Manhattan’s Menorah being lit by Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, in 2016. Credit: Credit: Chaim Perl / Chabad.org/ Chabad Lubavitch/Flickr.
In the mid-1970s, former Chabad Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson encouraged his emissaries to build public menorahs in major cities and organize nightly lightings to increase public awareness about Hanukkah and inspire fellow Jews to light menorahs in their homes. Decades later, Chabad rabbis continue the effort in cities worldwide, but in New York, the practice hasn’t always been friendly. The tradition ended up creating a fun competition between rival menorahs in Brooklyn and Manhattan, both claiming to be “The World’s Largest.” To mark the first night of Hanukkah on Thursday, both of New York City’s 32-foot-tall menorahs will be lighted.
Brooklyn’s Menorah being lit by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2016. Credit: Credit: Chabad of Park Slope / Chabad.org/ Chabad Lubavitch/Flickr.
In 1973, Rabbi Shmuel Butman erected a menorah in Manhattan, where it still stands every year, on Fifth Avenue at the southeastern corner of Central Park. About a decade later, in 1984, Rabbi Shimon Hecht built his at Grand Army Plaza in Park Slope.
Both menorahs are actually the same height, 32 feet, the maximum allowed by Jewish law. But the central candle in Hecht’s menorah — called the shamash — is six inches taller than Butman’s. In 2006, The Guinness Book of World Records gave Manhattan a slight edge by certifying the Fifth Avenue menorah as the “World’s Largest Menorah,” but the claim to fame would not be settled until 2016 when a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical court weighed in on the matter.
As The New York Jewish Week reported, the court decided that Hecht could not claim Brooklyn had the largest menorah — even though, technically, it is — because the Manhattan menorah used the moniker first, and so the court ruled that they owned the title.
“Every Hanukkah operation is meant for publicizing the miracle in a way that sanctifies God’s name and the name of Chabad, and not, God forbid, the opposite,” the judges wrote in the December 1, 2016 decision. “When another organization in the same city uses the same descriptor without permission from the plaintiff, it could cause the opposite of respect to Lubavitch.”
Rabbi Hecht still owns and uses the website largestmenorah.com, but after this ruling, he conceded to a subtle rebranding and added — in very small font — “Brooklyn” to their logo, so that it reads “Brooklyn’s Largest Menorah.”
This year’s menorah lighting events are free and open to the public, but face coverings and social distancing are required. At the Brooklyn event, hosted by Chabad of Park Slope, there will be live music, hot latkes, and gifts for children.
Starting on Thursday, Dec. 10, the schedule of hour-long menorah lightings in Manhattan is as follows:
Thursday, December 10 at 5:30 p.m.
Friday, December 11 at 3:45 p.m.
Saturday, December 12 at 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, December 13 at 5:30 p.m.
Monday, December 14 at 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday, December 15 at 5:30 p.m.
Wednesday, December 16 at 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, December 17 at 5:30 p.m.
And in Brooklyn:
Thursday, December 10: A live kickoff concert begins at 5:00 p.m.
Friday, December 11 at 3:30 p.m.
Saturday, December 12 at 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, December 13 at 5:30 p.m.
Monday, December 14 at 6:00 p.m.
Tuesday, December 15 at 6:00 p.m.
Wednesday, December 16 at 6:00 p.m.
Thursday, December 17 at 6:00 p.m.
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Editor’s note 12/10/2020: An earlier version of this post was published on Dec. 6, 2019, and has been updated with new information.