Friday, December 26, 2008

Some Sephardic Customs for the Holiday of Hanukka by Joseph Mosseri


Please forgive me for not posting these sooner, but I couldn't find them in my files until today.

Joseph Mosseri is not a rabbi, but he is probably one of the best learned men I know in the laws and customs of various Sephardic communities in the world.

You can definitely trust what he has to say, and if you have a correction, being the consumate scholar that he is, he will be quick to verify and correct anything he has published. He has a true love of Torah for Torah's sake and a true knowledge for knowledge sake. I am proud to say I am his friend.


Customs for the holiday of Hanukah
Written by Joseph Mosseri

1)The custom in Egypt was not to say Sidouq HaDin all 8 days of Hanoukah.

2)The custom amongst all Middle Eastern and North African Jewish communities
is to only use pure olive oil for the Hanoukah lights. The reason being that
this is considered to be the best way to fulfill the commandment and because
the holiday miracle occurred through olive oil.
3)When lighting, the custom as brought down by Maran, Hakham Yosef Karo, in
his Shoulhan 'Aroukh, is to start with the light on the right.
Meaning that on the first night when you are going to light, you begin with
the wick closest to your right hand.
On the second night, you begin with the wick adjacent to the one you lit on
the first night, them you light the one of the first night.
On the 3rd night, you begin with the newest wick, and work your way back to
the right.
And such is the manner on each night.
By the last night you'll be lighting that closest to your left hand first
and moving to your right. In the same manner that we write English or any
Western language.
Since the custom is to use oil wicks and not candles, we light with a candle
and after the obligatory lights are kindled, the Shamash, or extra wick is
kindled with the candle. The candle is then extinguished.
Since it is forbidden to use the Hanoukah lights for our own purposes and
lest someone use it for such, we always have the Shamash or extra wick lit.
That way if the lights are used we can say that we were using the shamash
and not the obligatory lights.
By the way Syrians pronounce it ShamOsh and not ShamAsh.

4)If you can safely light near your entranceway in order to publicize the
Hanoukah miracle to those who pass by in the street that is great. If not
you can feel comfortable knowing that you can follow the custom to light
inside the house where it will be publicized to the family members. This is
based upon MaHaRYQaSh ,in his gloss to the Shoulhan 'Aroukh, chapter 671.

5)The custom in many Sephardic communities is to follow the qabalah of the
AR"I (as brought down in the
Shoulhan 'Aroukh) for the berakhah and to say "Lehadliq Ner Hanoukah" and
not "....... shel hanoukah" even though that's the way it's mentioned in the
Gemara and among the Rishonim.
There are many reasons for this based upon both grammatical and mystical

6)On Mossae Shabbat (Saturday night), the Shoulhan 'Aroukh decreed that in
the synagogue the Hanoukah lights should be kindled first then habdalah
should be recited. And this is the way the law and custom was practiced in
Aleppo, Syria. On the other hand many posqim, rishonim and aharonim,
disagree with Maran regarding this, therefore there are variant customs.
The custom in both Cairo and Alexandria was to say Habdalah first, both in
the synagogue and at home.
The custom in Jerusalem, according to Hakham Mosheh Pardo who was Ab Bet Din
there, in his Shemo Mosheh, was also to say habdalah first even in the

7)The custom on Friday afternoon/evening of Hanoukah as brought down in the
HID"A's Birke Yosef in the name of Hakham Shemouel Abohab is to pray Minhah
in the synagogue the go home to kindle the Hanoukah lights, then to light
the Shabbat wicks, then to return to synagogue for Qabalat Shabbat and

The question of course arises that since we do not consider the lighting of
Shabbat lights as the acceptance of Shabbat, why must we light Hanoukah
prior to Shabbat lights? Isn't there a well known rule that Tadir ve She-eno
Tadir, Tadir Qodem, meaning that something that is done regularly done must
take precedence over something that is not usually done. Any comments?
(See comments I have received below. Item # 28).

8)On the Shabbat Eve occurring during Hanoukah, Bameh Madliqin is not

9)In the synagogue the Hanoukah lights need to be placed against the
Southern most wall. On the 1st night the Western most light will be lit
first, etc... This is based upon an old responsa of HaRaDBa"Z, Hakham David
Ibn Abi Zimra.

10)The custom in both Egypt and Jerusalem is to also light the Hanoukah
lights in the synagogue during the daytime. This of course is done without a
berakhah. The reason for this lighting is strictly for the sake of
proclaiming the miracle since the light of these wicks is not needed during
the day. It is also to help remind those who may not have lit at night for
whatever reason what day of the holiday it is so they could light the proper
number at night.
In Egypt this was done before the commencement of prayers, in Jerusalem
before Aromimkha.

