The Definition and Symbolism of a Hanukkah Menorah or Hanukkiyah

A Brief History of the 8-Branch Candelabrum

Menorah with lit candles

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The hanukkiyah, pronounced ha-noo-kee-yah, is also known as a Hanukkah menorah.

A hanukkiyah is a candelabrum with eight candleholders in a row and a ninth candleholder set a slightly higher than the others. It's different from a menorah, which has seven branches and was used in the Temple before it was destroyed in 70 C.E. A hanukkiyah is nevertheless a kind of menorah.

The hanukkiyah is used during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and commemorates the miracle of the oil lasting for much longer than it should have. According to the Hanukkah story, once Jewish revolutionaries had retaken the Temple from the Syrians they wanted to rededicate it to God and restore its ritual purity. Eight days worth of oil were needed to complete the ritual purification, but they were only able to find enough oil for the menorah to burn for one day. They lit the menorah with the remaining one day's worth of oil, and miraculously the oil lasted for eight full days. 

In commemoration of this event, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and a candle is lit on the hanukkiyah on each of those days. A new candle is lit every night so that by the time you have reached the eighth night of Hanukkah, all of the candles on the hanukkiyah are lit. One candle is lit on the first night, two the second, and so on, until the final night when all the candles are lit. Each of the eight candles is lit with a “helper” candle known as the shamash. The shamash rests in the one candleholder that is slightly higher than the rest. It is lit first, then used to light the other candles, and finally, it is returned to the ninth candle spot, which is set apart from the others.

How to Use a Hanukkah Menorah

It is customary to light the candles on the hanukkiyah from left to right, with the newest candle being in the leftmost spot. This custom arose so that the candle for the first night would not always be lit before the others, which might be taken to symbolize that the first night was more important than the other nights of Hanukkah.

It is also customary to place the lit hanukkiyah in a window so that passersby will see it and be reminded of the miracle of the Hanukkah oil. It is forbidden to use the light of the hanukkiyah for any other purpose – for instance, to light the dinner table or to read by.

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Pelaia, Ariela. "The Definition and Symbolism of a Hanukkah Menorah or Hanukkiyah." Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, Pelaia, Ariela. (2020, August 27). The Definition and Symbolism of a Hanukkah Menorah or Hanukkiyah. Retrieved from Pelaia, Ariela. "The Definition and Symbolism of a Hanukkah Menorah or Hanukkiyah." Learn Religions. (accessed June 8, 2023).