Considering The Debates About The Debate Between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai Regarding Hanukah Candle-Lighting [Talmud Tuesday]
When it comes to lighting candles on Hanukah, the amount of candles lit is now commonly done in an ascending manner according to the night. The original source for this is the following text (bShabbat 21b):
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
Our Rabbis taught:
The mizvah of Hanukah is one candle per household.
For the beautifiers: one candle per person.
For the beautifiers of the beautifiers:
Shammai’s Academy says: “On the first day, light eight; thenceforth, decrease.”
Hillel’s Academy says: “On the first day, light one; thenceforth, increase.”
As anybody would be curious, the question arises: about what are these two academies disagreeing? In an uncommon move, the Talmud offers up two separate reportages (also to be found on bShabbat 21b). Here is the first (chronologically, although not literarily/editorally):
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
Rabbah, son of son of Hannah (late 3rd c. – early 4th c.), said: “Rabbi Yohanan (d. 279) said: ‘There were two elders in Sidon: one did according to Shammai’s Academy and one did according to Hillel’s Academy. This one gave a reason for his words: according to the bull offerings on the holiday [of Sukkot], and this one gave a reason for his words: we ascend in holy items and we do not descend.’”
In this first instance, these two elders each did it according to one of the academies and provided reasons. For the one who followed Shammai’s Academy, he referred to the descending amount of bulls offered per day during the holiday of Sukkot, perhaps since Hanukah is a make-up for Sukkot (see 2 Maccabees 10:1-8). For the other elder, while, at first glance, it is not clear to what he is referring, he is actually referring to matters of holy items in the Holy Temple. So, these two elders both regard the debate to be utilizing the Temple as an archetype, they just differ as to what it should refer.
And here is the second reporting of a debate:
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
Ulla (late 4th c.) said: “Two amoraim [in the early 4th c.] in the west (land of Israel) argued over this – Rabbi Yosé, son of Avin, and Rabbi Yosé, son of Zevida.
One said: ‘Shammai’s Academy’s reason corresponds to the days that have entered (i.e. days so far) and Hillel’s Academy reason corresponds to the days that have departed (i.e. days still remaining).’
One said: ‘Shammai’s Academy’s reason corresponds to the bull offerings on the holiday [of Sukkot] and Hillel’s Academy reason is that we ascend in holy items and we do not descend.’”
In this instance, these two Rabbi Yosés differ on a more fundamental level: while the latter does offer the Temple-based archetypes, as we saw in the first reporting, the former does not. Rather, the former merely offers a correspondence to the days, whether it’s the days that have already arrived or those that are still remaining.
Of course, it is unclear to us looking at these texts why Hillel’s Academy said what it did and why Shammai’s Academy said what it did. However, while the simple way of looking at it would be merely the numbers of days, it is quite interesting to consider the model referring back to the Holy Temple. This model would, obviously, have deeper significance, since we commemorate the rededication of the Holy Temple on this festival.
For trying to answer how to light the candles for eight days of the festival, how would one decide to do it? Yes, on one level, it’s easy enough to light one candle. However, should one light eight candles all eight days? It would seem that would have been asking too much. But what if you could start with one and increase for each night or the alternative, in a decreasing fashion? If so, how would you justify that? Even if you say The Holy Temple, which models could you refer to? It would seem that since, of the two Torah-given week-long holidays, only one of them has a changing in order (Sukkot in descending bull-offerings). However, how could an increasing be justified? The tannaitic principle of increasing in holy items [in the Holy Temple] and not decreasing (see here).
These answers help us to try to understand the perspectives of Hillel’s Academy and Shammai’s Academy regarding the lighting of Hanukah candles 🙂