11)The custom in Egypt during daily morning services of Hanoukah, is to
recite the Hanoukah holiday mizmor (Psalms 30), immediately after the Sefer
Torah is returned to the Heikhal and Qadish Titqabal is said. The Mizmor is
said, followed by Qadish Yehe Shelema, then Qaveh and the qetoret are said.
No other mizmorim are recited after qadish titqabal!
It is the Custom of Sepharadi Jews in Gibraltar, Lisbon and at least
parts of Morocco to start Tehilim 30 during Hanoukah, in the morning before
Baroukh Sheamar, with Mizmor Shir Hanoukat Habayit LeDavid, as during the
year we start it with Aromimkha.

12)If prayers are being held in the house of a mourner during Hanoukah. Both
the mourner and all those in attendance say Halel in the house of the
mourner. The reason for this is that the Hanoukah Halel was established by
the Hakhamim and we are commanded to recite it. On Rosh Hodesh the law would
be different as Rosh Hodesh Halel is only a custom.

13)The custom in Tunisia and other places is that all the while that the
lights are burning
the ladies do not do any work.

14)In Tunisia and Libya, Rosh Hodesh Tebet, is called Rosh Hodesh of the
girls in remembrance of the heroics of Yehoudit. On this day parents send
gifts to the girls and grooms to their brides to be.

15)The custom in Aleppo an in many other Sephardic cities was that prior to
Hanoukah the shamash of the synagogue would give out a tall wax candle to
each man which he would use for lighting the Hanoukah wicks. They in return
would give him a small donation.

16)Rabbi Shem Tob Gaguine in his Keter Shem Tob mentions that the custom in
Israel, Syria, Turkey, and Egypt would be to say the 1st berakhah of
Lehadliq Ner Hanoukah then to light while saying the other berakhot. This is
still the custom among most traditional families but there are already many
who say all the berakhot prior to lighting.

17)The custom on Hanoukah is to eat a type of sweetened fried dough.
In Egypt it was called Zalabya or Loqmat El Qadi.
In Iraq and Syria it was called Zingol.
In Turkey it was called Bilmuelos.
In Greece it was called Lokomades.
In Morocco it was a donut called Sfinz, topped with powdered sugar
or glazed with honey.
In Tangier it was called bunuelos.
This was the only traditional Sephardic item shared by almost all
communities for Hanoukah.

18)The custom was never to give out presents or spin a top (dreydel/sevivon)
on Hanoukah. these are traditions that came from Germanic lands and from
living among Christians who exchanged presents for the Xmas holiday which
usually coincided with hanoukah.

19)The berakhot are Lehadliq ner hanoukah and She'asah nisim. On the first
night we also add the berakhah of shehehiyanou. After that we recite Hanerot
Halalou (the version that has 51 words not 36 words) then we recite Mizmor
shir hanoukat habayit ledavid (psalm 30). Ma'oz Sour is not sung!
With the influence of the AIU especially in Lebanon, many Jews from
Beirut are more than familiar
with Maoz Sour.

20)The law and custom for Sepharadim is that only 1 Hanoukah is used for the
entire family. Not like the Ashkenazi custom of each member of the family
lighting their own personal Hanoukah. In most traditional families in order
to share in the love of the missvah, the head of the household will give
each member of the family a chance to light.
On the 1st night he will light the 1st wick and he'll let his wife light the
shamash. On the 2nd night he'll light the newest wick, his wife the next,
then the oldest child the shamash, etc.. for all 8 nights.

21)Sepharadim until recently never called the Hanoukah lights by the name of
Menorah. It was referred to simply as Hanoukah or by Ladino speakers
especially those of Jerusalem as
a Hanoukeyyeh.

22)Prior to the expulsion from Spain in 1492 there were indigenous Jewish
communities in Israel, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, etc..
When the Sepharadim came from Spain there were always conflicts with the
older resident communities. Over time the communities meshed and molded into
One rare case though was in Aleppo, Syria.
The indigenous community who were known as Must'arabim remained a Separate
community with there own peculiar ancient liturgy until about 1930.
Those from Spain who lived in Aleppo had and have a special Hanoukah custom
till today.
Those Spanish Aleppo Jews light one extra light on each night of Hanoukah.
One the 1st night when all the Jews of the world light 2 lights (1 plus the
shamash), they light 3 (one plus the shamash plus an extra shamash). By the
end of the holiday when we all have 9 (8 plus the shamash), these Spanish
Aleppians have 10 (8 plus the shamash plus the extra shamash).
The reason for this custom is that after the expulsion from Spain they
finally found haven in Aleppo but the indigenous community would not accept
them into the community at first. But by Hanoukah they were finally
accepted. This of course caused them much joy, they deemed it a miracle for
themselves and their families for all times that they decided to light an
extra light each night of the holiday.

These are some of the families which I know to be of these Spanish Aleppians
who adhere to this custom till today. Haber, Attie, Tawil, Betesh, Sutton,
Cattan, Mishaan, Dweck.
Do you know any others? I'd love to know!!

