Questions About Chanukah

Real questions, submitted by actual OU Torah followers, with their real answers. NOTE: For questions of practical halacha, please consult your own rabbi for guidance.

Q. I know the 18th of December is a Jewish holiday, but I am honestly not sure which holiday. I Googled to help answer this question but I don't think any of those are Jewish holidays. [The questioner included a screenshot of a list including Arabic Language Day, Give a Wine Club Day, International Answer the Telephone Like Buddy the Elf Day (no kidding!) and National Ham Salad Day, among others.] I'm not good at Jeopardy so I won't wager a lot, just a guess: “What is Chanukah?”

A. Thanks for your question. The reason for the confusion is because Chanukah isn't Dec. 18 per se. Chanukah is an eight-day holiday that starts on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. This year, that happens to fall on the evening of December 18; in other years, it will begin on different days!


Q. It seems to me that there must be some connection between Chanukah and the fast of Tevet. What are your thoughts?

A. Thanks for your message. I have a younger cousin who is much more spiritually-inclined than I am. He once asked me why Chazal put Simchas Torah on Shemini Atzeres. My answer of “They had to put it somewhere and there was a perfectly good yom tov just sitting there” was completely unacceptable to him. But I honestly believe that any significance we read into it isn't the reason for it, it's a lesson we derive from it.

I'd say the same applies here: there's no real connection to their proximity. Chazal established a holiday in Kislev-Teves because of what happened then; they established a fast in Teves because of what happened then. Any moral we derive from their juxtaposition is a lesson based on the proximity, not Chazal’s reason for it. (That doesn’t mean those lessons are wrong, it’s just a question of sequence.)

On the other hand, there are no coincidences. God no doubt had His reasons for having us put a fast on 10 Teves, so close to where Chanukah would be.* The lessons we derive from their proximity may shed some light onto those reasons but we have no way of knowing. So while it’s perfectly valid to look for meaning in the calendar, it’s a dangerous game to attribute our conclusions to God's motivations!

*Note: Historically, the fast of Asara b'Teves was established first - it's mentioned in Zechariah chapter 8, while Chanukah occurred after the Bible canon was closed.


Q. This article [The questioner included a link to an article] states that the Feast of Dedication is not mentioned in the Bible. John 10:22 specifically mentions Jesus at the Feast of Dedication in the winter. Please amend and document.

A. Thanks for your message. The story of Chanukah – which is a Jewish holiday – happened after the Jewish Bible canon closed. When a Jewish site refers to "the Bible" without qualifying it, it's understood from context that the referent is the Jewish Bible and not the Christian Bible, which was written after the Chanukah story and could (and apparently does) mention the holiday.

Please note that the article you sent me does not appear on our site; it’s from an online free dictionary. If you feel the entry needs correcting, you’d have to contact them directly.


Q. If one is using self-standing olive oil candles for Chanukah, how do you light the other candles using the shamash? Thanks!

A. The shamash need not be used to light the other candles. The reason for the shamash is that we're not permitted to use the light of the Chanukah candles for our own purposes, so the shamash is there to provide usable light. If one has a shamash that is impractical for lighting the menorah, one may use a regular candle or a match, which can simply be extinguished after use.


Referring to the text of bentching/birkas hamazon/grace after meals.

Q. Do you say magdil or migdol on days of Chanukah that aren't Shabbat or Rosh Chodesh?

A. Magdil. Migdol is only said on days that have musaf.

Rabbi Jack's latest book, Ask Rabbi Jack, is now available from Kodesh Press and on