How to Light the Menorah (in this Universe), in 5783/2022: Another calendrics blog post

How to Light the Menorah (in this Universe), in 5783/2022: Another calendrics blog post

First Posted Monday, December 19, 2022 / Yom sheni, 25 Kislev, 5783.
David Orenstein, Emeritus, Danforth CTI,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Member Education Committee

You might remember that, on December 12, I blogged here that:

“Next Monday will be Yom sheni, 25 Kislev, 5783, and we’ll already be celebrating Chanukah. The second lighting will be that evening, while the first would have been at the previous sunset, the first of eight nights of Chanukah for 5783. And we’ll continue until the spectacular last lighting at the sunset that begins Yom sheni, 2 Tevet, 5783.

“Celebration will include the lighting of the candles on the Menorah, the candelabra with places for up to eight candles, plus the Shamash, the candle which is responsible for lighting the candles that celebrate the Miracle of Chanukah.”

So, yesterday we had that beautiful moment when we lit the Chanukah Menorah for the first time this year 5783/2022.

In this period of history, we first light the shamash (the helping candle) on every one of the eight nights of Chanukah. This candle doesn’t count as one of the candles that represent the Miracle of Chanukah. Then we use the shamash to light the Chanukah candles: one on the first night (25 Kislev, 5783 / December 18, 2022, at sundown - 4:24 pm here in Toronto), two on the second, three the third, and so on to eight candles on the eighth evening.

But two thousand years ago, this order was up for debate. In the Talmud (Berakhot), Rabbis Hillel and Shammai are famous for debating almost anything about Jewish practice. This includes how to light the Chanukah lights.

Rabbi Hillel advocated for increasing the number of candles by one each day, 

i.e. ni = ni-1 + 1, where n1 = 1 and i = {1,2,3, …, 8}. 

By contrast, Rabbi Shammai went for decreasing the number, 

i.e, ni = ni-1 - 1, where n1 = 8 and i = {1,2,3, …, 8}.

These are two possible ways to celebrate the miracle. Either way the same number of candles would be lit to have a full celebration.

But what was their motivation?

 According to Rabbi Irving Greenberg in The Jewish Way (1988), on p. 273: 

“The school of Hillel ruled that one candle should be lit on the first night and one additional light be added every subsequent night. The school of Shammai suggested starting with eight candles the first night and decreasing one every night. This is in imitation of the miracle in which the supply of oil was progressively used up.  The tradition of adding lights won out on the grounds that holiness and sanctity should always increase.”

Hillel and Shammai are but two of the many voices in the Talmud, where many facets of the issues at hand are expressed in the discussion of any point of Jewish Law (Halakhah). 

Similarly, there are many voices to hear in the History of Mathematics. For example, on November 28, I wrote here, promising a look at:

“A general History of Mathematics, the 1945 2nd edition of E.T. Bell’s (California Institute of Technology) Development of Mathematics. It was published in New York City by the McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. I keep it on one of the shelves over the computer desk in my office. There are indications that I bought it for $4 at a U of T college (UC, Trinity, Victoria, St. Mike’s?) book sale.”

The first edition had appeared in 1940, more than a year before the start of World War II for Americans, but a year into the War for the British Empire and Commonwealth.

This 1945, 2nd edition, is even available on the Internet Archive (see links). They even scanned a copy from a Canadian library, that of Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.

Eric Temple Bell (1883-1960) is probably better known for the earlier Men of Mathematics, (also at the Internet Archive) which had a 1937 publication date. I encountered it as a teenager in the 1960s at the Toronto Public Library; I paid no attention at the time to the fact that the title only mentioned “Men” but no women or people of other genders.

Well, I have been looking at Development of Mathematics and here’s what I’ve got to report. Both in his “To Any Prospective Reader”, p. v - xi and “Chapter 1: General Prospectus”, p. 3 - 25, Bell lays out what he set out to do:

The book was motivated by “request[s] from students and instructors and for a broad account of the general development of mathematics, with particular reference to the min concepts and methods…. [and] personal association for several years with creative mathematicians….” p. vi.

“On the [  ] advice of [numerous professionals], only main trends of the past six thousand years are considered, and these are presented only through typical major episodes in each.” p. vii.

“[W]hat looks like an anticipation after the advance was made was not even aimed in the right direction.” p. viii.

Later Bell points out that the 17th century was crucial for the development of modern mathematics. Newton’s and Leibniz’s breakthrough work on both differential and integral calculus occurred at essentially the same period as Fermat and Descartes were working on analytical geometry, Fermat (again) and Pascal on combinatorial analysis and probability, Fermat on higher arithmetic, Galileo and Newton on dynamics, and Newton on universal gravitation.

I can happily note that even John Charles Fields (1863-1936), the Canadian Mathematician and the General Editor of the Proceedings of the 1924 Toronto International Mathematical Congress, is mentioned on page 510, along with “Dedekind and H. Weber…, K. Hensel and G. Lansberg…, [and] Emmy Noether….”. They were all credited with success in pursuing “the arithmetic method” in “the theory of algebraic functions…. [and] continu[ing] to develop the method from the 1860’s to the 1930’s.”

An example of this method is Fields' own paper in Vol. 1 of the 1924 Proceedings.

But that’s another story! 


From one Hanukkah to the next, it can be a challenge to remember in which direction to add candles and in which direction to light them. Here’s what you need to know: When the menorah is facing you, the candle for the first night is placed in the right-most holder of the eight-branched menorah and the shamash is placed in its holder, which is raised or otherwise distinguished from the rest of the candleholders.

Anyone may chant or recite the blessings by lighting and holding the shamash, reciting the blessings, and then using the shamash to light the candles (from left to right, so that the kindling begins with the newest light).

Two blessings are chanted or recited every night of Hanukkah. The first is a blessing over the candles themselves. The second blessing expresses thanks for the miracle of deliverance. A third blessing – the Shehecheyanu prayer, marking all joyous occasions in Jewish life – is chanted or recited only on the first night.

On each successive night, an additional candle is placed to the immediate left of the previous night’s candle, and the candles are lit from left to right, so the kindling begins with the newest light. Since these lights are holy, we aren’t supposed to make practical use of them (e.g., using them to see or read by, or lighting other candles with them); therefore, we use the shamash to light the ones that mark each night of the holiday.

Reform Judaism website, « Hanukkah » page.


Chanukah Links:

How to Light the Menorah.

Hillel-Shammai Menorah Debate.

E.T. Bell links:

E.T. Bell books in University of Toronto Library.,exact,Bell,%20Eric%20Temple,%201883-1960.&tab=Everything&search_scope=UTL_AND_CI&vid=01UTORONTO_INST:UTORONTO&offset=10

E.T. Bell in JSTOR.

E.T. Bell’s books in the Internet Archive.

Internet Archive copy of Development of Mathematics.

Previous BSHM Calendrics Blog Posts:

Counting Chanukah Candles post, December 12, 2022

Re-reading Torah and Mathematics Texts for 5783 / 2022 (and 2023), November 28, 2022.

Re-reading the Torah in 5783 post, November 21, 2022.

Rosh Ha-Shonah 5783 post, September 6, 2022.

Passover/Easter post, April 15, 2022.

Previous CSTHA Calendrics Blog Posts:

Counting Chanukah Candles post, December 16, 2022.

Putting “Calendrics” in CSTHA “Search” function.