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What do you think of public menorahs?

My wife I were out in San Jose last night and there happened to be this Holiday carnival going on last night. We squeezed our way through this invasion of Mexicans to find some decent San Jose territory to walk around, we just wanted to sample the cool night area and possibly get our drink on when we saw the Chabad of San Jose menorah forcing the throngs of cotton candy and kettle corn eating folks to walk around it. I’m fairy certain that 99% of the folks at this carnival had no idea what this weird thing was, they probably didn’t notice it at all, but I noticed it and there is a certain sense of Jewish pride that welled up in me that’s inexplicable.

Until a few years ago I never knew that there was controversy behind public menorah lightings. I always thought that everyone was for em’, Jews had something to be proud of when everyone else had Christmas and orthodox Jews had some sort of holiday celebration to go to in towns that usually had nothing else going on. In Rochester and Albany it was definitely like that, we’d go downtown and watch some bearded fellow climb a ladder, light the menorah all the while we would be eating latkes and jelly donuts and scoping out the cute chabad girls milling about.

Apparently both non-Jews and Jews have something to gripe about when it comes to public menorah lightings. Sometimes chabad has trouble securing permits and public controversy arises out of it, but when no political controversy arises there is still some griping to be found. It seems like everyone has an opinion about public menorah lightings. I’ve heard frum Jews saying that it’s a chillul Hashem and non-religious Jews saying it’s bad because it looks like we are trying to “compete” with Christmas.

In my opinion, all of these varying opinions make perfect sense. Even though I get a sense of pride that we Jews can finally publicize our religion without the threat of being killed or being thrown out of town, I understand that many Jews don’t feel the same way. I’m the type of guy that wears my yarmulke and tzitzis everywhere and has tremendous Jewish pride (except when I’m in NY), but it seems that outside of major Jewish cities this is not the common thing to do. Rarely do I even see folks around here wearing yarmulkes outside of shul, they wear baseball hats and tuck in their tzitzis, so how should they feel about “in your face Judaism” aka the public menorah lighting?

Then again, the public menorah must make some Jews feel good, as I’ve heard from quite a few intermarried, assimilated and otherwise non-affiliated Jews that they love the public menorah, especially ironic considering the fact that Chanukah is anti everything that their lives stand for.

We can probably go into an entire discussion about how Chanukah is the anti-assimilation holiday and therefore the public menorah is a necessary icon in the war against intermarriage. Or is the public Jewish stuff embarrassing people enough to want nothing to do with those crazy Jews.

So how do you feel about public menorahs?


{ 40 comments… add one }
  • MCR December 9, 2012, 12:30 PM

    In favor of the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle, but on private property. I just set up a menorah on my front lawn made of solar-powered lawn lights. My wife says it looks kinda Chabad-ish.

  • Menachem December 9, 2012, 1:39 PM

    All the litigation over Public Menorah lightings was Chabad vs an individual Jew (mayor of Pittsburg, for instance) or some Jewish organization. Its the Jews who usually have issues with it, as you explained in your article.

    Your article brought a pretty good case for public menorah lightings from Chabad’s perspective. Disclaimer: I am a Lubavitcher.

  • Berl December 9, 2012, 1:57 PM

    Interesting to note that the only way Chabad was able to win the courtcase allowing the display of a Menorah on public property was by making the argument in court that the Menorah was not a religious symbol but rather a but rather a universal and secular one.

    This is the only way they were able to win the case in the supreme court. Had they argued that the Menorah was a religious symbol, it would have been banned due to the seperation of Church and state.

    To me, the whole thing seems very dishonest.

  • George December 9, 2012, 3:31 PM
  • Chani December 9, 2012, 4:53 PM

    If there’s no problem with the Rockefeller Christmas tree, I don’t see any problem with a menorah. And – I am generally for all things sparkly.

    • The Mrs. December 9, 2012, 11:14 PM


  • Crowin' Cock December 9, 2012, 5:32 PM

    I’m all for it as long as the city or powers in charge of the public spots are OK with it.

    A number of years ago, one the the Chabad rabbi’s in the northwest took the local airport to court when they refused his menorah but allowed the xmas tree. The outcome was that all religious symbols were removed. I think this caused more of a chillul Hashem than anything else, after all, we are in North America, not Israel.

  • Velvel December 9, 2012, 6:17 PM

    It is great for Jewish pride and Judaism is not meant to be something one has to hide. This golus mentality of hiding our yamulkes and trying to be very quiet about our Judaism is just the result of a damaged collective Jewish psyche ravaged by 2,000+ years of persecution. As we near the coming of Moshiach the goyim have become more receptive and respectful of who we are and what we have to say. We need to be proud Jews and not afraid to publicize it especially in a liberal democracy like the US.

