– Author: Rav Yehoshua Asulin

When compiling his Shulchan Aruch, Rav Yosef Karo largely based his rulings on the Rishonim known as the Chachmei Sfarad [1]. Rav Moshe Isserles on the other hand, generally ruled according to the views and customs of the Rishonim from Ashkenaz. In Hilchot Chanukka, there seems to be a break from tradition; as the Shulchan Aruch paskens according to the view of Tosfot, whilst the Rema paskens according to the Rambam. This anomaly has already been pointed out by some Achronim. In this essay we will try and show that the Shulchan Aruch and Rema did not change in any way from their usual psak, and that in fact the Shulchan Aruch follows the Rambam, whilst the Rema follows Tosfot.

Let us first examine the sugya in Masechet Shabat 21b

Our Rabbis taught: The precept of Hanukkah [demands] one light for a man and his household; the zealous [kindle] a light for each member [of the household]; and the extremely zealous, — Beth Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced;  but Beth Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased.  ‘Ulla said: In the West [Palestine] two amoraim, R. Jose b. Abin and R. Jose b. Zebida, differ therein: one maintains, The reason of Beth Shammai is that it shall correspond to the days still to come, and that of Beth Hillel is that it shall correspond to the days that are gone; but another maintains: Beth Shammai’s reason is that it shall correspond to the bullocks of the Festival;  whilst Beth Hillel’s reason is that we promote in [matters of] sanctity but do not reduce תנו רבנן: מצות חנוכה נר איש וביתו. והמהדרין – נר לכל אחד ואחד. והמהדרין מן המהדרין, בית שמאי אומרים: יום ראשון מדליק שמנה, מכאן ואילך פוחת והולך; ובית הלל אומרים: יום ראשון מדליק אחת, מכאן ואילך מוסיף והולך. אמר עולא: פליגי בה תרי אמוראי במערבא, רבי יוסי בר אבין ורבי יוסי בר זבידא, חד אמר: טעמא דבית שמאי – כנגד ימים הנכנסין, וטעמא דבית הלל – כנגד ימים היוצאין. וחד אמר: טעמא דבית שמאי – כנגד פרי החג, וטעמא דבית הלל – דמעלין בקדש ואין מורידין. אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן: שני זקנים היו בצידן, אחד עשה כבית שמאי ואחד עשה כדברי בית הלל, זה נותן טעם לדבריו – כנגד פרי החג, וזה נותן טעם לדבריו – דמעלין בקדש ואין מורידין.

The gemara defines three levels in which one can fulfill the mitzvah of Ner Chanukka.

  • The basic level of the mitzvah- one candle per household every day of Channuka
  • Mehadrin- a candle per each individual in every household, every day of Channuka
  • Mehadrin min Hamehadrin – According to Beit Hillel extra candles are added

every day

When trying to define the category of Mehadrin min Hamehadrin there are two ways in which it can be understood. :

  • It is coming to add on to the Mehadrin. Instead of lighting one candle per each person in the household; every day the number of candles increases per person. For example if there are ten people in a particular household, according to the Mehadrin level each day (including the last) – only ten candles would be lit. According to the Mehadrin Min Hamehadrin level- on the last day the total would amount to eighty candles.
  • It is coming to add on the basic level of the mitzvah. If according to the basic level of the mitzvah – only one candle would be lit per household, Mehadrin min Hamehadrin – would mean that every household would increase every night. On the first night one candle would be lit and on the last night eight candles would be lit. (no matter how many members)

Regarding the level of Mehadrin– the hidur (beautifying of the mitzvah) is the addition of the amount of candles being lit. However it’s not clear what the extra hiddur is regarding Mehadrin min Hamehadrin?

