Romaniote Memories: A Jewish Journey from Ioannina, Greece to Manhattan: Photographs by Vincent Giordano

Candle lighting

A required ritual practice at the start of the Sabbath and holidays of Biblical origin (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, first and last days of Passover, and Shavuot) is the lighting of celebratory candles.

Candles were customarily lit by women at home, but today are often lit at the synagogue if a congregation gathers on Friday night.  Though the ceremony is not mentioned in the Bible, it probably has early rabbinic origins and is certainly known from the 9th century CE on. The candle lighting symbolizes God’s creation, and specifically the border between day and night, and profane time and sacred time.

Since in 2006 the first evening of Rosh Hashanah (Erev Rosh Hashanah) fell on a Friday evening, the beginning of the Sabbath, there was double imperative to kindle lights and to celebrate. Because so many had gathered in Ioannina from near and far for the celebration, all the women were invited to light candles and recite the blessing before the evening service began:

“Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the universe, who sanctified us with the commandment of lighting Shabbat and holiday lights.”

In years past, the Jewish women of Ioannina would light oil lamps at home on Friday evening after they had baked bread and other dishes, bathed their children, made sure the family had clean clothes for the Sabbath, and had cleaned the house. Once the Sabbath lights were lit shortly before sunset, it was forbidden to touch a light until the Havdalah service after sunset on Saturday.

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