Hanukkah in the RBML

Religious and Legal Works

An 18th century collection of sermons from Italy (below) provides a glimpse into the the work of rabbis throughout the century. In this case, the author wanted to find references to Hanukkah in the weekly Torah portion that was read that week – and, it seems he was successful!  Thus the section is labeled “For Va-yehi Mikets [Genesis 41:1-44:17] and for Shabbat Hanukkah.”

Sermon for “va-yehi mikets and Hanukkah” in an 18th century book of sermons (X893 D44)

Liturgical Texts

Tikun hatsot (Italy, 1879) (X893 J529)
Tikun Hatsot (Italy, 1857), X893 J7358

Prayer, of course, is another notable area where one can find texts relating to Hanukkah.  A particular song, with a refrain taken from the “‘al ha-nissim” prayer sung on Hanukkah, appears in multiple manuscripts, including two copies of Tikkun Hatsot (kabbalistic prayers to be said at midnight commemorating the Temple at Jerusalem) produced in Italy in the 19th century.

Title page, collection of poetry, etc. 18th century (X893 J7393)
Prayers for Hanukkah, 18th century (X893 J7393)



A miniature (10 cm) collection of poems, liturgy, ritual texts, fairy tales and a dictionary of Mishnaic Hebrew words into Greek in Hebrew characters (left) includes a page with blessings and poetry for Hanukkah.

A collection of prayers for “special” Sabbaths that was recently featured in our Corfu exhibition (right) includes prayers for the Shabbat of Hanukkah, as well as when Shabbat Hanukkah also coincides with the new month (Rosh Hodesh) for the month of Tevet, as it does this year (2022).

Prayers for Shabbat Hanukkah that includes Rosh Hodesh (Corfu, 18th century), X893 J5222

The Jews of Avignon, part of the unique Comtat Venaissan community (and the only Jews allowed to live in France continuously after their expulsion in the 14th century until the French Revolution, due to their protection by the Pope) printed a volume of their unique liturgy in Avignon in 1765. Of course, this volume also included prayers for Hanukkah, as pictured below.

Prayers for Hanukkah according to the rite of Avignon (Avignon, 1765), B893.17 Se27

Historical Collection of Children’s Literature

Red book cover with a boy and a girl sitting on a bench reading a book, surrounded by green vegetation.
Holiday Storybook, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1952 (HISTCHIL 1730)
“Catching Up,” a story for Hanukkah in the “Holiday Storybook” (HISTCHIL 1730)
Illustration of a family looking at the menorah, with an image of Jerusalem and the Temple in the background
Holiday Storybook, Illustration for “Catching up” (HISTCHIL 1730)

Among the collections of the RBML is about eight thousand books of historical children’s literature from the Historical Collection of Children’s Literature (HCCL). A Holiday Storybook published in 1952 features a number of stories pertaining to Jewish holidays, including Purim, Passover, Rosh Hashana, and Hanukkah!

American Institute of Graphic Arts Collection

Cover of the Fireside Book of Folk Songs with images of people dressed in "folk" dress, and flowers.
“Fireside book of folk songs” (Simon and Schuster, 1947) AIGA 1948 42


Image of a man standing next to a table lighting a green menorah, with the Hebrew word 'Or (light) over his right shoulder.
“Hanukkah Song,” from “Fireside book of folk songs” (Simon and Schuster, 1947) AIGA 1948 42
Music for "Hanukkah Song."
“Hanukkah Song,” from “Fireside book of folk songs”  AIGA 1948 42

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds the collection of around 5100 volumes from 1923 to the present that were awarded a prize as one of the “Fifty Books of the Year” (subsequently renamed “50 Books/50 Covers) by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). The AIGA collection includes around 5100 volumes (cataloged individually in CLIO) that were awarded a prize as one of the “Fifty Books of the Year” (subsequently renamed “50 Books/50 Covers) since 1923. Among them are several books dealing with Hanukkah! First is the Fireside book of Folk Songs, published by Simon and Schuster in 1947. Among its list of “Old Hymns and Spirituals” is a “Hanukkah Song” – one that’s fairly well known today (right)

A second AIGA submission is a 1979 copy of an English translation of Sholem Aleichem’s Hanukah Money. In this story, two poor brothers discuss the potential Hanukah gelt (gifts of money traditionally given on Hanukkah) they might get from their relatives.

Cover of "Hanukah Money" by Sholem Aleichem (illustrated by Uri Shulevitz), showing two poor boys in rags.
“Hanukah Money” by Sholem Aleichem (illustrated by Uri Shulevitz), Greenwillow Books, 1978. AIGA 1979 77

Another book by a famous Yiddish author in the collection is Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Power of Light, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 1980. This particular copy is signed by both Singer and the illustrator, Irene Lieblich.

Title page, with inscriptions by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Irene Lieblich.
Text reading "The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah by Isaac Bashevis Singer." Image of houses covered in snow at night, with people walking around.
The Power of Light (New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1980), PJ5129.S49 P6

All in all, Hanukkah clearly features broadly among the RBML collections – sometimes almost accidentally!  Our final image is from a collection of model letters from 16th century Italy. In this book, there are a variety of drawings, perhaps by a student who was learning the correct method of writing. One of the pages includes a menorah for Hanukkah, and was perhaps drawn as the student daydreamed about lighting the candles later that night.

Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate!

Doodle of a menorah in a collection of model letters from 16th century Italy (MS X893 M582)


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