Yeshivat Har Bracha

Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed

The Laws of Lighting Hanukkah Candles

The place of the menorah can be at the entrance of the house or in the window, with priority to the place where the miracle will be most widely publicized * Sephardim who truly desire to recite a blessing on their own menorah may rely on Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and Rabbi Messas, and light the Hanukkah candle with a blessing * At large events where there are also those who do not light candles in their homes, it is appropriate to light the candles with a blessing, and it is best to let a secular participant merit in the mitzvah * When attending family gatherings to light the candles, make certain to light them at home before leaving

The Sages’ enactment seems to indicate that in the past there was no concern that the wind would blow out the Hanukkah candles that were lit at the entrance to the home. Homes were built close together, many cities and courtyards were enclosed by a wall, and there were no strong winds blowing between the homes. Therefore, evidently, it was possible to light candles outside entranceways and courtyards without worrying that the candles would blow out. Today, though, when one lights candles outside, the wind usually blows them out. The only way to protect the candles is to light them in a glass box, like an aquarium.

However, the Sages never required people to buy glass boxes in order to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Hanukkah candles. Therefore, one who does not wish to buy a glass box may light the candles inside his home. If he lights in a window facing the street, he beautifies the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle to the same degree as one who lights in the entranceway, though he does not further beautify the mitzvah by lighting on the left side of the entranceway and thus surrounding himself with mitzvot (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 13:2).

The Entrance of the House or the Window of the House?

Q: When a person has a glass box and he can light a candle in the doorway of his house from the outside, near the doorway, however, the place of the doorway is not visible from the street, but on the other hand, if he lights on the windowsill, passers-by will see them – where is it preferable for him to light the candles?

A: The poskim (Jewish law arbitrators) disagreed on this. Some say that the lighting on the left side of the door is preferable, because this is the preferred place for lighting according to our Sages, and thus, the person is surrounded by mitzvot – a mezuzah to his right, and Hanukkah candles to his left. Others say that it is better to light a candle in the window, because the main reason our Sages determined to light it at the door of the house is to publicize the miracle, and if the miracle is more publicized in the window, it is preferable that way. In practice, it seems that although lighting in the doorway has merit, the mitzvah is rendered more beautiful when one lights in the window. Also, when the door opens to a stairwell, it is preferable to light by the window visible to passers-by on the street, or in an adjacent house.

When several members of the family light candles, according to the Ashkenazi custom, one should light at the entrance of the house, and another, on the windowsill (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 13:2).

When Lighting in the Stairwell Disturbs the Neighbors

Q: A person who wants to beautify the mitzvah and light a candle near the doorway that opens to the stairwell, but there are non-Jewish, or Jewish neighbors in the building who are bothered by the candles, because of their smoke, or because they obstruct the passageway – should they be taken into account?

A: If the law or the regulations of the building in that place are on the side of those requesting not to light a fire in the stairwell – it is forbidden for one to light candles in the stairwell; rather, he should fulfill the mitzvah to light inside his house, like the custom of many Jews. But if the law and regulations permit him to light candles in the stairwell – although there is a certain hiddur in lighting in the stairwell, it seems more of a hiddur to consider the neighbors and light inside his house. If he has a window that faces the street – kal ve’chomer (all the more so) is it preferable for him to light in the window of his house. However, if the neighbor’s request is in spite, then as long as the law is on his side, he does not need to consider his spiteful neighbors.

The Candles

All candles are kosher for Hanukkah candles, provided they can be lit for at least half an hour. If several people see the candles from the street, it is preferable to place candles that will burn for a number of hours, to increase the publicity of the miracle.

The candles that are lit Erev Shabbat need to last for at least an hour and a quarter, since they are lit before Shabbat begins, but should continue to be lit for at least half an hour after nightfall.

Ideally, one should choose a candle whose light is strong and beautiful, in order to publicize the miracle. That’s why many choose to light a wax or paraffin candle, which glows particularly beautifully. Others say that it is preferable to light the candles with olive oil, which gives a beautiful, lucid light and is reminiscent of the Hanukkah miracle performed with olive oil (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 12:6).

Electric Light Bulbs

It is agreed upon by the vast majority of the poskim that one does not fulfill his obligation to light a Hanukkah candle with electric bulbs. It is true that regarding the Shabbat candle, according to a number of poskim, it is possible to fulfill one’s obligation with electric bulbs, because with Shabbat candles the main goal is to add light, while with Hanukkah candles the intention is to remind us of the miracle that happened in the Temple menorah, therefore the candles should be like the ones that were in the Temple menorah (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 12:8).

According to Sephardic Custom, are Children Permitted to Light Candles?

The Sephardic custom is that only the head of the house lights Hanukkah candles, and if the children wish to light a Hanukkah menorah as well, they are permitted to light candles without a blessing. Those whose children desire to recite a blessing, or a parent who especially wants his children to bless as well – can rely on the Rishon Le’Tzion Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l who permitted children up to Bar Mitzvah age to light candles with a blessing.

And if even after that, if they still wish to light candles with a blessing, and their father agrees to it, they can rely on Rabbi Shalom Messas ztz”l, and have intention not to fulfill their obligation with their father’s lighting, and light with a blessing (Yalkot Shemesh O.C. 192).

