Making It Better and Better

Successive generations of Jews have created different ways of enhancing the observance of the Hanukkah lights.

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For Maimonides, eighty candles were lit all together. For Moses Isserles, the sets of eight candles were lit in distinct places (makom meyuchad) where the sets of candles would be seen as a unit, maintaining visual recognition of the night of the holiday. It was this innovative synthesis that led to the creation of the Hanukkah candelabrum, the Hanukkiyah, which is used today.

The irony inherent in having later Ashkenazi authorities adopt Sephardi customs and vice versa did not escape the notice of later rabbis. The 17th century Ukrainian Rabbi David ben Shmuel ha-Levi noted:

"And in this there is an innovation in practice in that the Sephardim behave according to Tosafot and the Ashkenazim behave according to Maimonides, and this we have not found in other places."

Perhaps Caro and Isserles present yet another model for enhancement. By reclaiming the customs of different Jewish communities and integrating them into their current practice, Caro and Isserles enhanced their own communities' observance of Hanukkah.

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Jeffrey Spitzer is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at Gann Academy, The New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass., and a member of the Institute's Tichon Fellows Program.