Why some Jews remove a candle each night

Quiet contemplation of the menorah can be rewarding. (Flickr Commons)

Quiet contemplation of the menorah can be rewarding. (Flickr Commons)

Jordan palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

Have you ever wondered if you’re lighting the menorah correctly? After more than 4 decades of menorah lightings, I did indeed feel the need to check. The result was yesterday’s story entitled “How to light the menorah.

But, while crafting that informative guide, I stumbled upon a little-known Hanukkah tradition that I was not aware of: That some Jews also remove one candle each night.

In an article by Ilana Sichel, we learn that many of us follow “Hillel’s ancient rabbinic school of thought,” which teaches us how to light the candles each night. But, not all Jews light the menorah this way. That is because there is another school of thought, known as the “Way of Shammai.”

Sichel writes “Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel were rivals, and according to Shammai ‘on the first day he lights eight, from here going [forward], he goes on reducing.’ The House of Hillel, on the other hand, maintained that: “’The first day he lights one, from here going [forward], he goes on adding.’”

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So how did we get from there to here? Sichel explains that several centuries later, one Rabbi Yossi offered a symbolic reading, saying that the House of Hillel believed that “holiness should only increase and not decrease.” But another Rabbi Yossi argued that Shammai counted the number of days left, while Hillel counted the days that had passed.

In other words: Is your menorah half-full or half-empty? That answer is up to you.