Jewish women have preserved a special custom to refrain from working while the Ĥanuka candles are burning. Some women do not work the entire holiday, especially on the first and eighth days. In practice, though, the custom is to avoid work only while the candles are lit, and even then only during the first half-hour, which is the minimum time that the candles must be lit to fulfill the mitzva.
Two reasons are given for this custom. First, so they do not use the light of the Ĥanuka candles accidentally. Since women were more likely to make this mistake, only they must refrain from work while the candles are lit. The second reason is based on the sanctity of Ĥanuka, when we recite Hallel, indicating that it is similar to Ĥol Ha-mo’ed and Rosh Ĥodesh. This sanctity is revealed when the candles are lit. Only women observe this custom because they have a special merit on Ĥanuka, since the courage of Yehudit and other women set the miracle in motion.
The custom is that women refrain from forms of work that are prohibited on Ĥol Ha-mo’ed, like laundering, sewing, and the like. However, cooking and frying are permitted.
Upon close examination, we find that there are often two reasons given for customs that apply specifically to women. The first is that women were generally less astute and are thus were more likely to use the light of the Ĥanuka candles mistakenly. The second is that they have a certain special virtue, and therefore the sanctity of the day manifests itself in them to a greater extent.
. The Sages say that women must hear the Megilla on Purim, drink the four cups on Pesaĥ, and light the Ĥanuka candles, because “they too participated in that miracle” (Megilla 4a, Pesaĥim 108b, Shabbat 23a). Tosafot and many other Rishonim maintain that these mitzvot are primarily incumbent upon men, while women are also obligated because they too were saved from Egypt, Haman, and the Greeks. Rashi and Rashbam (Pesaĥim 108b) maintain that a woman’s obligation in these mitzvot stems from the fact that women played a major role in the miracles that took place. After all, the Gemara (Sota 11b) states that we were redeemed from Egypt by virtue of the righteous women of that generation, who had faith in God and encouraged their husbands to procreate despite the harsh decrees. The Purim miracle as well came about through Esther, and the Ĥanuka miracle was precipitated by Yehudit. From this perspective, these mitzvot are more pertinent to women than they are to men. Therefore, only they are meticulous and refrain from working while the candles are lit.
See above, 1:7, regarding Rosh Ĥodesh, which is more significant to women than it is to men, because women were not involved in the sin of the Golden Calf, and they also donated toward the construction of the Mishkan. Perhaps this is also why women have a higher connection to Ĥanuka, because the Hasmoneans rededicated the Temple at that time, just as the Israelites completed the construction of the Mishkan in the wilderness. In addition, the element of the Oral Torah, which we mentioned above, is connected to the attribute of kingship (malkhut), which has a feminine aspect. See Ben Ish Ĥai, Vayeshev 27. See also Peninei Halakha: Laws of Women’s Prayer 6:2, regarding the berakha of She-asani Ki-rtzono; 7:1, regarding Torah study; and ch. 3, which discusses the respective virtues of both men and women and the ways in which these virtues are manifested.