The great debate of Hillel and Shamai

One of the more famous arguments of Hillel and Shammai was the one about the order in which we should light the candles of Hanukkah. Hillel suggested that we should increase candles each day, while Shammai argued that we should take away candles each day of the holiday. Obviously, Hillel’s suggestion is the one we practice nowadays. However, what were the motives behind each of these decisions? Was Hillel’s thought ultimately the best choice?

Hillel: The Hillel stance on lighting Hanukkah candles is to light one candle on the first night and to light an additional candle for every successive night. I believe that this is the correct way to light the Hanukkah candles because if you add a candle each day, it is like you are building the anticipation up to the last day. Also, when the Maccabees lit the oil, the miracle of the oil staying lit got larger as the days passed. This means that lighting more candles as the days pass, it resembles how the miracle got larger every day. But if you were to decrease the amount of candles every day, it shows the miracle being less meaningful as the days pass.

Shammai: In the real world, people tend to get more things done on a time crunch. If you decrease the candles, you know how much time you have left of the holiday and people manage their time better. But that’s not the only reason.

Back in the time of Hanukkah the Greeks were the head of the non-Jewish world. The Greeks were seen as the most powerful empire, the coolest culture. Imagine the shopping and food in New York to that of Antarctica. That the tiny Jews were able to defeat the Greeks is definitely the main miracle of the holiday, even greater of a miracle then the oil lasting. The outnumbered Jews never gave up, even when the situation seemed hopeless. What’s even more important is that humans were able to defeat the Greeks all on our own, while God had to help make the oil last. It’s only fair to be proud of the human accomplishments rather than what God can do. We should decrease the number of candles to symbolize the decreasing amount of power the Greeks had against us, even if they were the bigger country.

So which point of view do you agree with? Feel free to comment down below!

*This article was also written by  mpackman18


3 thoughts on “The great debate of Hillel and Shamai

  1. I tend to agree with Hillel and you yet wonder if that is because it is the tradition I am most familiar with. Would decreasing one candle each day signal that Jews are highlighting their own abilities while diminishing the impact of god?

    I am also wondering what you meant in this statement: ” Imagine the shopping and food in New York to that of Antarctica.”

    1. @alippman It’s not diminishing the impact of God, Shamai’s goal was to symbolize the diminishing power the Greeks had.

      By comparing the shopping in two very different places, I’m comparing the social life in Greece to the social life the Jews lived. Greece was obviously the “party” city, while the Jews didn’t have those advantages. My goal was to show that Greece was infinitely more powerful and had more resources than the Jews.

  2. I find myself agreeing with Hillel because that is the tradition with which I am comfortable. I also like the idea of adding in holiness each night to see 8 beautiful lights on the last night. However, your arguments from Shammai’s point of view were really interesting and I found myself thinking about this age old debate in a different well. Well done both Hillel and Shammah (oops, I mean Shammai ?)

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