03. Apartment Buildings

Nowadays, many people live in apartment buildings. The best place for them to light is in a window facing the street or on a porch facing the street, as this is the most effective way of publicizing the miracle. Those who light in the window must make sure that both household members and passersby can see the candles. Therefore, one should not use a menora that has a back that blocks the view of the candles from either side.[4]

Even when the window facing the street is higher than ten tefaĥim (c. 30 inches), one should still light there, because it is more important to publicize the miracle to passersby than to be meticulous about lighting the candles lower than ten tefaĥim.[5]

Some maintain that it is better to light in the hallway right outside the apartment door, so that one who enters the home will be surrounded by mitzvot – the mezuza on the right and the Ĥanuka candles on the left. Although one who chooses to light this way certainly fulfills his obligation, it is nevertheless better to light in the window facing the street, to publicize the miracle.[6]

Even if the apartment is on an upper floor and the window is higher than twenty amot (c. 30 feet), as long as passersby can see the candles through the window it would seem that it is preferable to light there in order to publicize the miracle. However, if one wishes, he may light in the hallway right outside the apartment door, as this publicizes the miracle somewhat as well. Even if he lights the candles inside his home, he has fulfilled his obligation.[7]

[4]. If the only menora in one’s possession has a back that blocks the candles from view on either side, one should place it perpendicular to the window, so that it will be visible from one side of the house and one side of the street.

[5]. R. Yosef Karo in sa 676:1 rules that it is a mitzva to place the candles lower than ten tefaĥim. However in his Beit Yosef, he acknowledges that according to Rif and Rambam this is not a mitzva. Nevertheless, according to Rabbeinu Ĥananel, Rosh, Ran, and most Rishonim it is indeed a mitzva (following the Gemara’s conclusion in Shabbat 21b). In any case, it is clear that be-di’avad, one who lights the candles higher than ten tefaĥim has fulfilled his obligation. ma 671:5 states that even if the window is higher than ten tefaĥim, he should still light there. Similarly, sht 671:30 points out that the Gemara explicitly emphasizes the importance of publicizing the miracle. As the Sages stated, the mitzva of lighting Ĥanuka candles applies “until the Tarmodians have departed” (see section 6 below). This is why they enacted that one must light the candles outside the entranceway of the home.

[6]. Contemporary halakhic works contain lengthy discussions about the best way to light in apartment buildings. There are three primary positions, which I will briefly summarize here: a) One should light at the entrance to the building, as practiced by several contemporary authorities. Others disagree, maintaining that one who lights there has not fulfilled his obligation because they view this case as comparable to lighting in the entrance to an alleyway (mavoi), rather than the entrance to a courtyard (based on Ĥazon Ish). Furthermore, according to Rashi, even if this is considered the entrance to a courtyard, it may be that one does not fulfill his obligation by lighting there (see n. 2 above). b) One should light outside the door that opens to the hallway, so that people walking there will see the candles. Some light inside the doorway on the left side, as this has been a common practice for many generations (as mentioned in n. 1 above), in order to be surrounded by mitzvot. c) Some maintain that it is preferable to light in the window, as this publicizes the miracle most effectively. This accords with the simple meaning of the Sages’ statement: “One who lives on an upper floor places [the menora] in the window facing the street” (Shabbat 21b).

In practice, one should not follow the first option, since some maintain that one cannot fulfill the obligation this way. All agree that one can fulfill his obligation by following the second or third option. It is best to light in the window, since publicizing the miracle is more important than beautifying the mitzva by lighting to the left of the doorway. This is the position of many authorities, including ma, sht 671:30, and Igrot Moshe, oĥ 4:125. For those who follow Ashkenazic custom – that multiple family members light candles – it is preferable for one of them to light to the left of the doorway, thus beautifying the mitzva according to all the opinions.

[7]. If the window is higher than twenty amot (c. 30 feet) from the street, it would seem at first glance that there is no reason to light in the window. Since it is so high that people are not likely to see it, the miracle is not publicized, and thus one does not fulfill the obligation by lighting there. Rather, one should light to the left of the doorway. Several contemporary poskim rule this way. Nevertheless, all agree that one who lights at the window fulfills his obligation, since the menora is less than twenty amot high from the perspective of those inside the apartment. Thus, if one knows that passersby on the street do indeed see the candles in the window, it would seem that it is preferable to light there. This is implied by sht 671:42 and stated explicitly by Shevet Ha-Levi 4:65. There are a few reasons for this preference: a) According to the opinion of R. Yoel cited in Tur, if the wall of the house starting from the ground reaches the candles, then one may light even above twenty amot (meaning that one who lives in a ground-floor apartment may light the candles at the top of the wall above him). If so, there is value to publicizing the miracle according to his opinion. b) Pri Megadim (end of Mishbetzot Zahav 671:105) states that even when one lights above twenty amot, passersby still notice the candles to some extent. (Thus, if one is already fulfilling the mitzva by the fact that the candles are lower than twenty amot for the household members, there is some additional value to publicizing the miracle – albeit slightly – to the outside world.) c) Some add another rationale: that residents in the other tall apartment buildings facing one’s own building can indeed see the candles that one lights in the window.

Despite all this, when the window of one’s home is over twenty amot high, the opinion that gives preference to lighting in the hallway right outside the apartment door is more understandable. However, even if one lights inside the apartment he fulfills his obligation, as explained in n. 1.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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Editor: Nechama Unterman