Chanukah Lighting Today

One should try to leave work early and light the Chanukah candles close to sunset * Should lighting time be postponed so as not to cancel a regular Torah class? * One who returns home late from work should make an effort to light candles no later than nine o’clock * When a spouse gets home late, should lighting be postponed? * A person who lights the candles late should refrain from eating * According to Sephardic custom, can children light candles with a blessing? * Can Chanukah candles be lit at parties and public gatherings? * One who lives on an upper floor in an apartment building should light the candles by the window facing the street

Lighting Time

Our Sages determined that the Chanukah candles should be lit at an hour which allows for maximum publicity of the Chanukah miracle. In the past when there were no street lamps, people would begin gathering in their homes just before nightfall. At sunset, therefore, the streets were full of people returning home. For that reason, our 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 nightfall, the ideal time for lighting Chanukah candles is still the time chosen by our Sages – tzeit hakochavim (when three medium-sized stars emerge). 

 

How nice it would be if on the days of Chanukah one could return home before five o’clock, and after lighting the candles, engage in Torah study and family gatherings centering on commemorating the miracle and the destiny of the Jewish nation.

What Comes First: Evening Prayers, or Lighting the Candles?

Those who customarily pray the Evening Prayer (Ma’ariv) at tzeit hakochavim (when three medium-sized stars emerge), should pray the evening services before lighting the candles, according to the rule, “tadir v’she’eino tadir, tadir kodem” (that which comes more frequently takes precedence). At the end of the Ma’ariv, they should return home quickly to light candles as close as possible to tzeit hakochavim.

But someone whose custom is to pray Ma’ariv later, it is preferable to light candles at tzeit hakochavim and pray Ma’ariv as usual, so he can light candles at the ideal time, tzeit hakochavim.

However, in such a case, one should take care not to eat dinner beforehand. If there is a concern that as a result of the party following the lighting of the candles one might forget to pray Ma’ariv, it is preferable to pray at tzeit hakochavim, and light the candles after Ma’ariv.

Should a Regular Torah Class be Cancelled in Order to Light on Time?

In a place where a Torah class is regularly held after Ma’ariv, if, as a result of the participants going home to light candles the class will be cancelled, it is preferable to conduct the class and then light candles, because the mitzvah of Torah study is superior to lighting the candles at the ideal time (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 12:13; 13:13).

Should Lighting be Postponed until Coming Home from Work?

If it is difficult for someone to return home at tzeit hakochavim because, for example, he has to work until seven o’clock, he may light candles with a bracha (blessing) upon returning home from work, because even in the past according to most poskim (Jewish law authorities), b’deiavad (after the fact), one could fulfill the mitzvah all night long – all the more so today, when many people are accustomed to return home after tzeit hakochavim.

In any case, latecomers should make an effort to light as early as possible, and to light no later than nine o’clock, because by that time even those people who work late, return home. Only in a sha’at dachak (pressing situation) is one permitted to light the candles all night, but reciting the blessing is permitted only on the condition that there is another person present who sees the candles (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 13:8, footnote 12).

A latecomer must be careful not to eat achilat keva (a meal) before lighting the candles (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 13:6).

Should a Spouse Wait for Their Partner to Return Home?

In many families a question arises: in a case where one of the spouses cannot return home from work at tzeit hakochavim, when should the candles be lit? Should the spouse at home light candles at nightfall (about 5:00 p.m.), or wait for his or her partner to return home? 

Ostensibly, according to the letter of the law, it is preferable for the spouse at home to light candles at nightfall and thus discharge his or her partner of the obligation. However, in practice, it is usually best to wait for the delayed spouse to return.
For
if the other spouse is not able to hear the blessings over the candles elsewhere, one should wait for him. And if there is chance he will be offended, or his connection to the mitzvah will be weakened, one should wait until he returns.

If the couple wishes, the spouse at home can light candles on time, and when the other spouse returns home, they can light candles once more with a bracha (see, Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 12:4, footnote 2).

Should Lighting be Postponed for Children Who Come Home Late?

According to Sephardic custom in which only one family member lights a candle for the entire family, one should wait for each member of the family for the same reasons mentioned above in regards to waiting for a spouse.

However, if the latecomer will arrive after nine in the evening, it is preferable not to wait for him, and to light earlier. The latecomer should take care to participate in a candle lighting and hear the blessings wherever he happens to be. If he cannot, and it is not a one-time occurrence, it is preferable for him to act according to the Ashkenazi minhag, and have intention not to fulfill his obligation with his families’ lighting, and upon returning home, to light the candles with a bracha on his own.

According to Ashkenazic custom, lighting should not be postponed for children who are late, and when they arrive home – they should light their own candles with a bracha.

Can Children Light Candles with a Bracha According to Sephardi Custom?

According to Sephardi custom, only the head of the household lights Chanukah candles. If children are eager to light a menorah as well, they are permitted to light their own candles, provided they light them in another place, so that it is evident how many candles are lit each day.

