Peninei Halakha

08. Electric Bulbs

After electricity was discovered, the question was raised: Does one fulfill the mitzva of lighting Ĥanuka candles with electric bulbs? In practice, most poskim maintain that one may not use electric bulbs, because they are not considered “candles,” which have wicks and are fueled by oil or wax. Furthermore, since they emit a very strong light, they may be considered “torches” (avukot), which have multiple flames, not candles (“nerot”) which have a single flame. R. Avraham Yitzĥak Kook writes that since electricity did not exist when the Sages instituted the mitzva, it is not one of the types of candles included in the rabbinic enactment that one can use to fulfill the mitzva (Mitzvat Re’iyah, oĥ 673).

It is true that regarding Shabbat candles, most authorities maintain that in a time of need one can fulfill the mitzva, with a berakha, using electric lights, because the main purpose of Shabbat candles is to provide light. Ĥanuka candles, however, are meant to remind us of the miracle. Therefore, they must resemble the candles used in the Holy Temple, and since electric lights are not similar to candles, one does not fulfill his obligation by lighting them.

Be-di’avad, if one does not have an acceptable candle, he may light electric bulbs, without reciting a berakha. By doing so, he affirms the miracle and, according to a few poskim, even fulfills the mitzva.[8]

Some have a custom to place large, electric menoras, whose light can be seen from afar, in public areas. Even though this does not fulfill the rabbinic commandment to light Ĥanuka candles, there is merit to this custom, because it reminds the public of the miracle of Ĥanuka.

[8]. Some Aĥaronim maintain that it is possible to fulfill the mitzva of lighting Ĥanuka candles with electric lights. R. Yosef Messas ruled accordingly in Responsa Mayim Ĥayim §279. R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halikhot Shlomo 15:3) maintains that if there is no alternative, one may turn on a flashlight and recite a berakha over it (because its filament is similar to a wick). However, most poskim maintain that electric bulbs may not be used as Ĥanuka candles, though when there is no alternative one should light them without a berakha. See Yabi’a Omer 3:35, which summarizes the various opinions. The Aĥaronim discuss these distinctions. R. Avraham Yitzĥak Kook writes in Mitzvat Re’iyah, oĥ 673: “Since they did not exist when the Sages enacted the mitzva, one could say that they are not included in the list of ‘candles’ upon which the enactment took effect. We find a similar idea with regard to the rabbinic enactment of [nidda] ‘stains,’ where we determine [the halakhic status of a bloodstain] based on [the size of] a louse of their time.” The distinction I presented between Shabbat candles and Ĥanuka candles is explained in Responsa Har Tzvi, oĥ 2:114, and elsewhere. See Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 1:4:5, which states that one may recite a berakha over an incandescent electric bulb on Shabbat in a time of need.

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