Embracing the Luminous Dark and the Great Hanukkah Candle Debate

December 06, 2016 Jonah Daniel

Embracing the Luminous Dark and the Great Hanukkah Candle Debate

by Rayna Grace and Toby Kramer

Rayna on Hanukkah

Last year, I observed the ritual lighting by my teacher Taya. In honor of embracing the Luminous Dark, instead of adding one candle every night of Hanukkah, she starts with all 8 lit, and each night decreases the candles one by one. In this way, the holiday holds deep reverence for darkness. Although the practice of increasing light is glorious and exciting, in the insistence of filling up the dark with more and more light, there is a kind of denial of what this time of year is; the darkest time. Given our culture's complete discard of Darkness (which plays out as Anti-Dark racism, as well as in the constant need for electric lighting and gadgets), the embrace of the Dark is for me an essential spiritual engagement. To love the Dark AND the Light. Hanukkah at it's core is the interplay of these two great forces. I am planning on trying this practice this year, to see how it feels. I'm interested to see what I learn in the process.


More on the Talmudic debate from Toby:

The Talmud is a collection of early Rabbinic interpretations of the Torah
and Jewish law. Each page has a piece of text or a legal question (for
example, what time do evening prayers begin?) which is followed by a record
of Rabbinic arguments. The loosing argument is preserved along with the
prevailing interpretation. Surrounding this central piece of writing are
notes from other scholars, some of which were written centuries later.
Often, this writing in the margins holds the key to understanding the heart
of the page.

The practice of observing Hanukah by lighting an additional candle each
night comes comes to us from the teachings of Rabbi Hillel in the Talmud.
Those in Hillel's school won almost every argument they entered into; and
almost always it was against their rivals in the school of Rabbi Shammai.
Shammai looses almost every argument in the Talmud - but those opinions are
deemed valuable enough to include, to revisit, and continue to reinterpret.


Unlike Hillel, Shammai advocated for lighting eight candles on the first
night of Hanukah, and taking away one candle each night after that. This
un-orthodox practice is available to those of us who like to reclaim
forgotten, dismissed, or passed-over traditions. Although Hillel won the
argument, Shammai's practice was preserved. Although other practices
weren't preserved, we can still claim them. Ritual draws power both from
the intention we bring to it and the lineage we draw on to create it. Light
the lights in ascending or descending order. Light eight candles every
night. Light more than 8, or none at all. When we center in the margins,
when we side with the loosing argument, when we follow our own intuition
over text itself - we create old/new with intention and meaning for

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