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The Lighting of the Hanukkah Candles Remains for Generations

Despite the deficiencies in the rule of the Hasmoneans, their victories were of tremendous value * In the miracle of the oil flask, the eternal virtue of the Torah was revealed * The national-political foundation is the basis for Hanukkah, and the miracle of the oil flask * One who does not understand the national foundation, his Torah teachings are liable to lead to destruction * Soldiers who are stationed in houses in Gaza are exempt from the mitzvah of kindling Hanukkah candles, since they are not in their own homes

Many holidays were instituted by our Sages for the Jewish people during the period of the Second Temple, but all were nullified with the Temple’s destruction, and only the days of Hanukkah have remained as they were, and were not nullified. This is because regarding Hanukkah, our Sages also instituted the mitzvah to kindle candles, which expresses the eternal spiritual aspect of Hanukkah. And therefore, the mitzvah to give thanks to God for the national victory also continues, through saying Hallel and “Al HaNissim” (Rosh Hashana 18b; Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 11:1).

That is, despite the deficiencies in the rule of the Hasmoneans, in general, their victories were of tremendous value. Thanks to them, the Land of Israel again became the national and spiritual center of the Jewish People. The Torah study halls flourished and expanded, and the foundation was laid for the Oral Torah, through which the Jewish identity of each individual was strengthened, in the sense of “ner ish u’bayto” (a candle for the master of the house on behalf of the entire household).

Therefore, after the destruction, the miracle of the oil flask and the mitzvah to kindle the candles, are the holidays that remain for us from the glory days of the Second Temple. Because even though it was destroyed, along with the loss of all the political achievements of the Hasmonean dynasty, the legacy of the Oral Torah that developed and strengthened in those days, remained for eternity. Through the miracle of the oil flask, the eternal segulah (unique virtue) of the Torah was revealed, that it has the ability to illuminate the darkness beyond the laws of nature, and thanks to it, we endured the long exile. Not only that, but over the years it became clear that the light of the Torah that was kindled in the days of the Second Temple, shattered paganism and Hellenism. Jewish ideas began to penetrate the nations of the world in direct and indirect ways, advancing them to less idolatrous beliefs and higher moral aspirations.

The Days of Hanukkah are the Foundation of Religious Nationalism

During the long exile, the national-political foundation, which is the basis for the holiday of Hanukkah and the miracle of the oil flask, was somewhat forgotten. But the truth is that the mitzvah to kindle the candles expresses the spiritual foundation, while the days of thanksgiving and saying Hallel express the national foundation. As Maimonides wrote (Hanukkah 3:1), on the days of Hanukkah we give thanks to God for the return of Jewish sovereignty for over 200 years, which also includes the days of the wicked kings such as Herod. Because after all, Jewish sovereignty enables the fulfillment of national and spiritual visions, as even during the reign of Herod, the Torah study halls continued to thrive (the era of Hillel and Shammai), and the Temple was renewed and enhanced gloriously.

Moreover, when the national foundation is forgotten, the Torah is damaged, leading to its destruction. As our Sages said, following the destruction of the Second Temple a painful question arose: “Why was the land lost?” After all, the Jews of the time engrossed themselves in Torah study, and were careful regarding the laws. This question was put to the Sages and prophets, and they were unable to explain it. “Until God Himself explained, as it is written: ‘And God said, because they have forsaken my Torah’ …that they do not first bless the Torah.” And what is the essence of blessing the Torah? “Who selected us from all the peoples, and gave us His Torah.” One who does not understand the national foundation, his Torah learning is liable to cause ruin.

Sadly, there are Torah scholars who, having failed to understand the national foundation of the Torah, have had their Torah learning and teachings turn into a sam ha’mavet (a lethal poison). They have not merited understanding the tremendous sanctity of our brave soldiers, who are the Maccabees and Hasmoneans of our times.

Kindling Hanukkah Candles for Yeshiva Students

Q: Are yeshiva students obligated to light Hanukkah candles, or do they fulfill this through the lighting in their parents’ home?

A: According to the Ashkenazi custom, whereby each member of the household lights candles, yeshiva students need to light candles. Their place for lighting is the room where they sleep, which is designated for them. If their room has a window facing a public thoroughfare, they should light by it, in order to publicize the miracle. If there is no window facing a public thoroughfare, they should light inside their room, and best on the left side of the entrance, so that the mezuzah is on the right, and the Hanukkah candle on the left (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 13:21).

The Sephardic Custom

Regarding the Sephardic custom, a doubt arises, since according to the Sephardic custom, the enhancement of the mitzvah is that the head of the household lights on behalf everyone in his household. Therefore, according to many poskim (Jewish law arbiters), a yeshiva student, even though he resides in yeshiva, his home is considered to be his parents’ home, since that is where he always returns to, and also when he is sick, he returns to his parents’ home. Therefore, he fulfills the obligation through his father’s lighting. So ruled Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Rabbi Eliyahu, Rabbi Yisraeli and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. However, on the other hand, some say that since the student resides in yeshiva for most of the year, he is therefore considered an independent person who has his own household, and when in yeshiva, he should light the candles with a blessing. So ruled Rabbi Shalom Mashash, Rabbi Avraham Shapira, and Rabbi Eliyashiv.