According to the 1st understanding – it is clear that it increases the number of candles being lit beyond that of the Mehadrin level. However according to the 2nd understanding where one candle is added every night per household – what is the added element of hiddur over and above the mehadrin level (as in many cases there will actually be less candles lit)

Opinions of the Rishonim


Tosfot explains  as follows :

Mehadrin min Hamehadrin – it seems to the Ri that Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel only argued regarding the basic level of the mitzvah. As there is a greater hidur when one adds or subtracts according to the days coming in or leaving. But if they do a candle per person, even if they add a candle every day, it will not be recognizable as people will think that this is the number of people in the household. והמהדרין מן המהדרין – נראה לר”י דב”ש וב”ה לא קיימי אלא אנר איש וביתו שכן יש יותר הידור דאיכא היכרא כשמוסיף והולך או מחסר שהוא כנגד ימים הנכנסים או היוצאים אבל אם עושה נר לכל אחד אפי’ יוסיף מכאן ואילך ליכא היכרא שיסברו שכך יש בני אדם בבית.


Tosfot understood that the Mehadrin min Hamehadrin level is an addition on the basic mitzvah (and not the Mehadrin level). The reason being, that only in such a case would it be recognizable that an extra candle was added for that day. For if on the first day a candle was lit for every person of the household, in the coming days when extra candles would be lit, it wouldn’t be clear that this was due to the day – people might just assume that there are a lot of people in the household. According to Tosfot, although the level of Mehadrin focusses on increasing the amount of candles lit and this is the main hiddur; Mehadrin min Hamehadrin adds another factor altogether. This level focuses on being able to recognize which day of channuka is being celebrated. It does not go beyond the mehadrin level from a quantitative  perspective, rather from a qualitative perspective. That being – that every day that passes, it recognizable that the miracle lasted another day.

The Rambam (Hilchot Megila and Channuka chapter 4 Halacha 1-2) on the other hand writes as follows:

How many candles does one light on Channuka? The basic mitzvah is that each household lights one candle per day, whether there are many people or just one person in the house.

One who beautifies the mitzvah lights according to the amount of people in the household- one candle per person be they men or women.

One who wants to beautify the mitzvah more than that and fulfill the mitzvah in the best way, lights a candle for every person in the household on the first night. Every night another candle is added per person. How is this done? If there were ten people in the household, on the first night they light ten candles, on the 2nd night they light 20 candles, on the third night 30 candles until on the last night – they light 80 candles.

כמה נרות הוא מדליק בחנוכה, מצותה שיהיה כל בית ובית מדליק נר אחד  בין שהיו אנשי הבית מרובין בין שלא היה בו אלא אדם אחד,

והמהדר את המצוה מדליק נרות כמנין אנשי הבית נר לכל אחד ואחד בין אנשים בין נשים,

והמהדר יתר על זה ועושה מצוה מן המובחר מדליק נר לכל אחד ואחד בלילה הראשון ומוסיף והולך בכל לילה ולילה נר אחד. [הלכה ב] כיצד? הרי שהיו אנשי הבית עשרה, בלילה הראשון מדליק עשרה נרות ובליל שני עשרים ובליל שלישי שלשים עד שנמצא מדליק בליל שמיני שמונים נרות.

The Ritva also assumed that the the level of Mehadrin min Hamehadrin is building on the mehadrin level. The Ritva validates his reasoning as follows:

והמהדרים מן המהדרים ב”ש אומרים יום ראשון מדליק שמונה. יש שפירשו שמונה לכל אחד ואחד, דאי שמונה לכל בני הבית זמנין דבצירי נרות מן המהדרים. Mehadrin min Hamehadrin – Beit Shammai say that on the first day we light 8 candles. There are those that explain 8 candles per person, for if it is only 8 candles per household, it will happen that many times there will be fewer candles lit than those who follow the – simpler hiddur level of Mehadrin.

The Ritva argues that it is inconceivable that those prescribing to the Mehadrin min Hamehadrin level, would light less candles than those following the level of Mehadrin. He thus negates Tosfot’s explanation. It is clear that according to the Ritva and the Rambam, just as  the added level of mehadrin  – is the extra candles lit per household, so too is the level of mehadrin min hamehadrin – focused on adding even more candles.

