(taken from Minhagei Yisrael, Volume 5, by Daniel Shperber)

Maharshal writes (responsa #85) that a person should say HaNeirot Halalu when lighting the Chanukah candles, and he records a version of the text that has thirty-six words. The reason behind this is that the recitation of this paragraph should serve as a reference to the candles themselves, and we light a total of thirty-six candles over the course of Chanukah (not including the shamash). Tur records this version as well, and claims that it is based on the version of Maharam MiRutenberg, who bases it on its original source in Masechet Soferim.

It is interesting to note that this particular version, which is essentially the one in common use today, is not found among the writings of Rashi, Rambam, Rif, Or Zarua, the Rokeiach, or virtually any of the other major Rishonim. Seemingly, our entire practice in this matter is based on one individual, Maharam MiRutenberg. Why is this so?

Shperber suggests that the reason that out text follows Maharam MiRutenberg is that he was the one who made it an obligation for us to recite this paragraph. Why did he do this? Why did he deem HaNeirot Halalu to be something so crucial? After all, it is simply a statement of what we are doing and some of the laws surrounding the lighting!

The answer for this can be found in a statement by the Shulchan Aruch. He rules (O.C. 673:1) that it is forbidden for one to use to Chanukah candles for any purpose, either profane or holy. However, he notes that there are those (Ba'al HaIttur and Ba'al HaMaor) who permit using the candles to perform other holy acts. As such, Maharam MiRutenberg felt that it was necessary to insist on the recitation of HaNeirot Halalu, to emphasize the halacha that under no circumstances may one make use of the Chanukah candles, not even for holy purposes.

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