Lighting Candles at Parties and Public Events

Many people are accustomed to publicizing the miracle and lighting a Hanukkah menorah wherever people gather, such as at a wedding, Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah, and also when they gather for a Hanukkah party, or to hear a lecture. Admittedly, the latter poskim of our times are divided if it is possible to recite a blessing with their lighting. In practice, those who want to rely on those poskim who believe it is permitted to light with a blessing, may do so. Ideally, this is the appropriate way to act when there are people present who are not meticulous in mitzvot observance. In such a case, it is preferable to honor a secular person with the lighting of the candles, for by doing so, it will be evident to all that the commandments belong to all Jews, religious and secular alike (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 12:15, 18).

Should One Shorten Work to Light Candles at Nightfall?

Q: A person who is used to returning from work at seven o’clock in the evening, should he cut short his work in order to light candles at tzeit ha-chochavim (nightfall), at five o’clock?

A: If possible, it is worthwhile to make an effort to return early and light candles at tzeit ha-chochavim. But if this will cause significant loss or inconvenience, one may light after the time he usually returns home from work.

And this is because ideally, one should light at the time our Sages said (Shabbat 21b) – “from sunset until the marketplace empties out”, and the meaning according to the majority of poskim is to light candles at tzeit ha-chochavim (at five o’clock), until about half an hour, by which time people were still used to returning home from work, and would see the candles, and thus, the miracle would be publicized. Also, in pressing circumstances, they would light candles even afterwards with a blessing.

Today, even when it’s not a pressing circumstance, in order to avoid significant loss or inconvenience, it is permitted to postpone the lighting of the candles until the time of returning from work. Because in order to publicize the miracle, our Sages instructed to light the candles in the half hour close to tzeit ha-chochavim, since at that time, it had already begun to get dark and the candles were visible, and on the other hand, those who were late to return to their homes still walked the streets, but later than that, without street lighting, people no longer walked the streets. But today, when we have electric lighting and street lights people continue to work after dark, so the miracle is just as publicized even a few hours later. Therefore, when necessary, it is possible to postpone lighting of the candles until the time of return from work.

Nevertheless, one should try to light the candles as early as possible, and at the latest by nine o’clock, because by then, even the latecomers are used to returning home from work. And in pressing circumstances, one may light even after nine o’clock, while trying to light as early as possible, until the time when people are accustomed to remain awake. If they didn’t manage to light them by then, be-di’avad, they can light them all night, but one may recite the blessing only on the condition that there is at least one other person in the house, or on the street, who will see the candles (Peninei Halakha: Zamanim 13:8, 12).

Should One Wait for a Spouse Late to Return?

Q: How should one act when one of the spouses cannot return from work at tzeit ha-chochavim – is it better for his partner to light candles at tzeit ha-chochavim, or is it better for him or her to wait until the other spouse returns?

Apparently, according to the letter of halakha, it is better for the spouse who is at home to light candles at tzeit ha-chochavim, thereby absolving his spouse of his obligation. However, in practice, in most cases it is better to wait until the spouse returns. Because if the spouse who comes home late does not hear the blessings of the candles somewhere else, one should wait for him. And even if he can hear the blessings in another place, when there is concern he will be hurt by having the mitzvah observed without him, or when there is concern his connection to the mitzvah will be harmed, he should be waited for until he returns.

And if the couple wants, they can agree that the spouse who is at home will light candles at the ideal time with a blessing, and when the latecomer returns, he will also light candles with a blessing (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 12:4, 2).

Should Parents Wait for Sons and Daughters, According to the Custom of Sephardim and Ashkenazim?

As per the Sephardic custom, according to which only one member of the family lights candles for all the members of the household, in keeping with the same considerations according to which one waits for a spouse – one also waits for each member of the family.

However, if the latecomer arrives after nine in the evening, it is better not to wait for him, and light beforehand. The latecomer should make sure to participate in the lighting of candles and hear the blessings wherever he is at the time. And if he cannot, and this is not a one-time event, it is preferable he act according to the Ashkenazi custom, and have intention not to fulfill his obligation with his family’s lighting, and when he gets home, light candles himself with a blessing.

According to Ashkenazi custom, since everyone lights for themselves, a son or daughter who comes home late should not be waited for, and when they arrive home, they should light candles for themselves with a blessing.

Those Invited to Light Candles with Grandfather

Q: Regularly, on one of the Hanukkah evenings, we are accustomed to going to our grandfather’s to light candles, and then we have dinner there. Is it possible to fulfill our obligation to light with our grandfather’s lighting, or do we have to light candles in our home?

A: According to several of the poskim, candles should be lit in the house where one sleeps that night, and therefore, you do not fulfill your obligation with the lighting in your grandfather’s house (see Peninei Halakha, ibid. 13:9). Therefore, it is correct for one of you to light candles in your home at tzeit ha-chochavim, and after that, go to your Grandfather, and when you arrive, your grandfather should light the candles in the presence of the entire family, and after that, eat dinner.

Not to Eat until the Candles are Lit

Those who light the candles late after tzeit ha-chochavim should be careful not to eat achilat keva (a substantial meal) or mezonot (grain-based foods aside from bread) more than a keveitza (an egg’s bulk; c. 50 ml), or drink alcoholic beverages, until they light the candles (Peninei Halakha, ibid. 12:13).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated

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