Our Rabbi‎ > ‎

Halacha Tidbits

CTI Laws and Customs of Chanukah

posted Dec 5, 2014, 7:07 AM by Tiferet Israel Austin   [ updated Nov 5, 2015, 8:25 PM ]

Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev, which this year corresponds to Tuesday night, December 16th. The last night of Chanukah is the 2nd of Tevet, beginning Tuesday night, December 23rd.  These are days of hallel ve-hoda'ah, praise and thanksgiving, and days for contemplating the role of miracles in our lives.  We commemorate Jewish resistance and military strength as well as the miracle of long-lasting oil in rededicating the Temple, events which took place in the 2nd century BCE.  We also celebrate retaining our Jewish identity in the face of powerful forces of assimilation in those times.

The central ritual observance of these days is the lighting of candles in our homes and in public gathering places.  Many laws and customs, from liturgical to gastronomical, have developed around these days as well.  One of the central motivating values of the holiday's observances is pirsumei nisa – publicizing the miracles – to ourselves, our communities, and the broader world.

Chanukah Candles and Setting up the Chanukiah

While there are a few customs regarding who lights and how many candles, our widespread custom is to have every member of the household light, and light as many candles as the night of Chanukah that it is.  If this poses a hardship, one may even have one household member light one candle per night.

 Candles or oil may be used for the lighting of Chanukah candles (an electric chanukiah should not be used unless there is no other choice.  In that case, most agree that a blessing should not be said). Olive oil is recommended because the miracle of the oil occurred with olive oil.  There is an element of hiddur mitzvah, beautifying the commandment, with using nice, tall candles that burn smoothly.  The chanukiah is set up by adding each new night's candle to the left of the previous (ie. inserting candles from right to left), and lighting from left to right.  A chanukiah is simply anything which can hold the candles – even a series of candle holders will do, although there is an element of hiddur mitzvah in having a beautiful chanukiah.  The chanukiah should be arranged so that a viewer can see each light distinctly from the next (semi-circular or wave patterns may be allowed although not preferred – feel free to contact us if you need further guidance).  In addition, multiple chanukiot in a row should be separated so that they can be seen as individual ones.

One may not derive functional benefit from the Chanukah candles.  Therefore, a shamash (helper candle) is lit as well. This (together with overhead lighting) resolves many complicated questions that would otherwise arise.

Location of Chanukiah

In Rabbinic times, the chanukiah was placed in the doorway (on the left side, opposite the mezuzah) facing the public domain in order to publicize the miracle to passersby.  In those times, one who did not have direct access to the public domain lit in a window facing that area.  If it were not possible to light in those places for reasons of danger, one simply brought the chanukiah to the table inside.  Nowadays, for those who have houses, lighting in the doorway is still a desirable option if it is safe and can be guarded from wind.  Most people with houses or who live within 20 amot (~30 feet) of the ground, though, follow a widespread custom to light in a window and fulfill the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle to those in their own home, and additionally to passersby.  Because the rabbis estimate that people tend not to look up above 20 amot, those who live on higher floors of an apartment fulfill their obligation of publicizing the miracle by lighting in the presence of members of their household.  As such, there is no need to light in the window.  Nonetheless, the prevailing custom is still to do so.  This also makes the lights visible to neighbors on higher floors who can see from their windows, which fulfills publicizing the miracle to them according to some opinions.

Time and Duration of Lighting

There are many opinions about the preferred lighting time.  Our custom is to light candles at nightfall. The candles should remain lit for at least half an hour.  If one cannot light at nightfall, one should light as soon after as possible.  While technically, one may light until daybreak, it is strongly preferred to be sure to light only while people are still awake in the house in which one is lighting in order to perform pirsumei nisa to those household members.

On Friday afternoon, the Chanukah candles should be lit right before the Shabbat candles.  Since this lighting is performed earlier in the day than usual and the candles need to burn past nightfall, we use candles or oil that will last about an hour and a half. (You can buy larger candles or you can use tea lights.)

On Saturday night after Shabbat there are differing customs; there are those that recite Havdalah and then light Chanukah candles (preferencing the common thing – Havdalah), and those that do the opposite (preferencing pirsumei nisa).  At home, one who lights Chanukah candles first should be careful that if one has not said Maariv and included the Atah Chonantanu (Havdalah formula) in the Shemoneh Esrei, one needs to say the Havdalah phrase “Barukh Hamavdil bein kodesh le-chol” before lighting.  In synagogues, the custom is to light the Chanukah candles first.

