Humanistic Blessing for Hanukkah

The top of a Hanukkah menorah with two candles lit

Our menorah for the first night of Hanukkah

(Note: updated 12/21/14 to add vocalized Hebrew and transliterations. If you observe errors or have questions, please feel free to drop a comment below. Also, see other Hanukkah posts here, here, and here.)

In Secular Humanistic Judaism, we put a premium on saying what you mean and meaning what you say when it comes to liturgy. I point this out because it has implications for what one says on holidays and in other liturgical contexts If you follow that guidepost of Secular Humanistic Judaism, the traditional blessings for Hanukkah won’t do.

There are established alternatives within the movement, and we used two blessings last night for the Hanukkah candles. The first is the well-used one composed by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, founder of the Society for Humanistic Judaism: “Blessed is light in the world; Blessed is the light in humanity; Blessed is the light of Hanukkah.” The Hebrew is:

בּרוּךְ האוׂר בָּעוׂלָם, בּרוּךְ האוׂר בָּאָדָם, בּרוּךְ האוׂר בָּחֲנּוּכָּה.

Transliterated: Baruch ha-or ba-loam, baruch ha-or ba-adam, baruch ha-or ba-Chanukah. (You can find this numerous places on the Web and in print, including Rabbi Wine’s book, Celebration: A Ceremonial and Philosophic Guide for Humanists and Humanistic Jews, which has a number of humanistic options for Jewish celebrations. You can order a copy from SHJ, Amazon, and elsewhere.)

I wanted a blessing that would replace the traditional second and third blessings used on Hanukkah. The traditional theistic ones are:

Blessed are you, Lord our god, king of the universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors in their days down to our own time;

And

Blessed are you, Lord our god, king of the universe, who gave us life and sustained us and brought us to this day.

(The second of those, the shehecheyanu, is generally only recited on the first night of any given holiday and on certain special occasions; it’s named for the first Hebrew word that composes the non-formulaic part of the blessing, “who gave us life.”)

If you’re a humanist, you see the problem–those aren’t humanist at all, since the focus is on a theistic view of the world. If you’re not familiar with humanism, you’ll see what I mean when you compare to what I actually used.

In any event, those had to go. And I wasn’t so in love with the existing alternatives, so I rolled my own. I wanted to keep some of the specialness of the shehecheyanu blessing, but have a humanistic text that captured not only the distinction of the first night, but also the humanistic focus I hoped to convey for the holiday. Here’s what we used last night:

Blessed are the heroes, the sages, the enlightened ones, and all the people Israel, who have given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this day.

Of course, there’s a Hebrew text. But I’m not typing it here, because I’m still debating whether I’m happy with the grammar of the thing–I want to keep the formulaic end of the original shehecheyanu, which really rolls off the tongue for me at this point, but the Hebrew is problematic as originally composed. I’m considering changing the text to:

Blessed is every hero, every sage, every enlightened person, and all the people Israel, who have given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this day.

The Hebrew for the second version is:

בּרוּךְ כָּל גִּיבּוּר, וְכָל חָכָם, וְכָל מַשְֹכִּיל, וְכָל עַם יִשְֹרָאֵל שֶׁהֶחֱיָֽנוּ וְקִיְּמָֽנוּ וְהִגִּיעָֽנוּ לִזְמַן הַזֶּה.

Transliterated: Baruch kol gibur, ve-chol chacham, ve-chol maskil, ve-chol am yisrael, shehecheyanuve-kiyemanu, ve-higiyanu lizman ha-ze.

It fixes the Hebrew a bit–I can claim a bit more of the grammatical grace that goes with poetry–but rolls off the tongue less smoothly in Hebrew and English. I may keep rolling with one of these two for each night of Hanukkah, because they catch some of the humanism I really want to convey: that it’s the work of people that brought us to our present day, and the work of people that–for good or ill–made Hanukkah what it was then and what it is now, in all its forms.

So, feel free to use one of these if you like. And if you share the text on your own blog, Facebook page, Twitter tweet stream, printed publication, or any other way, please make sure to credit the source. Thanks! 🙂

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