    Those who argue that it violates church and state are confused. Separation of church and state only means that the government can’t be seen as favoring a specific or particular religion at the expense of another. It’s freedom of religion. Not freedom from religion. If enough people vote for something such as a manger scene or Ten Commandments plaque or a Christmas tree or whatever else it is fine. Those who gripe just have to understand that their tax dollars already support plenty of things they don’t like and walking past or seeing a menorah or tree everyday does not infringe on their right to practice their religion or no religion.

    Disclaimer: I am also a Lubavitcher, but I’d have these views regardless, because it makes logical sense.

  • Chosid December 9, 2012, 6:56 PM

    Those against it are usually embarrassed by their Judaism as well.

  • Menachem December 9, 2012, 9:08 PM


    That was not the argument that Lewin made before the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court used that argument anyway to permit the public lighting.

  • Michael December 9, 2012, 11:25 PM

    I’m not against public menora lightnings as such, however I think that it is part of the Christmification of Chanuka.

    Chanuka candles are designed to publicize the miracle to ones family in the window or doorway of the house; the Shulchan Aruch doesn’t mention anything about lighting in public squares.

    Making a Bracha on a public lighting is almost certainly a Bracha L’vatala, lighting without a bracha is cute, but not really in the spirit of Chanuka (does anyone else do it besides Chabad?)

    Public Megilla Reading or Shofar Blowing (and I know that Chabad and other organizations do such things) are much more authentically Jewish without looking like having to compete with Christmas (That’s Xmas for anyone really frum reading this comment)

    • Anonymous December 10, 2012, 5:47 PM

      The public menorahs are an extension from the minhag to light in shul with a bracha because of pirsuma nisa. Fact is that in most places today there are more Jews in these public lightings than in shul. That’s the halachic reason to say a brocha over them.

    • Chosid December 11, 2012, 9:49 PM

      R’ Moshe Feinstein permitted making a brocha. But I’m sure you know better than him and the Rebbe.

  • A. Nuran December 10, 2012, 1:23 AM

    I’m Amenorahiac

    • bratschegirl December 10, 2012, 9:31 AM

      Oh, most excellent.

  • Velvel December 10, 2012, 9:49 AM

    One is supposed to publicize the miracle to the entire world, not just one’s family. Why else do you think we put the menorah in the doorway?

    • The Mrs. December 10, 2012, 12:32 PM

      There’s no actual mitzvah to publicize the miracle, only to light the menorah. The placement of the menorah is merely tradition. Are these menorahs simply a kiruv opportunity?

  • Bob December 10, 2012, 1:10 PM

    In general, I would prefer public spaces avoid displaying religious symbols. That being said, if everyone else is getting their space on the public square then I see no issue with including a menorah amoung the rest of the seasonal decorations. But then you get into the “equal time” premise and the argument loops back to where I started.

    • Anonymous December 11, 2012, 12:13 AM

      Everyone else? Just the tree for those who celebrate Christmas. That’s something like 90% of the USA. Even atheists generally celebrate it. Huge difference between Chanukah and Christmas. I have no issue with public Christmas trees but I do have an issue with public menorahs

  • Mike December 10, 2012, 10:23 PM

    I like the picture – kinda’ like a KKK rally, but needs a bunch of avreichim in black bekeshas with Streimels instead of white pointy hats.

    • Mike December 10, 2012, 10:26 PM

      (Replying to own comment)
      Wow. That was dark.

  • Ummm December 11, 2012, 12:10 AM

    Lighting menorahs in public spaces is not a Jewish concept

    It stems from deluded chabadniks who want to copy Christianity

    I guess it makes sense because those who believe in the rebbe borrowed/stole an immense amount of Christian doctrine and dogma

    • Chosid December 11, 2012, 9:53 PM

      You’re right the Chochomim also probably were just copying the goyim when they instructed us to light in shuls and courtyards.

      Being embarrassed of your Judaism is not a Jewish concept.

      • lol December 12, 2012, 9:57 PM

        Someone is not very familiar with Jewish history.

      • lol December 12, 2012, 9:58 PM

        and that someone is “Chosid”

        it’s not about being “embarrassed”

        it’s called using common sense. Lawsuits against an airport to force them to allow a menorah?

        Are you trying to engender more bad feelings towards Jews? there’s enough as it is.

        • Anon December 13, 2012, 10:03 PM

          It must be very cold and dark in your head, where the golus mentality has become the norm.

  • groinem December 11, 2012, 8:30 AM

    Lighting public menorahs is classless. We should be more confident of ourselves. We should not need public attention for our virtuous lives of keeping Torah.
    We are not smarter than the Torah and there is no need to invent new methods of pirsumei nissa.

    • Chosid December 11, 2012, 9:55 PM

      Following your approach, we also shouldn’t be using printed books because “We are not smarter than the Torah.”

