05. Fulfilling the Obligation via Electric Lights

If necessary, one may fulfill the mitzva by switching on an incandescent light bulb. A bulb is similar to a candle as the glowing metal filament is the equivalent of a wick and the electricity is the equivalent of the oil or paraffin. However, some maintain that one does not fulfill the obligation with an incandescent bulb, because in a candle the fuel is adjacent to the wick, which is not the case with an electric bulb. Nevertheless, the vast majority of poskim maintain that one may fulfill one’s obligation by lighting an incandescent bulb, since there is a halakhic consensus that electric light is considered fire and igniting an electric light on Shabbat violates the Torah prohibition against lighting a fire on Shabbat. Nevertheless, it is preferable to use a candle for the mitzva so that one fulfills the requirement according to all opinions. Additionally, by lighting a candle it is more apparent that this is a special lighting in honor of Shabbat.

It is preferable le-khatĥila to turn off electric lights before lighting the candles and to turn them back on in honor of Shabbat when lighting the candles. In this way, the mitzva is beautified greatly, through the candles and the electric lights. Moreover, if electric lights are on when she lights the candles, it is not apparent that she is lighting candles to fulfill a mitzva, since there was light already. Therefore, it is good to turn off the electric lights several minutes before candle lighting, and when she comes to light the candles, she should first turn on the electric lights and then immediately light the Shabbat candles. When reciting the berakha, she should have the electrical lights in mind as well. All this is ideal, but technically even if the electric lights are on, she may light the candles with a berakha. We are not concerned that this is a berakha in vain, because lighting the additional candles to fulfill the mitzva provides additional light in honor of Shabbat (see the next section for the laws pertaining to one staying in a hotel).[3]

[3]. In case of need, most poskim maintain that one may recite a berakha on lighting an electric light (Beit Yitzĥak YD 1:120 and 2:31; Har Tzvi OĤ §143; Yeĥaveh Da’at 5:24; SSK 43:4, 5; see also She’arim Ha-metzuyanim Ba-halakha 75:7 and Yabi’a Omer 2:17). Some are stringent because they are concerned about power outages, but in fact it is more common for a candle to go out than for the electricity to fail. Or Le-Tziyon 2:18:12 states that one should not recite a berakha on a bulb, whether incandescent or fluorescent, because the electricity is not adjacent to the bulb in the same way that oil is to a wick; however, if the bulb is battery-operated, one may recite the berakha. Most poskim are not concerned about this. However, when it comes to a fluorescent or neon bulb, following the rationale of Beit Yitzĥak would mean that one does not recite a berakha since it has no wick-like filament. Nevertheless, according to R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, one may recite the berakha on a fluorescent light just like on an incandescent light (Shvut Yitzĥak, Laws of Shabbat Candles ch. 3). In practice, because of the uncertainty, one should not recite a berakha over a fluorescent bulb but may do so over an incandescent light, as I wrote in section 6 regarding lighting in a hotel. Regarding what I wrote that it is good to light the electric lights together with the candles to honor Shabbat, this is also the position of SSK 43:34 and n. 171 and Menuĥat Ahava 1:4:6. However, many people are not careful to do so, and Yalkut Yosef 263:8 states that one need not be careful about this.