick is kindled with the candle. The candle is then extinguished.

4)If you can safely light near your entranceway in order to publicize the Hanoukah miracle to those who pass by in the street that is great. If not you can feel comfortable knowing that you can follow the custom to light inside the house where it will be publicized to the family members. This is based upon MaHaRYQaSh ,in his gloss to the Shoulhan ‘Aroukh, chapter 671.

5)The custom is to follow the qabalah of the AR”I (as brought down in the Shoulhan ‘Aroukh) for the berakhah and to say “Lehadliq Ner Hanoukah” and not “……. shel hanoukah” even though that’s the way it’s mentioned in the Gemara and among the Rishonim. There are many reasons for this based upon both grammatical and mystical interpretations.

6)On Mossae Shabbat (Saturday night), the Shoulhan ‘Aroukh decreed that in the synagogue the Hanoukah lights should be kindled first then habdalah should be recited. And this is the way the law and custom was practiced in Aleppo, Syria. On the other hand many posqim, rishonim and aharonim, disagree with Maran regarding this, therefore there are variant customs. The custom in both Cairo and Alexandria was to say Habdalah first, both in the synagogue and at home. The custom in Jerusalem, according to Hakham Mosheh Pardo who was Ab Bet Din there, in his Shemo Mosheh, was also to say habdalah first even in the synagogue.

7)The custom on Friday afternoon/evening of Hanoukah as brought down in the HID”A’s Birke Yosef in the name of Hakham Shemouel Abohab is to pray Minhah in the synagogue the go home to kindle the Hanoukah lights, then to light the Shabbat wicks, the to return to synagogue for Qabalat Shabbat and ‘Arbit.

The question of course arises that since we do not consider the lighting of shabbat lights as the acceptance of Shabbat, why must we light Hanoukah prior to shabat lights? Isn’t there a well lnown rule that Tadir ve She-eno Tadir, Tadir Qodem, meaning that something that is done regularly done must take precedance over something that is not usually done. Any interesting comments?

8)On the Shabbat Eve occurring during Hanoukah, Bameh Madliqin is not recited.

9)In the synagogue the Hanoukah lights need to be placed against the Southern most wall. On the 1st night the Western most light will be lit first, etc… This is based upon an old responsa of HaRaDBa”Z, Hakham David Ibn Abi Zimra.

10)The custom in both Egypt and Jerusalem is to also light the Hanoukah lights in the synagogue during the daytime. This of course is done without a berakhah. The reason for this lighting is strictly for the sake of proclaiming the miracle since the light of these wicks is not needed during the day. It is also to help remind those who may not have lit at night for whatever reason what day of the holiday it is so they could light the proper number at night. In Egypt this was done before the commencement of prayers, in Jerusalem before Aromimkha.

11)The custom in Egypt during daily morning services of Hanoukah, is to recite the Hanoukah holiday mizmor (Psalms 30), immediately after the Sefer Torah is returned to the Heikhal and Qadish Titqabal is said. The Mizmor is said, followed by Qadish Yehe Shelema, the Qaveh and the qetoret are said. No other mizmorim are recited after qadish titqabal!

12)If prayers are being held in the house of a mourner during Hanoukah. Both the mourner and all those in attendance say Halel in the house of the mourner. The reason for this is that the Hanoukah Halel was established by the Hakhamim and we are commanded to recite it. On Rosh Hodesh the law would be different as Rosh Hodesh Halel is only a custom.

13)The custom in Tunisia is that all the while that the lights are burning the ladies do not do any work.

14)In Tunisia and Libya, Rosh Hodesh Tebet, is called Rosh Hodesh of the girls in remembrance of the heroics of Yehoudit. On this day parents send gifts to the girls and grooms to their brides to be.

15)The custom in Aleppo an in many other Sephardic cities was that prior to Hanoukah the shamash of the synagogue would give out a tall wax candle to each man which he would use for lighting the Hanoukah wicks. They in return would give him a small donation.

16)Rabbi Shem Tob Gaguine in his Keter Shem Tob mentions that the custom in Israel, Syria, Turkey, and Egypt would be to say the 1st berakhah of Lehadliq Ner Hanoukah then to light while saying the other berakhot. This is still the custom among most traditional families but there are already many who say all the berakhot prior to lighting.

17)The custom on Hanoukah is to eat a type of sweetened fried dough. In Egypt it was called Zalabya or Loqmat El Qadi. In Iraq and Syria it was called Zingol. In Turkey it was called Bilmuelos. In Greece it was called Lokomades.