In practice, it appears that boys and girls in high school yeshivas, elementary yeshivas, and seminary girls’ high schools, are not considered independent, and it is correct for them to rely on their parents’ lighting. However, young men and women who study in higher institutes, whose students are usually above the age of eighteen, are considered independent. And also for Sephardim, it is proper for them to light the candles themselves, with a blessing. However, according to the Sephardic custom, only one person lights per room, while the other roommates are partners through kinyan (acquisition), or symbolic payment of a pruta (a low-value coin).

Sephardim who light with a blessing in their dormitory room in yeshiva, when they return home are not considered guests, but rather, fully reliant on their parents, and fulfill the mitzvah through their father’s lighting, without needing to participate by giving a pruta (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 13:13, 22).

Law Regarding Soldiers

An unmarried soldier has the same law as a yeshiva student regarding lighting candles. That is, according to the Ashkenazi custom, he lights in his room, and according to the Sephardic custom, there is disagreement among the poskim, as I have written regarding yeshiva students. If there is no one lighting in the room, he should light in his room with a blessing. A married soldier who is in milu’im (reserve duty), does not need to light candles, since his wife lights on behalf of both of them in their home. He should hear the blessings from another soldier lighting candles in the synagogue or dining hall.

Soldiers who are stationed in buildings in Gaza are exempt from the mitzvah, since they are not in their own homes. But if they wish to fulfill the mitzvah, when there is absolutely no security concern, they can light candles with a blessing inside the structure where they are located, without any attempt to publicize the miracle outwardly.

It is Forbidden to Construct a House and Utensils in the Form of the Temple

Since in these days we commemorate Chanukat ha’Mikdash (the inauguration of the Temple), we will deal with relevant laws.

Out of respect and awe of the Temple, the Torah forbade constructing a house in the form of the Temple, and making utensils in the form of the Temple vessels, as the Torah says, “With Me, therefore, you shall not make any gods of silver, nor shall you make for yourselves any gods of gold” (Exodus 20:20) – namely, do not make like the form of the Temple and its vessels that were intended for Divine service. Therefore, a person should not build a house with the length, width, and height of the Temple. And one should not construct a portico, that is, a place open to the air, of the size of the hall that was in front of the Temple. One should not build a courtyard of the size of the Courtyard of the Azara (Temple Courtyard). And one should not make a table or candelabra of their form in the Temple (Avodah Zara 43a; Sefer HaChinuch, Commandment 514; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 141:8).

The Temple had three different sizes: The Tabernacle described in the Torah (Exodus, Chapter 26), the First Temple (1 Kings Chapter 6), and the Second Temple (as explained in Tractate Midot). It is forbidden to build a structure modeled after any of these three (Beit Ephraim, Orach Chaim 10, cited in Pitchei Teshuva YD 141:13).

If a structure or vessels modeled after the Temple were built in contrast to the law, even by Gentiles, it is forbidden for Jews to use them, because using them outside the context of Temple service constitutes disrespect toward Heaven (Rashba, Ra’ah, Ritva, Mishpetei Uziel Part 2, YD 18).

A Scale Model of the Temple

However, if it is changed slightly, it is permitted, since the measurements of the Temple, its hallways and courtyards, were precise. Anything that changes them even slightly would be invalid for use in the actual Temple, and therefore, Jews may construct such models (Rashi, Tosafot Yoma 54b; Shach 33). It is also permitted to build miniature models of the Temple and the like, since they are invalid for use in the actual Temple.

Do Architects Need to be Aware of the Prohibition?

Architects and craftsmen do not need to study the measurements of the Temple and its vessels in order to avoid accidentally constructing them. The chances of randomly constructing a building or porch with exactly the length, width and height of the Temple are negligible. Similarly, the chances are very low of accidentally constructing a courtyard or table with the precise measurements of the Temple. Therefore, the prohibition only applies to intentionally taking the exact measurements of the Temple or its vessels and constructing replicas.

It is Forbidden to Make a Seven-branched Candelabrum of Metal

The essence of the menorah (candelabrum) is that it must be made of metal and have seven branches, since in times of duress, it is possible to fulfill the commandment to light the menorah with a simple metal candelabrum with seven branches. This is what the Hasmoneans did when they were still poor, and could not afford to construct the elaborate gold menorah described in the Torah (Avoda Zara 43a).

If someone mistakenly constructed a seven-branched metal menorah, he should remove or add a branch, but not leave it with seven branches. However, if the menorah is not made of metal, e.g. it is wooden or plastic, it is permitted to make it with seven branches (Shulchan Aruch YD 141:8).

The Law if Some Branches Lack Cups or if it has Electric Lights

It is permitted to construct a metal menorah where some branches lack cups to hold oil, and certainly, one with electric lights on top of the branches, since such a menorah is clearly invalid for use in the Temple (Rav Tzirelson in Maarechei Lev, omissions 3; Rav Herzog Pesakim U’Ketavim 4:43; Mishpetei Uziel Vol. 2, YD 18; Chavalim BaNe’imim Vol. 3: 54).

However, there are those poskim who rule strictly, and hold that even vessels invalid for Temple use, should be prohibited if highly similar to valid Temple vessels (Bachor Shor, citing Maharik, brought in Pitchei Teshuva 15). However, perhaps they would concede that a menorah lacking cups, or being electric, is sufficiently different from the Temple menorah, and would therefore be permitted (Even Yikara 1:59; Yabia Omer Vol. 1 YD 12).

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

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