Mai Chanukah: A Text Study and Food for Thought

Just for fun, a text study with discussion questions on Talmud Shabbat 21b, the page of the Talmud that discusses the laws of Chanukah. Commentary by Rabbi Micah Streiffer (

Our Rabbis taught: The law of Chanukah requires that every each person should light one lamp for himself and his household. (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 21b)

In other words, you only need one light – not one menorah, but one candle – in order to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candle. According to the Talmud, this is the bare minimum requirement. Is it enough to do the minimum that is required of you? When should you go above and beyond?

Those who seek to fulfill the law in a better or more beautiful way may light one lamp for every member of the household. (B. Shabbat 21b)

Today, many families light one menorah per family member. Do you agree with the Talmud that this is a better or more beautiful way to fulfill the mitzvah? How does having multiple chanukiyot help each member of the family take ownership over the tradition?

Do you have any fun, unusual menorahs in your house? What do they look like? Do they help make the holiday more special for you?

The rabbis taught: One should put the Chanukah lamp outside the door of the house. A person who lives in an apartment puts it in a window that opens into the street. (B. Shabbat 21b)

If we follow all of the above laws – light many menorahs and place them in the window – we will be producing a lot of light! Who will see it from your window? Why do you suppose it is traditional to “advertise” the miracle of Chanukah by placing the lights in the window? How do you feel about advertising your Jewishness to the neighborhood?

What is Chanukah all about? Our rabbis taught: “Beginning on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev are eight days of celebration on which mourning and fasting are prohibited. Because when the Hellenists entered the sanctuary, they defiled all the oil that was found there. When the Hasmonean Dynasty (i.e. the Maccabees) triumphed, they looked for oil to light the Eternal Flame, and only found one container with the seal of the high priest intact [indicating that it was kosher and fit for use in the Temple]. The vial contained enough oil for only one day, but a miracle occurred, and they were able to keep it lit for eight days from that container. The following year, those eight days were established as a holiday that includes poems of praise and thanksgiving. (B. Shabbat 21b)

This story does not appear in any of the earlier sources. In the book of Macabees, the holiday seems to be established to celebrate the military victory and the establishment of Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel. What does the story of the oil add to the meaning of Chanukah?

Which version of the story do you like better – the victory or the oil? Why?

Chanukah is a celebration of freedom. How is this relevant to our lives today?
Chanukah is a celebration of miracles. Are there miracles in your life? Explain.

The word “chanukah” means dedication, since it was a rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. To which causes, people, or ideas do you feel most dedicated this year?

Chag Urim Sameach!
Happy Festival of Lights!

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