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What Is the seasonal role of a shamash?
A special candelabra, or menorah, is used during the 8-day Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. One candle is lit on the first night, two on the second etc. until all eight candles are burning on the eighth night of the holiday. The candles are lit from right to left. (Hebrew, the traditional language of Judaism, also is read from right to left.)
Because the candles celebrate an ancient miracle, when a small amount of oil kept a temple lamp burning for eight days, the candles are not supposed to do any work beyond illuminating the meaning of the holiday. So the menorah has a ninth candle, called the shamash ("service candle"), which is lit first and then is used to light the other candles.
The use of a menorah is not limited to Hanukkah. A menorah with seven candles -- one for each day of the week -- is one of the basic symbols of Judaism.
More information about the Hanukkah menorah is available from myjewishlearning.com.