To summarise – there is an argument amongst the Rishonim as to what the extra level of hiddur is when dealing with Mehadrin min Hamehadrin. According to the Rambam and Ritva- it is quantitative- the extra amount of candles which cause the beautification of the mitzvah, even if it’s unclear as to what day of Channuka it is. Tosfot on the other hand hold that the hiddur is qualitative – the recognition of what day we are celebrating (each day that passes represents an increase in the miracle of how long the oil lasted in the Beit Hamikdash) It follows that according to Tosfot this aspect is more important even if it means lighting less candles.

The Pri Chadash (671/2)– explains that this argument between the Rishonim is actually based on an argument brought in the gemara as to the reason behind the dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai.

… ואפשר, דבהני תרי פירושי פליגי הנהו תרי אמוראי [שם] דחד אמר, דטעמא דבית שמאי כנגד ימים הנכנסין, וטעמא דבית הלל כנגד ימים היוצאין. וזהו כשיטת ר”י ז”ל, ולהכי בעינן היכר לידע ולהודיע כמה נכנסו וכמה יצאו. ואידך אמורא סבירא ליה כדעת הרמב”ם, ולהכי איצטריך לטעמא אחרינא, דטעמא דבית שמאי כנגד פרי החג, וטעמא דבית הלל דמעלין בקודש ולא מורידין. ולי נראה עיקר, דמהדרין מן המהדרין קאי אפילו לרישא דברייתא, לנר איש וביתו. ומיהו, אי עביד כדעת הרמב”ם כל שכן דאיכא הידור טפי, ודוק. It’s possible that these two opinions (of Tosfot and Rambam) are actually an argument between two Amoraim. One said that the reason for Beit Shamai was based on the days coming in, whilst Beit Hillel based it on the days going out. This is similar to the opinion of Tosfot as there needs to be a sign as to how many days have passed. However the other Amora held similar to the Rambam and gave a different reason; where Beit Shamai base it on the korbanot of the chag, and Beit Hillel base it on the principle of maalin bakodesh vlo moridin. It seems to me that the level of Mehadrin min Hamehadrin applies to the basic level of the Braita. However if someone follows the Rambam there is even more of a hiddur

It seems that the Vilna Gaon also agrees with this understanding from his elucidation of the Rif. The Rif didn’t state explicitly if he holds like the opinion of the Rambam or Tosfot. Rather he brought the following case of the gemara.

Rabbah b. Bar Hana said: There were two old men  in Sidon: one did as Beth Shammai and the other as Beth Hillel: the former gave the reason of his action that it should correspond to the bullocks of the Festival, while the latter stated his reason because we promote in [matters of] sanctity but do not reduce. אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן: שני זקנים היו בצידן, אחד עשה כבית שמאי ואחד עשה כדברי בית הלל, זה נותן טעם לדבריו – כנגד פרי החג, וזה נותן טעם לדבריו – דמעלין בקדש ואין מורידין.

Commenting on this the Vilna Gaon[2] wrote as follows

… כ”כ הרמב”ם להלכה נראה שכן הוא דעת הרי”ף מדהביא מימרא דרבב”ח אר”י שני זקנים כו’ כנגד פרי החג כו’ דמעלין בקודש ואין כו’ דלהאי טעמא לא חיישינן להיכרא דימים הנכנסין או היוצאים שכתב התוספות שם. וכ”מ בגמרא שם חד אמר כו’ וחד אמר טעמא כו’ דנ”מ בכה”ג כנ”ל ומסקנא דב’ זקנים כמ”ד דמעלין בקודש כו’. This is what the Rambam wrote. And regarding halacha it seems that the Rif also holds this as he brought the statement of the two elders …and one lit according to the principle of “maalin bakodesh”. According to that reason, we aren’t worried about making recognizable the days that are coming in or leaving as Tosfot wrote. This seems to be the practical difference between the two opinions in the gemara and the conclusion of the gemara is to follow the one who held maalin bakodesh.