This was the only traditional Sephardic item shared by almost all communities for Hanoukah.

18)The custom was never to give out presents or spin a top (dreydel/sevivon) on Hanoukah. these are traditions that came from Germanic lands and from living among Christians who exchanged presents for the Xmas holiday which usually coincided with hanoukah.

19)The berakhot are Lehadliq ner hanoukah and She’asah nisim. On the first night we also add the berakhah of shehehiyanou. After that we recite Hanerot Halalou (the version that has 51 words not 36 words) then we recite Mizmor shir hanoukat habayit ledavid (psalm 30). Ma’oz Sour is not sung!

20)The law and custom for Sepharadim is that only 1 Hanoukah is used for the entire family. Not like the Ashkenazi custom of each member of the family lighting their own personal Hanoukah. In most traditional families in order to share in the love of the missvah, the head of the household will give each member of the family a chance to light. On the 1st night he will light the 1st wick and he’ll let his wife light the shamash. On the 2nd night he’ll light the newest wick, his wife the next, then the oldest child the shamash, etc.. for all 8 nights.

21)Sepharadim until recently never called the Hanoukah lights by the name of Menorah or Hanoukiyah it was simply refered to as Hanoukah.

1)Prior to the expulsion from Spain in 1492 there were indigenous Jewish communities in Israel, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, etc.. When the Sepharadim came from Spain there were always conflicts with the older resident communities. Over time the communities meshed and molded into one. One rare case though was in Aleppo, Syria. The indigenous community who were known as Must’arabim remained a Separate community with there own peculiar ancient liturgy until about 1930. Those from Spain who lived in Aleppo had and have a special Hanoukah custom till today. Those Spanish Aleppo Jews light one extra light on each night of Hanoukah. One the 1st night when all the Jews of the world light 2 lights (1 plus the shamash), they light 3 (one plus the shamash plus an extra shamash). By the end of the holiday when we all have 9 (8 plus the shamash), these Spanish Aleppians have 10 (8 plush the shamash plus the extra shamash). The reason for this custom is that after the expulsion from Spain they finally found haven in Aleppo but the indigenous community would not accept them into the community at first. But by Hanoukah they were finally accepted. This of course caused them much joy, they deemed it a miracle for themselves and their families for all times that they decided to light an extra light each night of the holiday. These are some of the families which I know to be of these Spanish Aleppians who adhere to this custom till today. Haber, Attie, Tawil, Betesh, Sutton. Do you know any others? I’d love to know!!

2) Regarding the singing of Maoz Sour. Some have wondered that if it is not a Sephardic song how it has crept into our homes and synagogues. The answer is quite simple. Ashkenazi and Israeli educators in our Jewish Hebrew Day Schools.

3)There is a custom in Morocco at the end of the holiday to gather up from each home all the remaining wicks and oil from the holiday and make a bonfire. the children all partake in this and revel in jumping around it. Some have mocked at this custom but I have found it mentioned by none other than Rabbi Eliyahou Ben Amozegh!! See his amazing commentary to the Torah, entitled Em LaMiqra, Perashat Shofetim!!!

4)I have also found out that in the Old City of Jerusalem there was a custom for the last day of the Holiday to make a tremendous feast for all the poor children of the city. This was based upon the fact that Perashat Miqess was always read towards the end of the holiday and there is a verse there that says “Shoubou Shibrou Lano MeAt Okhel” “Return there and gather up for us some food” They turned this into a tradition to gather up food throughout the holiday and make a special feast for all the needy children and to use the extra funds and food to give them small stipends for the long harsh winter.

5)I mentioned the custom of eating a special type of Fried dough that was sweetened with syrup or Powdered sugar. I have just found out that the Lebanese Jews do the same thing and they call them Awamat. The Syrians and particularly those from Damascus have a special pastry called ‘Atayif for Hanoukah. It is thin round dough which is stuffed with nuts and sugar and folded in half and deep fried. It is then drizzled with a sugary syrup while hot and served up fresh.

6)Here is one response which I received on my question about why we light the Hanoukah lights before the Shabbat lights on Friday afternoon. “Also, re the tadir rule vis-a-vis Friday evening – this rule applies when both misvot are of equal importance. However, since nerot Hanukka are clearly inferior to nerot Shabbat, we apply the rule ma’alin bakodesh, hence the minhag as we know it”

Happy Hanoukah, Joseph Mosseri

Posted with permission from Joseph Mosseri

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