As far as the blessing is concerned, the prevalent custom is not to recite a blessing when lighting, because they fulfill the mitzvah through their father’s lighting, and it is appropriate to continue this minhag. However, a person whose children are eager to recite the bracha, or genuinely wants them to recite the bracha as well, can rely on the opinion of the Rishon L’Tzion, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l  who permitted children up to the age of Bar Mitzvah to light candles with a blessing.

And in the opinion of Rabbi Shalom Mesas ztz”l, boys over the age of Bar Mitzvah can have kavana (intention) not to fulfill their obligation in the mitzvah through their father’s lighting, and light with a bracha (Yalkut Shemesh, O.C. 192). When necessary, one may rely on his opinion.

Candle Lighting at Parties and Public Events

Many people are scrupulous to publicize the miracle and light Chanukah candles wherever people gather, such as weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, Chanukah parties, and lectures. The question is: is it permissible to recite a blessing over the lighting at such events?

Many contemporary rabbis hold that one should not recite a blessing, because the blessings are customarily said only in synagogues, and we do not have the authority to invent new customs in other places. According to them, one who recites a blessing in places other than a synagogue is pronouncing a blessing in vein (Rav Orbach, Rav Eliyashiv).

Nevertheless, several poskim maintain that one may light Chanukah candles, with a blessing, wherever there is a public gathering. After all, the reason we light in the synagogue is to publicize the miracle; therefore, one should light, with a blessing, wherever the masses gather (Rav Yisraeli, Rav Ovadiah). It is preferable, though, to pray Ma’ariv – in such a place, thus giving it the status of a synagogue to a certain degree. Then, a blessing may be recited, as the custom dictates (Rav Eliyahu).

In practice, one who wishes to rely on those who hold that it is permissible to light with a blessing may do so. And if there are guests at the event who did not hear the bracha on the candles on that day, it is preferable for one of them to recite the blessings and light the candles (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 12:18).

Where to Light Chanukah Candles in an Apartment Building

Our Sages determined that ideally, one should light candles near the entranceway, in order to publicize the miracle to passers-by in the vicinity of the house. But there is a dispute as to where the entranceway is for someone living in an apartment building. Some authorities say the building’s entrance, because the entranceway of the building is the area that leads to the public domain. Other authorities say one should light the candles outside the apartment’s door which opens to the hallway, and in their opinion, someone who lights at the entrance to the building has not fulfilled the mitzvah, because the mitzvah is to light near his house and not on the street, and a person who lights at the entrance to the building is similar to one who lights on the street.

Since there is safek (doubt) whether a person who lights at the entrance to the apartment building fulfills his obligation in the mitzvah, while according to all opinions someone who lights at the doorway to his apartment does fulfill his obligation, it is preferable to light at the entrance of his doorway.

If the apartment has a window facing the public domain, it is preferable to light there because publicizing the miracle is of greater importance, and in this fashion, the miracle is more publicized. And even those who live on the fourth floor and above should preferably light there. Indeed, our Sages said that one who lights in a place higher than twenty cubits (9.12 meters) has not fulfilled his obligation, however they were talking about a person who lit the candles on a pole in the middle of his yard. But someone who lights the candles in the window inside his home, approximately a meter and a half from the floor, definitely fulfills his obligation. And since people are used to glancing at the windows of buildings, by lighting there, the miracle will be more publicized (Peninei Halakha 13:3).

If they follow the Ashkenazic custom in which children also light candles, it is preferable for the head of the family to light the candles on the window sill, and one of the children to light near the apartment door.

The Candles

All types of oils and wicks are kosher for Chanukah candles, provided it can stay lit for at least a half-an-hour. Someone who lights a candle that cannot remain lit for half-an-hour, there is a safek whether he fulfilled his obligation, and therefore, he should re-light another candle that can last for half-an-hour. However, he should not recite a blessing, because there are a few poskim who are of the opinion that b’dieavad, one fulfills his obligation with a candle that remains lit for less than half-an-hour (Peninei Halakha 12:7).

Ideally, the nicer the candle burns, the more ornamental (mehudar) it is, because the miracle is publicized better this way. Therefore, many people are accustomed to lighting wax or paraffin candles (Darchei Moshe). Other authorities say it is preferable to light with olive oil because its light is radiant, in addition to the fact that it reminds one of the miracle of the oil flask (Meiri, Kolbo; Peninei Halakha 12:6).

Electric Lights

In practice, most poskim hold that one cannot use electric lights, because they do not have wicks and oil like conventional candles do.
It is true that when it comes to Shabbat candles, most authorities hold that – when necessary – one can fulfill the mitzvah, with a blessing, by way of electric lights, because the main purpose of Shabbat candles is to provide light. Chanukah candles, however, are meant to remind us of the miracle. Therefore, they must resemble the candles of the Holy Temple, and since electric lights are different from candles, one cannot discharge his obligation by lighting them.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/

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