In many families, the question arises as to the appropriate procedure when one’s spouse cannot make it home from work by tzeit. Is it better to light at tzeit or to wait for his or her return?
Technically, it is not necessary for both spouses to be present for candle-lighting. When either one of them lights candles in their home, they have both fulfilled their obligation. Therefore, it would seem preferable for one to light at tzeit. Nevertheless, in practice it is preferable in most cases to wait for the spouse to return home. In general, there are three primary considerations that would lead us to delay candle-lighting until both spouses are home.
First, if the husband will not hear the berakhot of candle-lighting at the synagogue or elsewhere, although he will have fulfilled the obligation to light through his wife’s lighting, some maintain that as long as he has not heard the berakha of She-asa Nisim, he has not fulfilled his duty to thank God. Therefore, if there is nowhere else for him to hear the berakhot, it is preferable to wait for him. (The same is true if the wife is not home at tzeit, and the husband is waiting.)
Second, the husband or wife may feel insulted or upset if the candles were lit without them. Third, there may be a concern that the connection of the absent spouse to the mitzva will be weakened. This consideration is pertinent when one spouse regularly comes home late from work. If one will not be present for candle-lighting on all or most of the days of the holiday, one’s connection to the mitzva is liable to be weakened.
This third consideration is particularly significant for families that follow the Sephardic custom (above, 12:3), according to which only one member of each household lights. When there is concern that if the parents do not wait for their children to return home for lighting, the children’s connection to the mitzva may weaken, the parents should wait for them.
Thus, the only case in which it is preferable to light the candles at tzeit is if the delayed husband or wife will be able to hear the berakhot elsewhere and if this delay is an isolated occurrence and will therefore not cause marital discord or weaken the absent spouse’s bond to the mitzva. In all other cases, it is better to wait for both spouses – and in the case of Sephardim, for all members of the household – to be home. However, even then, candle-lighting should not be delayed past 9 pm. Members of the household should not eat a proper meal from half an hour before tzeit until after they have fulfilled the mitzva of candle-lighting (as explained above, 12:10).