Each night of Chanukah, when the time has come for lighting, one should refrain from other activities (business, study, eating, and the like) until one has lit.  In general, one should try to come home to light candles.  For many working people, this is very difficult.  One should therefore be cautious to light as soon as possible upon arriving home (leaving a reminder of some kind (a note, an alarm, or the like) is a way to show sensitivity to this concern).  One may also wait until the whole family has gathered if there is a designated way to remember to light and not forget.

 It is customary for women to refrain from work for the half hour after the lights have been lit in commemoration of their role in the miracles of Chanukah.


The situations of one who is not in one's own home at night are diverse and complicated.  A few brief guidelines are given here; don't hesitate to ask if you have more questions.  If one will not return to one's home until after everyone has gone to sleep, one should have a representative light for him/her at home.  One may then light when returning home, but should do so without a blessing.  One staying in a motel/hotel should try to light there.  Where one cannot light in one's place, one should strive to have a representative light for him/her in his/her home.  A guest in someone else's home should strive to light in the host's home or to acquire a share in host's lighting with a minimal financial contribution.  One who lives in a dormitory should light in one's room where possible and safe.  Otherwise, if there is a common dining hall, one may light there.

The Blessings

Before lighting on the first night (but after the shamash has been lit) we recite three blessings, found on page 782 in the ArtScroll siddur: 1) Lehadlik ner shel Chanukah (to light the light of Chanukah) 2) She’asah nissim la'avoteinu (Who performed miracles for our ancestors), and 3) Shehechiyanu (Who gave us life).  On all subsequent nights we only recite the first 2 blessings.  Once the blessings are recited we light the candles and it is customary to sing the songs Hanerot Hallalu and Maoz Tzur found in the siddur.  Some are careful to begin saying Hanerot Hallalu as soon as the first candle is lit, since that is the basic fulfillment of the commandment to light, and others say it after all lights have been lit.


Full Hallel is recited all eight days of Chanukah in recognition of each day representing a unique miracle.

 Al Hanisim (for the miracles) is recited in the Modim (Thanksgiving) blessing of the Amidah and the Nodeh (Thanksgiving) blessing of Birkat Hamazon all eight days.  If forgotten, it need not be repeated.  However, if one remembers that one did not recite it before saying God's name in the conclusion of the blessing, one can return to the insertion point, insert it, and complete the blessing.  After that point, one can insert it in the concluding supplication paragraph of the Amidah or in the Harahaman section of Birkat Hamazon.  There is no mention of Chanukah in the Al Hamichya after-blessing.  As with many other joyous occasions, Tahanun is omitted along with other small changes to the prayer service.  The Torah portions of the tribal princes’ Tabernacle gifts are read daily.


It is customary to consume dairy in commemoration of a heroine of Chanukah, Yehudit, who fed an oppressive tyrant Greek ruler dairy to tire him, and then was victorious over him.  A widespread custom is to eat foods with oil to commemorate the miracle being done with oil.  Sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and latkes (potato pancakes) are two prime examples.

Safety is a major concern on Chanukah.  Please do not leave your home with candles unattended (unless they are protected in a way where there is no chance of fire). The candles need only burn for a half an hour, therefore if one needs to leave their home they may blow out the candles after half an hour.

We at CTI wish you a bright and happy Chanukah!

CTI Yom Kippur Guidelines 5775

posted Sep 28, 2014, 7:25 PM by Tiferet Israel Austin   [ updated Dec 22, 2014, 7:37 PM ]

Yom Kippur is a day designed to bring God and the Jewish people closer together. Through its powerful liturgy and practices, Yom Kippur can inspire deep meaning, soul searching, and joy.  It is our hope that these guides will help explain the basic practical laws of the day and some of their underlying meanings so that we can live the days in accordance with tradition. We urge you to be in touch with us with any questions about these laws or others. The positions indicated tend to represent majority opinion or widespread practice, but not always the breadth of halakhic possibility. Don't hesitate to follow up and ask.  

Note: Yom Kippur coincides with Shabbat this year.  Please see section of Yom Kippur and Shabbat for more information. 

The Days Before Yom Kippur

The days before Yom Kippur are a good time to visit or call friends, family and community members whom you might have hurt and ask for forgiveness. Asking forgiveness is an integral part of the holiday. The Talmud says (Yoma 87b) “For sins between man and God Yom Kippur atones, but for sins between a one and one’s fellow, Yom Kippur does not atone until one appeases one’s fellow.”

In addition to seeking forgiveness, it is also important to grant to those who ask. “When R. Zeira would have grounds [for a grievance] against someone, he would pass in front [of the offender], thereby making himself available to him so that he would come and appease him.” 

