Sunday, October 20, 2013

From Cochin to Vancouver -- Candle Lighting Customs that Bridge Shabbat & Hanukkah

Wherever we look on the Jewish calendar we always seem to be lighting a candle or two. Shabbat candles, Havdallah candle, festival candles (e.g. Sukkot, Passover, Shavuot) and Hanukkah candles. Since Shabbat is our weekly mainstay for recharging our batteries (these days, that too is a source of light) and Hanukkah is just several weeks away, it's nice to know that some candle lighting customs bridge the two.

Less than a hundred years ago the Jews of Cochin maintained the custom of welcoming the Shabbat by lighting stone lamps called kallu vilakku located at the entrance of their homes. It wasn't the woman who lit the candle but the synagogue Gabbai. Using a torch lit from the Ner Tamid -- the Eternal Light hanging in front of the ark inside the synagogue -- he would go from house to house, lighting each lamp. What did a kallu vilakku look like? This is my hunch based on a Google search.

While this clearly is an adaptation of an Indian custom, it's the Jewish Cochin way of saying Hey, it's Shabbat!

I haven't found a Cochin Hannukiah that resembles the above, but let's examine the Hanukkiah lighting custom in the Israeli community of Meah Shearim, and as I've just discovered with this photo, the Jewish community in Vancouver.

The Hanukkiah is also found outside, positioned near the home's entrance. This custom is found in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b) where it is stated that Hanukkah lights should be placed outside the doorway of the house. In other words, a way of announcing Hey, it's Hanukkah!

My question to you: Where are you going to light candles on Shabbat Hanukkah and how are you going to connect the two?

My craft suggestion: In addition to the Hanukkiah usually made in class or at home, how about making two clay oil lamps for Shabbat candles?

Any other suggestions? Send me an email and I'll post it.

Shabbat Candles photo credit
Hanukkah candles photo credit
Kallu Vilakku photo credit
Vancouver Hanukkiah photo credit


  1. I used to be a docent at the Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum in Berkeley, California, which has an extensive collection of hanukiot from all over the world. I recall several from Russia, Poland and Syria, which had what appeared to be two shamash candle or oil holders. Abram Kanof, in his "Jewish Ceremonial Art and Religious Observance" book mentions similar hanukiot and says, "...these lamps were used on the Sabbath, thus combining two functions." We Jews have always been a very practical people - especially when most of us didn't have the funds to purchase separate ritual objects for all the holidays.

  2. Thank you Charna for sharing this information. Fascinating! Do you know anyone at the Museum? Would they send me a photo of a Hanukkiah like the ones you describe so that I can post it?