Ace investigative reporter Michael Isikoff of Newsweek used his minute with Eric Holder at the Justice Department’s crowded holiday party last night to interrogate the Attorney General about the number of candles in the Hanukkah menorah.
According to Isikoff, there should have been six, not five, candles in the menorah that was on display in the Attorney General’s conference room, along with other symbols of religious faiths. We were unable to hear Holder’s answer and may have to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get to the bottom of this issue.
In the Justice Department’s defense, there appears to be some disagreement about how many candles should have been lit.
Our friend Al Lengel, author of the law enforcement Web site Tickle the Wire, emailed us: “There were supposed to be 8 candles last night. 7 regular and one is called the shammus candles.. the first night you start out with 2.. the shammus candle is the one high candle. the rest are usually on the same level.”
We consulted Wikipedia, which describes two menorah-lighting traditions:
The Hanukkah menorah has a ninth branch for an auxiliary candle, the shamash, that, by shedding its own light, keeps the other candles from inadvertently serving any purpose other than their ritual one. The shamash is also used to light the other candles. The holder for the shamash candle is generally distinguished in some way from the other eight, traditionally being placed higher than the others, and often in the center, with four of the other candles on each side.
In addition to the shamash, on the first night one candle is placed in the holder on the far right, and is lit using the shamash. Each night afterwards for the next seven nights, one more candle than the night before is kindled. The shamash is used to light the other candles present from left to right. This is the teaching of the House of Hillel. The House of Shammai teaches to light eight candles the first night, seven the second night, six the third night, and so on all eight nights.