23) Regarding the singing of Maoz Sour. Some have wondered that if it is not
a Sephardic song how it has crept into our homes and synagogues. The answer
is quite simple. Ashkenazi and Israeli educators in our Jewish Hebrew Day

24)There is a custom in Morocco at the end of the holiday to gather up from
each home all the remaining wicks and oil from the holiday and make a
bonfire. the children all partake in this and revel in jumping around it.
Some have mocked at this custom but I have found it mentioned by none other
than Rabbi Eliyahou Ben Amozegh!!
See his amazing commentary to the Torah, entitled Em LaMiqra, Perashat

25)I have also found out that in the Old City of Jerusalem there was a
for the last day of the Holiday to make a tremendous feast for all the poor
children of the city. This was based upon the fact that Perashat Miqess was
always read towards the end of the holiday and there is a verse there that
says "Shoubou Shibrou Lano MeAt Okhel" "Return there and gather up for us
some food" They turned this into a tradition to gather up food throughout
the holiday and make a special feast for all the needy children and to use
the extra funds and food to give them small stipends for the long harsh

26)I mentioned the custom of eating a special type of Fried dough that was
sweetened with syrup or Powdered sugar. I have just found out that the
Lebanese Jews do the same thing and they call them Awamat.
The Syrians and particularly those from Damascus have a special pastry
called 'Atayif for Hanoukah. It is thin round dough which is stuffed with
nuts and sugar and folded in half and deep fried. It is then drizzled with a
sugary syrup while hot and served up fresh.

27)Another Minhag on Hanoukah is the reading of Megilat Antiyokhous, it can
be found in Sidour Bet Obed.
Among the Jews of Ghardaya,Algeria this is read in Arabic.

28)The custom on Friday afternoon/evening of Hanoukah as brought down in the
HID"A's Birke Yosef in the name of Hakham Shemouel Abohab is to pray Minhah
in the synagogue the go home to kindle the Hanoukah lights, then to light
the Shabbat wicks, then to return to synagogue for Qabalat Shabbat and

The question of course arises that since we do not consider the lighting of
Shabbat lights as the acceptance of Shabbat, why must we light Hanoukah
prior to Shabbat lights? Isn't there a well known rule that Tadir ve She-eno
Tadir, Tadir Qodem, meaning that something that is done regularly done must
take precedence over something that is not usually done. Any comments?

Maybe not to confuse the children?

Here is one response which I received on my question about why we light
the Hanoukah lights before the Shabbat lights on Friday afternoon.

"Also, re the tadir rule vis-a-vis Friday evening - this rule applies when
both misvot are of equal importance. However, since nerot Hanukka are
clearly inferior to nerot Shabbat, we apply the rule ma'alin bakodesh, hence
the minhag as we know it"

Would you agree or disagree with this reasoning?

Here's another response:
One possible answer to the tadir question is as follows:

The misvah of nerot Shabbat is really a component of the more general misvah
of kavod Shabbat - namely, that one should ensure that there is abundant
light present for his Friday night meal. As such, the misvah of ner Shabbat
is not to light per se, but rather to ensure that a light is produced that
will last throughout the Shabbat meal. Clearly, with regard to nerot
Shabbat, the Hadlaqa is not the misvah - a careful reading of the Harambam's
(Hilkhot Shabbat ch. 5) formulation demonstrates this where he writes
"hayyavim li'iot ner dalouq bebetam", not "hayyavim lehadliq nerot bebetam".
(This does not mean to say that the Misvah merely consists of having lights
present on lel Shabbat - case in point, if one lights on Friday morning he
has not fulfilled the misvah. However the lighting serves to designate the
lights that illuminate on Friday night as being produced for the purpose of

kavod Shabbat. That can only be accomplished by lighting in close proximity
to the advent of Shabbat. To put it succinctly, the misvah can be defined as
such: to ensure a light that is designated for Shabbat is produced, for the
purpose of deriving benefiting from it on lel Shabbat.)

In this respect, ner Shabbat differs with ner Hanoukah, where the halakha is
"Hadlaqa oseh Misvah". For this reason, if hanoukah candles blew out, one
is not required to rekindle them - even on Erev Shabbat (see Shulhan Aroukh
(O"H 673, 2). Contrast that with the rule if Shabbat candles blew out
(before sheqia), one is required to rekindle them.

Applying this distinction to the principle of tadir, where the activity of
one misvah is the very fulfillment of the misvah and the activity of the
competing misvah is merely a step in the ultimate production of the
fulfillment of the misvah, then the former misvah wins out, even if the
other misvah is tadir. In other words wherever the fulfillment of the misvah
is instantaneous (ner Hanoukah), it takes precedence over a misvah whose
fulfillment is suspended until some later point in the future (ner Shabbat).

How about this one:

The din is if someone has not enough money to buy oil for Nerot Shabat & for
the Hanuca, then Nerot Shabat have preference due to Shelom Bayit. Therefore
we light Shabbat first.

I am not a Rabbi or a Poseq. I am just interested in discussing Halakhot & Minhagim, laws and customs.
I invite your insights, comments, criticisms, etc..
Please let me know if you would like me to forward the same to my list.
If you would like to be removed from this list or know of someone who would
benefit from it just let me know by including, first name, last name, &
Joseph Mosseri

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