Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"

A Jew at Home

I get lots of questions around Hanukkah time. Last week at services, someone asked whether, when we put the Hanukkah menorah in the window, the positioning of the candles be determined by how they appear from outside or inside the house. It’s a good question.

Over the centuries there have been rabbinic debates as to whether the hanukkiah should be lit inside the house at all, or should it stay outside all the time. The consensus is that for security purposes as well as the winter weather, which can be nasty even in Israel at this time, it’s best to keep it inside. But I think it should be, regardless.

We place the candles in from right to left and light them from left to right. Once those candles are lit, what’s important is what they look like from the perspective of those who are sure to be looking at them – and that means us. If others are looking at them too, on the other side of the window, wonderful. But before publicizing the miracle to the world, let’s make sure we’ve publicized it to ourselves. If others see it, so be it. From my house, if someone sees my candles from the outside, they’ve either got telescopic vision or antlers. Or they are at the cemetery – and as the Psalm says, “The dead do not praise You.” Let’s take care of business inside our homes first. Judaism should be first and foremost a private affair.

We spend too much time wondering about what others think of us. We worry too much about our public image, wearing our religion on our sleeves and rarely letting it penetrate the heart.

Back at the beginning of the Enlightenment, the talk was that newly emancipated Jews should be “Jews at home and human beings on the street.” The idea was to hide one’s Jewishness, reserving it for the private realm, and to appear just like everyone else in public.

But now the situation has been reversed. For so many, our Jewish identities revolve around our organizational affiliations, our meetings and lunches, our postings and proclamations, rather than our inner lives. So while it is good to proclaim the miracle for the world and to show pride in who we are, the flames of the Hanukkah candles mean nothing if they don’t ignite a spark in each of our souls.

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times and the upcoming book, "Embracing Auschwitz." Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2018, he received an award from the Religion News Association, honorable mention, for excellence in commentary, for articles written for the Washington Post, New York Jewish Week, and JTA. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as About.com's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Chloe, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: rabbi@tbe.org (203) 322-6901 x 307
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