By J. Jean Ajdler
Hakirah, The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought, Vol. 7 (2009)
Introduction: The lighting of Hanukkah candles is undoubtedly one of the most widespread and certainly the most recognized custom among the Jewish people.
Nevertheless most Jews are unaware that the ritual of the lighting and more precisely the order in which Hanukkah candles are lit, underwent an evolution over many centuries and that the order which has been adopted by the overwhelming majority of Jewish people was initially a marginal rite originating in France.
In the present paper we examine, through the rabbinical texts, the three major rites that existed in the middle-ages in the three dominant strands of Ashkenazi Jewry and the evolution of these ritual practices until contemporary times.
The emergence of the French rite was the result of an extraordinary combination of circumstances, including: the importance and prominence of R. Joseph Colon; the adoption of his ruling by R. Joseph Caro in Beit Yoseph and then in Shulhan Arukh; and the adoption of this rite by the Ari and his followers. The successful spread of Hassidism also contributed to the general acceptance of this rite in Eastern Europe, where other traditional rites still prevailed.
Today an overwhelming majority of Jews follow the French rite, while concurrently, the French Siddur, once considered as important as the German Siddur of Rhineland, died out completely and can only be found in rare books and manuscripts.