RISMEDIA, Dec. 5, 2007-December 5 marks the first full day of Hanukkah. Also known as the Festival of Lights, it is an eight-day Jewish holiday beginning on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may fall anytime from late November to late December. It celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple at the time of the Maccabee rebellion.
A well known tradition for this holiday is the kindling of lights on each night of the holiday: one on the first night, two on the second, and so on. Hanukkah is celebrated by a series of rituals that are performed every day throughout the eight-day holiday. Some are family-based and others are communal.
The primary ritual however, according to Jewish law and custom, is to light a single light each night for eight nights. As a universally practiced “beautification” of the mitzvah, the number of lights lit is increased by one each night. An extra light called a shamash, meaning guard or servant is also lit each night, and is given a distinct location, usually higher or lower than the others. The purpose of the extra light is to adhere to the prohibition, specified in the Talmud, against using the Hanukkah lights for anything other than publicizing and meditating on the Hanukkah story. So all together, including the shamash, two lights are lit on the first night, three on the second and so on, ending with nine on the last night, for a total of 44.
The lights can be candles or oil lamps. Electric lights are sometimes used and are acceptable in places where open flame is not permitted, such as a hospital room. Most Jewish homes have a special candelabrum or oil lamp holder for Hanukkah, which holds eight lights plus the additional shamash light.
The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for the “lighting of the house within,” but rather for the “illumination of the house without,” so that passers-by should see it and be reminded of the holiday. Accordingly lamps are set up at a prominent window or near the door leading to the street.
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