Erev Yom Kippur

As this day has a mini-yom tov aspect to it, the Selichot are abbreviated, and Tahanun and related tefillot are omitted at Shacharit and Mincha.  Mizmor L’Todah is also omitted, as is Avinu Malkeinu (except at Shacharit this year).

Many have the custom to immerse in the mikvah on Erev Yom Kippur. Unlike Tisha B'Av, the meal before the Yom Kippur fast (seudah hamafseket) is a joyous one. “R. Chiyya bar R. Difti taught: anyone who eats and drinks on the ninth, the Scriptures considers it as if one fasted on the ninth and the tenth.” (Yoma 81b).  One may eat after the meal is completed and before the fast begins as long as one did not officially accept the fast.

Candles are lit, with the blessing Baruch Ata ... l'hadlik ner shel Yom ha-Kippurim, followed by Shehechiyanu. Memorial candles are lit for the departed. These may be lit at home or in the synagogue. The fast begins at sundown, 7:13pm this year.  Yom Kippur originates the notion of “adding on to” yom tov, a practice we follow on Shabbat and holidays as well by lighting candles well before sundown.  We try to bring in the fast and the yom tov early, beginning Kol Nidre around candlelighting time.

Yom Kippur Restrictions

Yom Kippur is referred to in the Torah as “Shabbat Shabbaton”, the Sabbath of Sabbaths. The same 39 categories of labor that we refrain from on Shabbat also apply on Yom Kippur, including using electricity, conducting business, cooking, carrying without an eruv, and more.

Five additional restrictions apply:

  • Eating and drinking – Children over the age of 9 or so should start to try fasting according to their ability. Those who are ill, elderly, pregnant or nursing, or have medical conditions should consult medical professionals and a rabbi to determine whether or not they should fast.
  • Wearing leather footwear – We refrain from wearing leather footwear on Yom Kippur. This includes all parts of the shoe. Other leather-wear (belts, kippot, etc) is permitted.
  • Bathing or washing – this prohibition applies to all parts of the body, with warm or cold water. The exceptions are: upon waking, one performs the ritual morning washing up to the knuckles; after using the bathroom; kohanim before blessing the congregation; if one’s hands became soiled, and for health reasons.
  • Applying ointment, lotions, or creams – creams, lotions, perfume, and deodorant are forbidden.
  • Sexual relationsat least at night, spouses refrain from meaningful touch and sharing a bed. 

Yom Kippur in Shul

Yom Kippur begins with Kol Nidre. One of the most famous prayers in our liturgy, Kol Nidre is also one of the most mysterious. Its haunting melody contrasts with its straightforward legal procedure for annulling vows. Those who wear a tallit do so during the Kol Nidre and Maariv service. It is left unfolded for the morning service. Many also wear a kittel, the white robe worn at a wedding and at burial, on Yom Kippur.

During the recitation of the Shema during Yom Kippur, the custom is to recite the words baruch shem kevod malchuto l’olam va’ed aloud.

The viduy, or confession, is recited many times throughout the amidot of the day. Al Cheit and Ashamnu are two prayers that alphabetically list all types of wrongs committed by the collective Jewish people. We ask for forgiveness as a collective. During the listing of the sins, the custom is to strike the left side of chest with the right hand.

The Mussaf [additional] Amidah of the Yom Kippur service is another highlight from the liturgy. The powerful high holiday piyyutim are included, in addition to the viduy and the avodah – the recitation of the sacrificial service performed in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The service concludes with the Ne'ilah [closing] prayer, which begins shortly before sunset, when the "gates of prayer" will be closed. Yom Kippur comes to an end with a recitation of Shema Yisrael and the blowing of the shofar, which marks the conclusion of the fast, this year at 7:49pm.

After Yom Kippur

After Maariv, Kiddush Levanah (blessing of the new moon) is recited.  The prevalent practice is to do some work on Sukkah preparations so that the very night following Yom Kippur be spent bridging Yom Kippur with Sukkot.

Yom Kippur and Shabbat

This year, Yom Kippur coincides with Shabbat.  While our basic observances are the same, there are some noteworthy changes to the liturgy.  We light the candles with the expanded blessing, Baruch Ata... l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat v’shel Yom ha-Kippurim.  We add Avinu Malkeinu back on Friday morning, and we omit it at all the Yom Kippur services - except Ne’ilah.  We add small additions for Shabbat throughout the services, and when we say the blessing …mekadeish haShabbat on Friday night after the silent Amidah, we should have in mind fulfilling the obligation to sanctify the Shabbat. 

G’mar chatimah tovah - may we, our families and communities be sealed for a healthy and a good year!

1-2 of 2