    • Graenum schiff March 19, 2013, 7:02 PM

      Who are you “Groinem” ? Groinem Esterman was a well known
      rabbi in lithuania. Groinem was the first name of my great grandfather
      in Lithuania. It was
      Anglicised to Graenum

  • toldos aron December 11, 2012, 8:59 AM

    its sad that `strip dreidel`is becoming popular, oh my last night changed my life, my wife an i was talked in to it, i mean to dress sexy on purim is one thing, she is covered up no cleavage, but yet very extreme sexy, i can deal with that for one day, but `dtrip dreidel` this something else, i said no panty strip (to my luck she did`nt wear any of her g-string), even though it ended being fun, but i wont do it again. i think halacha speaking its not allowed.

    • Witness December 14, 2012, 4:29 AM

      Are you a bot or are you trolling? Or both- a troll-bot?

  • Woodrow/Conservadox December 11, 2012, 8:23 PM

    What does being smarter than the Torah have to do with it? The Torah was about 1100 years before the Maccabees.

  • groinem December 12, 2012, 8:35 AM

    I meant the Torah sheba’al peh. The chachomim decided how to publicize the nes. Why think of new ways of doing it? They knew what they were doing and they did not feel that this was the way to go. Why find a new one in the Twentieth century.
    Rabbi Schneersohn was a great guy and all, but he isn’t someone who can overturn 2000+ years of precedent . He had no backing from other Rabbonim for this and the earthquake is too great for one individual to precipitate.

    • Critic December 12, 2012, 5:56 PM

      “He had no backing from other Rabbonim for this and the earthquake is too great for one individual to precipitate.”
      The Rambam in his time was considered a revolutionary, had no backing from other Rabbonim and was considered a heretic by most.Much of his philosophical teachings were based on Aristotelian thought as well as the teachings of the Islamic philosopher and mystic Averroes so do we minimize his stature as a great Halachist and philosopher? Do we do away with meMoshe ad Moshe lo kam kiMoshe?

      • lol December 12, 2012, 9:59 PM

        The Lubavitcher Rebbe cannot hold a candle to the Rambam. No comparison.

        • Anonymous December 12, 2012, 11:24 PM

          My point was that the lack of backing by rabbonim does not necessarily negate or promote the greatness of ideas or individuals.I was not making a determination as to who holds or does not hold a candle to who.
          In addition the assertion that since “the chachomim decided how to publicize the nes. Why think of new ways of doing it” is false.Times change even within the parameters of Halacha. Halacha is in constant flux. It has evolved over the centuries and adapted itself to the needs of different periods in our history.I can’t perceive of public lighting of menorahs in enviorments where the lighting of a menorah or for that matter fulfillment of any Mitzvot publicly entailed physical danger.
          We live in a time when assimilation,ignorance and intermarriage are at their highest levels in Jewish history.Desperate times calls for radical solutions that were not needed in times past. That’s why we have outreach, something that was unheard of not to many years ago.I clearly remember the public condemnation by so many rabonim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe when he first pioneered the concept of kiruv and yet it has now become so common place. Pride and knowledge of our faith have to be instilled in those that are so oblivious to them.So yes, perhaps there was no need for public lighting of Menoras in the past but times certainly have changed.

          • Critic December 12, 2012, 11:27 PM

            I’m not really “anonymous”. Forgot to sign in as “Critic”.

            • groinem December 13, 2012, 2:05 AM

              The first step of all reformers was “Nowadays is different”. Read what they wrote 150 years ago and how they were ‘combating assimilation’. I am not calling the LR a reformer but that attitude is dangerous. If we combat assimilation by showing authentic Judaism, we will be successful. If we combat it by changing Judaism, we will be left with nothing but the changes.
              Don’t worry, trust G-d and his Torah to have the solutions against assimilation and any other problems. Just follow it without any additions and it will lead you to great places.
              BTW, the reference to the Rambam is disingenuous. We do not have the information from the time and the acceptance of the Rambam with hindsight is not the same as the future hindsight of acceptance of the LR. I know it is confusing but that is my point.

  • Chana December 12, 2012, 7:34 PM

    A direct quote from a Shliach in Israel that pretty much sums up the reason for public Menorah lightings.

    “Following operation Chomat Magen, that claimed precious lives and homes, we, like all Chabad emissaries around the globe, continue to broadcast the Menorah lighting, along with the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s message to the world: ‘We have been beaten and hurt throughout history, but the Jewish spirit is indomitable and unbreakable!’

    “The show goes on…until the final and speedy redemption. Jewish lamps continue to burn, and light other lamps, creating one, unified Jewish lamp. That is why we are here tonight.”

  • The Other Mike December 13, 2012, 7:24 PM

    I was thinking about putting up a big menorah in my front yard and a giant lit Magen David on the front of my house. Is this Jewish pride or am I just trying to out-goy the goyim?

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