Our sages have ruled that the Chanukah candles must be lit at that
hour which allows for maximum publicity of the Chanukah miracle. In
the past, there were no street lamps and people would begin gathering
in their homes just before nightfall. At sunset, then, the streets
were full of people returning home. Therefore, the sages ruled that
the time for lighting Chanukah candles is “from sundown until the
marketplace has emptied out” (Shabbat 21b).
Even though today we have electric lighting and most people return
home hours after darkness, the best time for lighting Chanukah candles
is still the time chosen by the sages.
Is it permissible, when necessary, to light the candles later than
this time? If it is difficult for a person to return home at nightfall
(e.g., where one must work until seven o’clock), he may light candles
and recite the accompanying blessings when he gets home from work. It
is true that according to the Rambam the time for lighting Chanukah
candles is specifically during the half hour after sunset. However,
according to most opinions, when the sages said that candles must be
lit after sundown, they meant ideally, but it is possible to light
candles after this time as well if necessary.
Furthermore, even those authorities who hold that in the past the
candles had to be lit precisely during the half hour after nightfall
explain that this was because everybody returned home from work at
that time and lit Chanukah candles in the entrances of their homes. In
those days the miracle could only be publicized at that hour. However,
since the period of the Rishonim (early Torah authorities, tenth-
fifteenth centuries, C.E.) when danger caused many to begin lighting
candles inside their homes, the real publicizing of the miracle takes
place in the presence of the family members, and it no longer matters
if one lights at nightfall or later.
In addition, in recent generations people have begun to return home
from work later, and as a result we find people walking around outside
for a few hours after nightfall. Therefore, even if a person lights
Chanukah candles at seven o’clock, passersby will be able to see. As a
result, when necessary, it is possible to light Chanukah candles later
than the time originally laid down by the sages.
However, great effort should be made not to delay the lighting of
Chanukah candles beyond nine o’clock, for very few people return home
from work after this time. One who lights candles late must be careful
not to eat a meal (achilat keva) until lighting the candles.
A Delayed Spouse
In many families the question arises, what should be done when one of
the spouses cannot return home from work at nightfall? Should the
other spouse light candles at nightfall (about 5:00 p.m.) or wait for
his or her partner to return?
According to the letter of the law, the spouse at home should light
candles at nightfall and discharge his or her partner of this
obligation. However, in practice, it is usually best to wait for the
tardy spouse to return. In general, any one of the following three
reasons justifies postponing candle lighting until the spouse has
1. Where the absent spouse will be unable to hear the candle lighting
blessings in a synagogue or elsewhere it is best to wait for him or
her to return home. According to the Rambam and Rashi, when lighting
candles at home one discharges all family members, even those not
present, of their obligation to light candles, but one who does not
hear the “She-Asah Nisim” blessing has not fulfilled his or her
obligation to thank God for His miracles. Therefore, if the tardy
spouse will not be able to hear the candle lighting blessings at all,
it is best to wait for him or her.
2. If a tardy spouse is liable to be offended or hurt if the candles
are lit without him, it is best to wait. Maintaining domestic
tranquility is more important than lighting Chanukah candles at the
3. Where there is reason to believe that if the spouse at home does
not wait for his or her partner, the absent partner’s attachment to
the commandments will be weakened, it is best to wait. This
consideration exists when a partner returns home late daily, for if he
or she misses the candle lighting every day or almost every day, his
or her connection to this religious obligation is liable to be
In sum, then, only where the tardy partner can hear the candle
lighting blessings elsewhere, and his or her absence is a one time
occurrence, is it preferable for the spouse at home to light candles
at the choicest hour, nightfall.
Under other circumstances, though, it is best to wait for the partner
to return. At any rate, when waiting for the partner, the candle
lighting should not be put off until later than 9:00 P.M., and family
members must refrain from eating a meal (“achilat keva”) from half an
hour before nightfall until after the Chanukah candles have been lit.
According to Ashkenazi custom, the spouse at home may light candles at
nightfall and intend not to discharge the absent partner of his or her
obligation, so that upon returning the partner can light the candles
and recite the blessings on is or her own. However, it is not
necessary to do this, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with
waiting for the partner to return (for one or more of the reasons
Should the lighting be delayed for tardy children? The Sephardi custom
is that one family member lights for all of the others. Therefore, for
one of the three reasons mentioned above, it is necessary to wait for
any family member above bar- or bat-mitzvah age who is unable to reach
home at nightfall. According to the Ashkenazi custom, though, the
candles should be lit at nightfall, and when the tardy son or daughter
arrives, he or she lights the candles and recites the blessings on his
or her own.