The Vilna Gaon clarifies that the Rif actually holds like the Rambam, for based on the gemara he brought, the main hiddur is not based on recognizing which day it is, but rather through increasing the candles. This fits exactly with the opinion of the Rambam, and according to the Gra, is the clear conclusion of the gemara.

The psak of the Shulchan Aruch and Rema

The Shulchan Aruch[3] writes as follows

כמה נרות מדליק?  בלילה הראשון מדליק אחד, מכאן ואילך מוסיף והולך אחד בכל לילה עד שבליל האחרון יהיו שמונה, ואפילו אם רבים בני הבית לא ידליקו יותר. How many candles must one light? On the first night one lights 1 candle. From then on one adds a candle every night, until on the last day one lights 8 candles. This is true even if there are many people in the household, one doesn’t light more.

The Rema adds

וי”א דכל אחד מבני הבית ידליק, וכן המנהג פשוט; ויזהרו ליתן כל אחד ואחד נרותיו במקום מיוחד, כדי שיהא היכר כמה נרות מדליקין. And some say – that each individual of the household should light, and this is the accepted mina. And one should be careful to give each person their candles in a designated place in order that it be recognizable how many candles are being lit that night.

The Tazi[4] points out the following:

ובכאן יש חידוש במנהג שהספרדים נוהגין כתוס’ כמ”ש [ב”י] והאשכנזים כרמב”ם וזה לא מצינו בשאר מקומות Here  there is a novelty in terms of mina, as the Sefaradim follow Tosfot, whilst the Ashkenazim follow the Rambam. This we haven’t found in other places.

However if we look closely we can observe the words of the Rema do fit completely with the opinion of the Rambam. For according to the rambam , the father of the house lights on behalf of the entire family, whilst according to the Rema, each individual lights their own candles. Who then is the source for the opinion of the Rema? The answer is found in the words of the Rema himself in his work the Darkei Moshe.

וכן המנהג. וכתב מהר”א מפראג דלדידן שמדליקין בפנים ויודעין בבית כמה בני אדם בבית וליכא למיחש שמא יאמרו כך בני אדם הם בבית אף לדעת התוספות מנהגינו נכון. ועוד דמאחר שמדליקין בפנים כל אחד יוכל להדליק במקום מיוחד ולא בעי להדליק כולן בטפח הסמוך לפתח וניכר הנרות שמדליק כל אחד ואחד ואיכא היכרא כשמוסיף והולך בשאר הלילות ולכן מנהגינו אתי שפיר לכולי עלמא. The Maharal of Prague said that for us who light inside the house and know how many people there are in the household, and there is no worry that people might err and think that this (the added candles ) are because there are more people in the house; our minhag is in accordance even with the opinion of Tosfot. Furthermore since we light inside each person can light in a specific designated area, and we don’t need to all light within a tefach of the opening of the door. Therefore it will be clearly recognizable when we add a candle per night. Therefore our minhag is in accordance with all opinions.

It comes out that the Rema actually does pasken like Tosfot. The whole reason that Tosfot argued against lighting per family member was that it wouldn’t be recognizable to a person on the street, what day of the chag it was. However now that we light inside and it is clearly recognizable, there is no reason not to light more candles – the opposite is true, it is a hiddur both in terms of recognizing the days and increasing the amount of candles.

Regarding the psak of the Shulchan Aruch, it should be noted that the Shulchan Aruch did not write an explanation of the term “mehadrin min hamehadrin”. Rather he wrote a practical guide as to what to in practice. The Rambam first gave an explanation as to what the term in the gemra meant. But afterwards the Rambam himself added what the minhag in the cities of Sfarad were.

