This article is reprinted with permission from A Different Light: The Hanukkah Book of Celebration published by the Shalom Hartman Institute and Devora Publishing.
Haneirot Hallalu–literally “These Candles”– is sung after the Hanukkah candlelighting. The song declares that the candles are holy and that their sole purpose is to commemorate the events of Hanukkah. Unlike the Shabbat candles, they may not be used as a source of light.
The halakhic [Jewish legal] warning “Haneirot Hallalu” is derived from the late Talmudic Tractate Soferim. The point is to warn the family not to use the light of these 36 Hanukkah candles (lit over 8 days, not counting the shamash).
In fact, some versions of this section include exactly 36 words after the opening phrase: “Haneirot Hallalu,” which can be understood playfully as “these candles are LU [or rather, the Hebrew letters lamed and vav] = 30 + 6.” The Hebrew and Greek letters function also as numbers, so words can be translated into numbers using a system called “gematria.”
The holiness of the candles derives from their being dedicated to recalling the divine miracle of rescue from the Greeks and the lighting of the Temple menorah at the original rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees. Unlike Shabbat candles, which are meant to light up the meal at the table and to create a peaceful, sociable atmosphere, Hanukkah candles are placed at the doorway or windowsill as symbols for passersby.
Since this is their purpose, unlike other lamps in the house, their light may not be used. As the Shulchan Aruch [the standard code of Jewish law] rules: “One may not use the Hanukkah candle even for another holy task like studying Torah [or making havdalah on Saturday evening of Hanukkah]. However, some rabbis [from Provence, France] permit secondary holy uses.”
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