מנהג פשוט בכל ערינו בספרד שיהיו כל אנשי הבית מדליקין נר אחד בלילה הראשון ומוסיפין והולכין נר בכל לילה ולילה עד שנמצא מדליק בליל שמיני שמונה נרות בין שהיו אנשי הבית מרובים בין שהיה אדם אחד. It is a clear minhag in all of our cities that all of the people of the household light 1 candle on the first night and add a candle every night, until on the last night 8 candles are lit whether there are many people in the household or few.

Although the psak of the Shulchan Aruch is in sync with Tosfot, from this line in the Rambam it is clear that it is always in accordance with the Rambam as he brought down the established minhag in the Spain. Therefore the puzzlement of the Taz has been answered.


However now – the opinion of the Rambam himself seems ambiguous, as the Lechem Mishna already pointed out. Here are the words of the Lechem Mishna:

, א”כ הך מנהג כמאן?! דמהדרין מדליקין נרות כמנין אנשי הבית בכל לילה ולילה בלי הוספה, וא”כ אנן דמדליקין נר אחד בלילה הראשון ואנו הולכים ומוסיפין לא אתיא כוותייהו וכמהדרין מן המהדרין נמי לא אתיא ואי מדינא לא בעינן אלא אחד בלילה הראשון וכן בכל לילה ולילה בלי הוספה כלל וא”כ מנהג דידן לפי דעת רבינו ז”ל לכאורה נראה מנהג בטעות בשלמא לפירוש המפרשים דמפרשין דמהדרין מן המהדרין אין מדליקין אלא נר אחד בלילה הראשונה והולכים ומוסיפין ניחא. וי”ל דמ”מ לא הוי מנהג בטעות כיון דעבדינן כדין ואע”ג דמדינא לא בעי הוספה אנן נראה לנו למיעבד האי פשרה ולעשות ההוספה בכה”ג. If so this minhag brought down by Rabeinu is in accordance with whom? For the Mehadrin light the same amount of candles every night according to the number of people in the household. So we who are lighting one candle on the first night and then adding one every night, are not following that level (Mehadrin). Nor are we following the Mehadrin min Hamehadrin. And if the minhag follows the basic level, then only one candle is needed each night. If so it seems that our minhag according to Rabeinu is a mistaken minhag. Now the minhag is acceptable according to those who explain that Mehadrin min Hamehadrin starts with one candle per household and increases every night (Tosfot). However one could answer that in any event it isn’t a mistaken minhag as we are certainly fulfilling the basic mitzvah, and although we don’t need to add , we saw fit to do so according to the is resolution and add in this way.

According to the Lechem Mishna – the minhag brought down by the Rambam is actually not in sync with any of the levels mentioned in the gemara (according to the Rambams explanation).However since we are not doing less than the basic law he claims that it isn’t considered a mistaken minhag. This needs further clarification.

Perhaps we can give a different understanding of the Rambam. In truth the optimal way is to light with as many candles as possible. Yet there is a downside to this way – as the candles have to all be next to the door. If so it is very difficult for the passerby to discern what day of Channukah it is. Nevertheless this is still the optimal way. However when one has to light inside such as in time of danger etc., then there is no problem of lighting many candles as it is known to the people in the household how many people there are. (this is also the way the Responsa Kneset Yisrael chapter  17)

We see that the Rambam later on in the chapter (Halacha 7-8) did relate to lighting in different places during times of danger.

According to this one can explain that in Halacha 2 the Rambam related to a time when it wasn’t possible to light outside, in which case one should light the optimal amount of candles; whereas Halacha 3 relates to a time when they were able to light outside, in which case the preferred custom is by highlighting the number of days.

According to everything that we explained above, it is clear that the Shulchan Aruch followed in his usual style and paskened according to the Rambam as brought down in Halacha 3. The Rema also follows his usual code – paskening in accordance with Tosfot and there is no anomaly in Hilchot Channukah – Channuka Sameach

[1] See introduction to the Beit Yosef

[2] Biur Hagra O.C  670

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

– Length: