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12 – Lighting the Chanukah Candles

01. The Mitzva to Light Ĥanuka Candles

The Sages ordained lighting candles* all eight days of Ĥanuka, which correspond to the days on which the Jewish people celebrated and praised God for helping them defeat the Greeks, liberate Jerusalem, and purify the Holy Temple. It was on those days that the oil in the Temple’s Menora burned miraculously.

Even though lighting Ĥanuka candles is a rabbinic mitzva, we recite a berakha over it: “Barukh ata Hashem Elokeinu Melekh ha-olam asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu lehadlik ner [shel] Ĥanuka” (“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us to light Ĥanuka candles”). One could seemingly ask: How can we say that God “commanded us” when the Written Torah does not contain such a commandment? The answer is that the Torah gives the Sages the authority to institute mitzvot within the guidelines of the Torah, as it says, “You shall act in accordance with the instructions (ha-torah) they have given you and the ruling handed down to you; you must not deviate from the verdict that they tell to you, either to the right or to the left” (Devarim 17:11). It also says, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past; ask your father, he will inform you; your elders, they will tell you” (ibid. 32:7) (Shabbat 23a). Thus, in order to remember and publicize the miracle that God performed on our behalf during the Second Temple era, the Sages instituted a mitzva to light candles all eight days of Ĥanuka.

Women are obligated in this mitzva just as men are. Even though it is a time-bound positive mitzva, from which women are usually exempt, they are nonetheless obligated because women were involved in the miracle (Shabbat 23a; however, it is customary for a married woman to fulfill her obligation through her husband’s lighting; see below n. 2, and above ch. 11 n. 14).

The purpose of all the laws that the Sages instituted regarding where and when to light Ĥanuka candles is to publicize the miracle. Therefore, they required that one light the candles near the door or in front of a window facing a main thoroughfare, so that passersby can see the candles (as will be explained below, 13:1-3). They also determined that one should light the candles after shki’a, when the maximum number of people will see them. On one hand, darkness has already begun to descend, making the lights more visible. On the other hand, it is early enough that the streets are still filled with people coming home from work (we will elaborate below, 13:4). Publicizing the miracle, however, is not a prerequisite for fulfilling the mitzva. Even a Jew who lives alone in a deserted area must light the candles, in order to remind himself of the miracle.

The value of this mitzva is so great that even a poor man who cannot afford to buy candles must panhandle or sell his clothes to buy Ĥanuka candles. The halakha does not demand that one beg or sell his clothes for the sake of other mitzvot, but since this mitzva involves publicizing the miracle, the obligation is greater. However, a poor person need not perform the mitzva le-mehadrin; it is sufficient for him to light one candle each night (sa 671:1; mb ad loc. 3; ahs ad loc. 3; see Rema 656:1; bhl ad loc., s.v. “afilu”).

* Editor’s note: We use the term “candles” for “nerot” because of convention and because, unlike the terms “lights” or “lamps,” candles most clearly denote lights produced by flames, not because the nerot must be made of wax or another solid flammable. See below, sections 7 and 8.

02. The Number of Candles and the Mehadrin min Ha-mehadrin Practice

The mitzva of lighting Ĥanuka candles is very beloved. In general, there are two levels of mitzva observance: fulfillment of the basic obligation and mehadrin, going beyond the basics to beautify the mitzva. When it comes to Ĥanuka candles, however, there are three levels: the basic obligation, mehadrin, and mehadrin min ha-mehadrin, the most beautiful way. Moreover, all of Israel fulfills this mitzva according to the practice of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin.

Minimally, every household must light one candle every night of Ĥanuka on behalf of all household members. This candle enables them to remember and publicize the miracle of Ĥanuka. Those who go above and beyond this (mehadrin) light one candle for every adult member of the household. For example, if four adults live in the house, they light four candles every night of Ĥanuka, demonstrating that everyone has a share in the mitzva.

Those who follow the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin light a different number of candles each night of Ĥanuka. The Sages disputed the number of candles that one must light according to this custom. According to Beit Shammai, we light eight candles on the first night and subtract one candle every subsequent night, eventually lighting one candle on the last night. According to this viewpoint, the number of candles corresponds to the number of days remaining in the holiday of Ĥanuka. On the first night, we light eight candles because there are eight days left in the holiday, and on the last night we light one candle because there is only one day left. According to Beit Hillel, we light one candle on the first night and add a candle each subsequent night, eventually lighting eight candles on the last night. According to them, the number of candles corresponds to the number of days that have already passed – that is, every night we light candles according to the number of days the miracle lasted. This way, we demonstrate the magnitude of the miracle, because every additional day that the Hasmoneans lit the Menora in the Temple using the same small cruse of oil, the miracle increased. In addition, this method allows us to ascend in holiness, until we reach the pinnacle on the eighth night when we light eight candles (Shabbat 21b). All of Israel has accepted the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin, according to Beit Hillel’s interpretation (sa 671:2).

What emerges, in practice, is that we light 36 candles over the course of the eight days of Ĥanuka. The prevalent custom, though, is to light an additional candle every night, to serve as a shamash (lit., “attendant”), so that if one needs to use the light of the candles, he may use the light of the shamash. After all, one may not derive benefit from the Ĥanuka candles. However, we separate the shamash from the other candles, because the main objective of the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin is to make the number of candles recognizable and thus demonstrate the increasing magnitude of the miracle (we will elaborate below, sections 10-11).

03. The Sephardic Custom

There are different traditions regarding how to fulfill the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin in practice. According to Sephardic tradition, the main way of beautifying the mitzva is to light the number of candles that corresponds to the current day of Ĥanuka. Even if there are many people living in one home, only one of them should light Ĥanuka candles, and he should light the number of candles that corresponds to the current day of the holiday. That is, he lights one candle on the first night, two on the second, and eight on the eighth. The reason for this is that the goal of the custom is to show how many days the miracle lasted, as this publicizes the miracle more. If everyone in the house were to light candles within the small space adjacent to the doorway, passersby would not be able to recognize which day it is, because everyone’s candles would appear conjoined and confuse the tally. Since according to this custom only one person lights, it is proper for the head of the household to light on behalf of everyone else.

If the children ask to light candles, their parents may let them light their own Ĥanuka candles, as long as they are careful to create a separation between each individual menora. According to the custom of most Sephardim, children who light Ĥanuka candles do not recite a berakha, but R. Mordechai Eliyahu ruled that children under the age of bar mitzva may recite a berakha. R. Shalom Messas ruled that if someone over the age of bar mitzva wants to recite a berakha, he should have in mind not to fulfill his obligation through his father’s lighting and may then beautify the mitzva by lighting the candles with a berakha (Yalkut Shemesh, oĥ 192).

04. The Ashkenazic Custom: Men, Women, and Children

According to Ashkenazic custom, each member of a household must light his own candles in order to fulfill the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin. That is, on the first night everyone lights one candle and on the eighth night everyone lights eight. We are not concerned that onlookers will not know how many candles are being lit on any given night, because we are careful to separate between the various menoras.[1]

Children who have reached the age of education – approximately the age of six, when they begin to understand the story of the miracle and the mitzva to light candles – light with a berakha.

The prevalent custom among married women is not to light Ĥanuka candles, because their husbands’ lighting it is considered like theirs, “one’s wife is like himself.” In many homes, young women and girls who have reached the age of education also do not light. Nevertheless, they may light with a berakha if they wish. It seems better to encourage young girls who have reached the age of education to light candles, at least until they become bat mitzva, as lighting Ĥanuka candles connects them to Torah and mitzvot. If they wish to continue lighting afterward, they should be commended. Even a woman whose husband lights candles may light her own candles, with a berakha, if she wishes, despite the custom to refrain from doing so.[2]

[1]. At first glance, if the custom of mehadrin is to light one candle for every member of the household each night, then the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin requires one to light the number of candles corresponding to the current day of the holiday on behalf of each member of the household. This is Rambam’s opinion (mt, Laws of Ĥanuka 4:1-3), as well as the Ashkenazic custom. According to Rabbeinu Yitzĥak (Tosafot, Shabbat 21b), however, only one member of the house lights candles, since if everyone lights, onlookers will not know what day of Ĥanuka is being celebrated. This runs counter to the main objective of the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin, which is to publicize the miracle based on the number of days it lasted. This is the Sephardic custom, as written in sa 671:22. (Ra’ah explains that doing it this way glorifies the miracle more than the custom of mehadrin does, because most households do not have that many members. Therefore, following this version of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin means that more candles will be lit. Furthermore, even if fewer candles will be lit this way, the mitzva is enhanced because people will come to know which day of Ĥanuka it is.) Many explain that the difference between the customs is based on where people used to light. Sephardim traditionally lit their candles near the entrance to their homes; therefore, if many members of the household would light there, onlookers would not be able to tell which day of Ĥanuka it was. Ashkenazim, on the other hand, were accustomed to lighting inside the house, so everyone was able to light their own candles. Darkhei Moshe 671:1 thus writes in the name of R. Avraham of Prague that, according to the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin, everyone in the house must light his own candles when lighting indoors, even according to Tosafot.

According to Bi’ur Ha-Gra, the main reason the Gemara gives for Beit Hillel’s opinion is that we “ascend in holiness,” so there is no need to know which day of Ĥanuka it is; the main thing is to increase the number of candles. Thus, the Vilna Gaon dismisses Tosafot’s reasoning, indicating that even when everyone lights at the entrance, one should light according to the number of members of the household and the current day of the holiday.

Some infer from Rambam’s language that one person should light for everyone, but according to Ashkenazic custom, based on Maharil, everyone lights his own candles and recites his own berakhot. R. Naĥum Rabinovitch writes in Melumdei Milĥama (p. 232) that according to R. Yosef Qafiĥ’s edition of mt, it turns out that Ashkenazic custom is the same as Rambam’s opinion. Taz 677:1 and ma 677:9 explain that since the members of the household have no intention of fulfilling their obligation through the head of the household’s berakhot, they may recite the berakhot over their own candles. This implies that they would not be able to recite the berakhot otherwise, because one does not recite a berakha upon merely beautifying a mitzva. Sefat Emet (Shabbat 21b), however, postulates that from the very beginning, the Sages determined that those who follow the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin should recite the berakhot, even though they have already fulfilled their minimal obligation. Another dispute involves one who lights a single candle, with a berakha, and later obtains enough candles to fulfill the mitzva according to the custom of mehadrin. Should he recite an additional berakha upon lighting the new candles or not? Eliya Rabba maintains that he should recite a berakha, but according to Pri Ĥadash §672 he should not recite a berakha; Responsa R. Akiva Eger 2:13 seems to lean toward that opinion, based on the implication of Taz and ma.

We must clarify whether the lighting of the head of a household absolves his family members of their obligation if they planned on lighting on their own but ended up not doing so. In my humble opinion, they have discharged their obligation, be-di’avad, because the minimal requirement to light one candle in the house was fulfilled. Therefore, whether they like it or not, the family members have fulfilled the mitzva at its simplest level. Their intention to refrain from discharging their obligation, in accordance with the words of Taz and ma, relates only to the effort to beautify the mitzva by lighting on their own with a berakha. Regarding the lighting itself, however, they discharge their obligation through the head of the household’s lighting. The matter still requires further study.

[2]. Many Aĥaronim cite the reason that “one’s wife is like himself,” including mb 671:9, 675:9 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 671:16. Several reasons are given to explain why girls in some communities refrain from lighting. Ĥatam Sofer (Shabbat 21b) states that since people used to light outdoors, it was considered immodest for girls to go out and light. According to Mishmeret Shalom 48:2, it is improper for a daughter to light when her mother does not do so. Others explain that the reason minors light the candles is in order to train them to perform the mitzvot as adults, and since girls will not light when they grow older, because their husbands will light for them, they do not light when they are young either. (See Mikra’ei Kodesh [Frank] §14)

It they wish, they may light with a berakha, as mb 675:9 states. After all, Ashkenazic custom permits women to recite berakhot even over mitzvot from which they are exempt. Certainly, then, they may recite a berakha over lighting the Ĥanuka candles, which they are obligated to do. And since some single women and widows live alone, there is room to say that young women should become used to lighting candles, with a berakha, in their parents’ home. According to the predominant Sephardic custom, in which only one person in each household lights, girls should not recite a berakha if they wish to light.

05. The Berakhot and Ha-nerot Halalu

The Sages prescribed that we recite two berakhot before lighting the Ĥanuka candles, so that we focus on the two aspects of the mitzva. The first berakha relates to the mitzva itself: “…Who has sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us to light Ĥanuka candles.” The Ashkenazic formulation of this berakha concludes, “lehadlik ner shel Ĥanuka,” while Sephardim conclude, “lehadlik ner Ĥanuka.”[3] The second berakha expresses our thanks to God for the miracles He performed on behalf of our ancestors when the story of Ĥanuka took place. The Sages enacted that we recite this berakha when we light the candles because the candles are supposed to remind us of the miracles and their meaning. We recite: “Barukh ata Hashem Elokeinu Melekh ha-olam she-asa nisim la-avoteinu ba-yamim ha-hem ba-zeman ha-zeh” (“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days, at this time”). On the first day, we add the berakha of She-heĥeyanu, which expresses our thanks to God for giving us life and sustaining us for another year, giving us the privilege to once again reach the days of Ĥanuka and fulfill the mitzva of lighting the candles.[4]

Immediately following the berakhot, one begins lighting the candles, without talking between completing the berakhot and beginning to light. After the first candle is lit, it is customary to start reciting Ha-nerot Halalu (whose origin is Sofrim 20:6). While reciting this paragraph, one continues lighting the remaining candles. Even though more candles still need to be lit, reciting Ha-nerot Halalu does not constitute an interruption. As we already learned, the minimal obligation of the mitzva is fulfilled by lighting the first candle, while the purpose of the remaining candles is to beautify the mitzva. Even though, le-khatĥila, one should refrain from speaking until after all the candles are lit, since Ha-nerot Halalu explains the purpose of the mitzva, there is room to say that one should recite it specifically while fulfilling the mitzva. However, one who finds it difficult to recite Ha-nerot Halalu while lighting the candles may recite it afterward (see mb 676:8, Mishbetzot Zahav 676:5).

Some people also recite Le-shem Yiĥud prior to the berakhot and Ha-nerot Halalu, in order to perform the mitzva more intently.

One should light each candle well and wait until the flame takes firm hold onto the majority of the wick, not like those who rush to move onto the next candle before the previous one is properly lit (bhl 673:2, s.v. “hadlaka”).

[3]. The text of the Gemara (Shabbat 23a) reads, “lehadlik ner shel Ĥanuka,” and this is how Rif and most Rishonim formulate the berakha. Ashkenazic custom follows this opinion, as mb 676:1 states. On the other hand, sa 676:1 states, “lehadlik ner Ĥanuka,” and Arizal and the Vilna Gaon concur. Sephardic Jews follow this custom.

[4]. Some maintain that the berakhot of She-asa Nisim and She-heĥeyanu were instituted in connection with both the act of lighting the candles and with the day itself. Therefore, one who cannot light candles nonetheless recites these berakhot upon the day itself (Me’iri). Others maintain that these berakhot were instituted only in connection with the lighting, and one who does not light or see lit candles may not recite them (Rambam). The Aĥaronim debate this issue as well, and sht 676:3 remains undecided. According to most Aĥaronim, however, one should not recite the berakhot, out of uncertainty.

06. Family Participation in the Mitzva

One should try to gather the entire family for candle lighting, so that everyone can hear the berakhot, answer “amen,” and witness the lighting. Besides the fact that this glorifies the mitzva and publicizes the miracle, it is necessary for those who are not reciting the berakhot themselves, like a woman who fulfills her obligation through her husband’s lighting or children who fulfill their obligation through the lighting of the head of the household. By hearing the berakhot, they take part in thanking God for the miracles He performed. According to Rambam and Rashi, if the family members do not hear the berakhot, they must look at the candles and recite the berakha of She-asa Nisim, despite the fact that they already discharged their obligation to light the candles through the head of the household’s lighting. Rashba and Ran, however, maintain that since these family members have already fulfilled the mitzva of lighting, even though they did not hear the berakhot, they do not have to recite the berakha of She-asa Nisim upon seeing the candles. Since the matter is under dispute, one should not recite the berakha (sa 676:3). Le-khatĥila, though, one who does not light and recite the berakhot himself should hear them from someone else and answer “amen,” in order to fulfill the mitzva according to all poskim.

Therefore, one who discharges his obligation through someone else’s lighting, like a woman who fulfills her obligation through her husband’s lighting or children who fulfill their obligation through the lighting of the head of the household, must take part in a candle lighting ceremony, so that they can hear the berakhot and answer “amen.” And even if they cannot be home for the lighting, they should try to attend a lighting and hear the berakhot at a different house or at the synagogue, thereby fulfilling their obligation according to all opinions.[5]

[5]. The Talmud states in Shabbat 23a, “One who sees the Ĥanuka candles must recite a berakha.” The Gemara explains that one who lights recites two berakhotLehadlik and She-asa Nisim – while one who merely sees candles recites one berakhaShe-asa Nisim. On the first night, the berakha of She-heĥeyanu is added. The commentators disagree on what the phrase “one who sees the Ĥanuka candles” means. According to Rashi, Rambam, and Mordechai, one who has another person light on his behalf, but who fails to hear the berakhot, recites She-asa Nisim upon seeing the candles. This is because the mitzva has two components: 1) to light Ĥanuka candles at home, in order to publicize the miracle; and 2) to thank God for the miracle by seeing the candles. One who has another person light on his behalf at home has fulfilled the mitzva of lighting, but since he did not hear the berakha of She-asa Nisim, he has not fulfilled the mitzva of giving thanks. Therefore, he recites the berakha upon seeing Ĥanuka candles. For example, a woman who did not hear her husband recite the berakhot when he lit must recite She-asa Nisim when she comes home later and sees the candles. Similarly, a household member who was absent when the candles were lit recites the berakha of She-asa Nisim when he walks through the streets and sees Ĥanuka candles in the window of someone’s house. On the other hand, Rashba, Ran, and Smag maintain that only one who has not yet discharged his obligation – because he has no one to light on his behalf – recites She-asa Nisim upon seeing Ĥanuka candles.

sa 676:3, mb ad loc. 6, sht ad loc. 9-11, and Kaf Ha-ĥayim ad loc. 24 rule that one should not recite a berakha, because the matter is uncertain. See sa 677:3 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim ad loc. 23. Also see Berur Halakha, Shabbat 23a; Beit Yosef and Baĥ 676:3; mb ad loc. 6; sht ad loc. 9. Even according to those who maintain that the head of the household completely exempts everyone of their obligation with his lighting, it is clear that it is preferable for him to perform the mitzva in the presence of the entire family. Therefore, he must gather his family together shortly before lighting the candles. This ruling is found in ma 672:5, Ĥayei Adam 154:20, mb 672:10, Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 1, Hilkhot Ĥanuka 1 (Vayeshev), and other sources.

07. The Candles

One may use any type of oil or wick for the Ĥanuka candles, including those that are unusable for Shabbat candles. This is because the purpose of Shabbat candles is to illuminate one’s home, and if they do not burn nicely, there is a concern that one may manipulate a candle to improve its light and thus desecrate Shabbat. Therefore, the Sages prohibited lighting Shabbat candles with oils and wicks that do not burn well. In contrast, one may not use the light of the Ĥanuka candles, so any type of oil or wick that can stay lit for half an hour may be used.

The more beautifully the candle burns, the more beautiful the mitzva is, because the miracle is publicized more effectively. Therefore, many people light wax or paraffin candles, whose flame is strong and beautiful. Many Aĥaronim write that it is even better to light with olive oil, because its light is lucid and it also recalls the miracle of the oil.[6]

The Ĥanuka candles must contain enough fuel to last for half an hour, because the Sages prescribed that we light from the end of shki’a until people are no longer walking around in the marketplace, or about half an hour. And even when one lights indoors, the candles must be able to last for half an hour. If one has only a small amount of oil or a small candle, which will burn for only a few minutes, one should light it without reciting a berakha.[7]

[6]. Shabbat 21b, 23a; sa 673:1. Shabbat 23a states that the preferred way to perform the mitzva is with olive oil, but the Gemara implies that this is so only because its light is more lucid (see Berur Halakha). Therefore, some say that wax is just as good as, if not better than, olive oil, as Darkhei Moshe 673:1 cites. R. Avraham Yitzĥak Kook concurs in Mitzvat Re’iyah §673. However, Me’iri and Kol Bo state that olive oil has an advantage in that it reminds one of the miracle. Many Aĥaronim, including mb ad loc. 4 and ahs ad loc. 1, state likewise. R. Kook and his son R. Zvi Yehuda Kook followed this practice. (Regarding Maharal’s opinion, see Maĥatzit Ha-shekel ad loc. 1, sht ad loc. 4, Kaf Ha-ĥayim ad loc. 18, and Yemei Hallel Ve-hoda’ah 14:21-23.)

[7]. According to the first answer recorded in Shabbat 21b, the time to light is “from shki’a until the market empties of pedestrians.” According to the second answer, however, that is how long the candles must be lit. Rif, Rambam, and other Rishonim write that this is a duration of half an hour. sa 672:2, 675:2 rules accordingly. See mb 672:5. However, some Rishonim maintain that one may fulfill one’s obligation if one lights for a shorter period of time and using smaller candles, either because the halakha follows the first answer in the Gemara, or because even though the halakha follows the second answer, once people began lighting indoors there was no longer a need to light for half an hour, which is the amount of time it used to take for people to return from the marketplace (Or Zaru’a, Smag). Therefore, if one does not have enough oil, he should light without a berakha (bhl 672:2, s.v. “ka-zeh”). See Berur Halakha, Shabbat 21b, nn. 4:2, 5; Torat Ha-mo’adim 6:27, 31.

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.

09. Lighting Is the Mitzva

The mitzva is fulfilled by the act of lighting the candles, not by having them lit. This is evident from the formulation of the berakha: “Who has sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us to light Ĥanuka candles.” Therefore, if one lights candles that can burn for half an hour and someone knocks them down by accident, causing them to go out before half an hour has passed, he does not need to rekindle them, because he fulfilled the mitzva when he lit the candles initially. Even if one lights inferior candles, such that there is some concern that they might go out, he has discharged his obligation, assuming that these candles usually last for half an hour. Nonetheless, the Aĥaronim rule that it is proper to be stringent and rekindle the candles, so that they may be lit for the half-hour period that the Sages prescribed (sa 673:2, mb ad loc. 27).

However, if one lights the candles in a place where they cannot burn for half an hour, like in a windy area, and the wind actually blows them out before they manage to burn for half an hour, he has not fulfilled his obligation, because at the moment he lit them they were not fit to last the required amount of time. Most poskim maintain that in such a case one must rekindle the candles with a berakha, but in practice one should rekindle them without a berakha, because the matter is uncertain, and the rule is that we are lenient in cases of uncertainty concerning berakhot.[9]

As previously stated, the mitzva is fulfilled by lighting the candles, not by placing them in their proper place. Therefore, if a candle happened to have been lit while it was still daytime, and it is situated in a valid location for Ĥanuka candles, one has not fulfilled his obligation, since it was not lit for the sake of the mitzva. Even if one picks up the lit candle and then puts it back down with the intention to perform the mitzva, he has not fulfilled his obligation. Rather, he must extinguish it and rekindle it for the sake of the mitzva, and there is no need to pick it up and put it back down (Shabbat 23a, sa 675:1).

One must light the candles where they will be placed. Even if the head of the household is ill and cannot get out of bed, one may not bring the candles to him so that he can light by his bedside, and then transfer the candles to their proper place. Rather, the head of the household may recite the berakhot while someone else lights for him in the proper location of the candles (Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 1, Hilkhot Ĥanuka 6 [Vayeshev]). If one places the candles on the windowsill, but forgets to move them close to the window before lighting, he may push them closer after the lighting, so that the passersby can see them more clearly.[10]

[9]. One should not recite a berakha because he may have fulfilled his obligation with the first lighting, even though it did not last for half an hour, as we explained in n.8. Furthermore, sometimes it seems as if the candles will certainly blow out, when, in truth, it is not so certain. See sht 673:30. Even if one extinguishes the candles deliberately, one should rekindle them without a berakha, because he may have already fulfilled the mitzva. Moreover, it is unclear whether extinguishing the candles nullifies the lighting that he performed properly. Har Tzvi, oĥ 2:114 states that if one lights in a place where, for external reasons, the candles are not expected to last half an hour, but they nonetheless do, he has discharged his obligation. This is why those who light in an aquarium fulfill the mitzva even though they close the box only after they light, because once the box is closed the candles can actually stay lit for half an hour.

According to Maharshal and Taz (mb 673:26), if the candles accidentally go out late Friday afternoon before Shabbat, one must rekindle them, because they have not yet burned after shki’a. Most poskim, however, maintain that while one is not obligated to rekindle the candles in this situation, it is very proper to do so. After Shabbat begins, or after one accepts Shabbat upon himself, everyone agrees that one may not relight the candles.

[10]. If one moves the candles from inside to outside, or vice versa, after the lighting, he has not fulfilled his obligation, because an onlooker might think that he lit them for his own use (sa 675:11). Regarding nowadays, this requires further investigation. After all, people today do not use candles for light; therefore this concern no longer applies. In practice, though, one should not move the candles from place to place, even inside one’s home (mb ad loc. 6). It seems, however, that one may move them slightly, when it is clear that one’s intention is to publicize the miracle more effectively. See sht 674:4, Yemei Ha-Ĥanuka 6:33, Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag ch. 9 n. 26.

10. The Prohibition of Benefiting from the Candles

One may not benefit from the light of the Ĥanuka candles, whether for mundane purposes, like counting money, or sacred purposes, like studying Torah. This is because the candles are designated for the mitzva of lighting Ĥanuka candles, and just as one may not benefit from the candles of the Menora in the Temple, so too, one may not benefit from the Ĥanuka candles, which were instituted in commemoration of the miracle that occurred in connection with the Menora. Furthermore, the purpose of the candles is to publicize the miracle, and if one were to use their light, it would appear as if he lit them in order to illuminate the room, not in order to publicize the miracle (sa 673:1).[11]

One may not use leftover oil or candles that were not completely consumed, because they were designated for the mitzva the moment they were lit. Preferably, one should use them for Ĥanuka candles on the remaining days of the holiday, but if they are no longer fit for such use, or if they are left over after the eighth night, one should burn them (sa 677:4, mb ad loc. 18). Alternatively, one may pour the extra oil down the drain and put the remaining wicks in the garbage. Candles left in their package and oil left in the bottle may be used for any purpose.

If one begins lighting the candles and the shamash goes out, he may not rekindle it using one of the Ĥanuka candles, because the shamash is not considered to be designated for use in a mitzva, and one may not light a non-mitzva candle from a candle designated for the mitzva. If, however, one has used up all his matches, and if he does not relight the shamash he will not be able to continue lighting the rest of the candles, he should light the shamash from a Ĥanuka candle.[12]

Technically, one may benefit from the candles after they have burned for half an hour. However, it is customary to be stringent and refrain from deriving any benefit from them, even after half an hour passes, because even then the lights publicize the miracle, and if one were to use them, it would seem as if he is denigrating the mitzva. Furthermore, since he prepared the candles for the sake of a mitzva and did not plan on benefiting from them after half an hour passes, some say that the entire candle has been sanctified for the mitzva, and thus one may not use it for mundane purposes.[13]

[11]. According to Ha-ma’or and Itur, one may use the light of the Ĥanuka candles for sacred purposes. However, Rambam, Ramban, Rashba, Rosh, and others prohibit this, and the halakha follows their opinion. Rosh permits one to use the candles temporarily for a mundane purpose, as long as it is not disgraceful, like counting money from afar. Most poskim disagree, as Beit Yosef and sa 673:1 state. bhl, s.v. “ve-yesh” states that perhaps one may use the candles temporarily for a sacred purpose, like studying Torah for a short period of time; sht ad loc. 11 adds that one may walk in a place where the light of a Ĥanuka candle helps prevent him from tripping. That is, he does not need to close his eyes in such a case, because that is not considered utilizing the light. See Berur Halakha, Shabbat 21b; mb 673:8.

[12]. See Shabbat 22a; Berur Halakha ad loc.; sa 674:1. This issue has dfferent opinions and many details, but the prevalent custom is not to light even one Ĥanuka candle from another, as Rema, mb, and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 674:8 state. In pressing circumstances, one may rely on the more lenient opinion.

[13]. sa 672:2, mb ad loc. 7-8. We take into account the opinions of both Maharshal, who is concerned that onlookers will think that he is benefiting from forbidden objects, and Baĥ, which permits one to derive benefit from the candles only if he stipulates that the sanctity will not rest upon the leftover oil or wax after half an hour. Also, see below 13:4, where I explain that it is preferable nowadays to light the candles for more than half an hour. Based on these ideas, I wrote in the main text simply that the remaining oil is forbidden, without differentiating between whether the candles already burned for half an hour or not. However, if one intends to extinguish the flames after half an hour and use the leftover oil or wax for mundane purposes, he may do so, as mb 677:18 explains.

11. The Menora and the Shamash

It is proper to beautify the mitzva by using a beautiful menora (ĥanukiya, candelabrum), each according to his means. Some go above and beyond and buy a menora made of gold or silver. One who does not have a menora may stick candles onto a flat surface and light them. Similarly, one may take small glass cups, fill them with oil and wicks, and light them. One should not, however, light the candles in disgraceful vessels, like sooty earthenware (sa 673:3, mb ad loc. 28, Kaf Ha-ĥayim ad loc. 60-62).

One should take care to leave space between the candles, so that each one can be seen separately, thus publicizing the miracle. In addition, if the candles are too close to one another, their flames may merge, which disqualifies them. Regarding wax candles, another concern arises: If they are too close, they will cause one another to melt before half an hour passes (sa 671:4 and commentaries ad loc.).

Technically, one fulfills the mitzva even if he does not place the candles at the same height or in a straight line, as long as they are separate and a person standing close by can tell that they correspond to the days of Ĥanuka. Similarly, one fulfills the mitzva by placing candlesticks in a circle, since each candle stands on its own. Preferably, though, one should place them in a straight line, so that all onlookers can see the candles all together and discern their number, which corresponds to duration of the miracle (Rema 671:4, bhl s.v. “u-mutar”).

In order to prevent people from violating the prohibition of benefiting from the Ĥanuka candles, the custom developed to light an additional candle to serve as a shamash. This way, if one needs light where the candles are burning, he will use the light of the shamash. Technically, one does not need to light a shamash in a room that has electric lights. Nonetheless, many people still light a shamash in order to emphasize the difference between the Ĥanuka candles, whose light we may not use, and the shamash, whose light we may use.

However, in order to avoid miscounting the candles, we place the shamash at a different height or a distance from the other candles, to make it clear to all which are the Ĥanuka candles and which one is the shamash. The prevalent custom is to place it higher than the rest, so that if someone needs light, it will be clear that he is using the light of the shamash and not that of the other candles (sa and Rema 673:1, mb ad loc. 20).[14]

[14]. Regarding the shamash, see Shabbat 21b, Berur Halakha ad loc., sa 671:5, and bhl ad loc., s.v. “ve-tzarikh,” which indicate that it is worthwhile to distinguish between candles designated for the mitzva and optional candles.

According sa and Rema 673:1, as well as most poskim, a single shamash permits one to use the light of all of the candles. However, some say that one may not use the light of the candles if one wants to actually look at something closely, because he is benefiting from the additional light generated by the Ĥanuka candles. Pri Ĥadash maintains that this is prohibited only if one needs a large amount of light. mb 673:15 rules – based on ma – that le-khatĥila one should not use the light of the candles and the shamash at all, because onlookers will think that he lit them for his own purposes. Also see mb 673:24, bhl ad loc., s.v. “she-im” and “yihyeh,” Kaf Ha-ĥayim 673:39.

12. Setting up the Candles and Lighting Them

When setting up the menora, one is faced with several choices: Where, preferably, should the first candle be set up on the first night, the second on the second night, etc., and which candle should be lit first? Even though one fulfills the mitzva according to the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin no matter how he lights, the ideal practice is as follows: On the first night, one sets up the candle on the right side of the menora (from the perspective of the person facing or lighting the menora), because the right side always takes precedence over the left. On the second night, one sets up the new candle to the left of the first one, and after reciting the berakhot, one lights the new candle first, followed by the one to its right. There are two reasons for this. 1) It is preferable to begin with the new candle, which symbolizes the increasing greatness of the miracle. 2) After lighting the leftmost candle, one will have to turn to his right in order to light the next candle, and the Sages teach that when one turns, it is preferable that one turn to the right (Yoma 15b). On each subsequent night, one adds a new candle to the left of the candles he lit on the previous nights and lights the new one first. Then, he turns to the right and lights the rest. When reciting the berakhot, it is proper to stand to the left of the menora so that the closest candle will be the one he lights first. This way, one avoids skipping over the other candles in order to light the new one (sa 676:5, mb ad loc. 11).[15]

[15]. This custom is cited in sa 676:5, Darkhei Moshe ad loc. 2, Sha’ar Ha-kavanot of Arizal, Kaf Ha-ĥayim ad loc. 31. The halakha that one should stand next to the new candle on the left is stated explicitly in Ĥayei Adam ad loc. 154 and mb ad loc. 11. I would add that by standing to the left of the candles, the person lighting avoids being considered one who turns to the left when lighting the first, leftmost candle, because he is simply lighting the candle closest to him; and from there, he turns to the right. There are two additional customs that we will mention. 1) Maharshal and the Vilna Gaon maintain that one should first light the candle closest to the doorpost (whether one placed the candles to the left of the doorway, as one should do, le-khatĥila, or to its right) and continue lighting the rest from there. They believe that one should start with this candle because it is the one that fulfills the main requirement of the mitzva, while the rest are lit in order to follow the custom of mehadrin. This, in their opinion, is more important than lighting from left to right. 2) Taz’s opinion is the inverse of the accepted opinion. He maintains that turning to the right means that one begins to light on the right side and then continues to the left. According to him, one lights the leftmost candle on the first night, because it is the closest to the left doorpost. mb and bhl ad loc. elaborate on these opinions and state that one fulfills his obligation no matter which way he lights.

13. Prior to Lighting

One may not begin to eat within half an hour before candle-lighting time, which is at tzeit (as we will explain below, 13:4). One may not even begin a light meal, since he might drag out the meal and forget to light candles. In addition, one may not drink alcoholic beverages, but one may eat as many fruits and vegetables as one desires. One may even eat bread or mezonot (grain-based foods aside from bread), as long as he eats less than a keveitza (an egg’s bulk; c. 50 ml).

Likewise, one may not begin any type of work during the half-hour period before candle-lighting time that may drag on for a long time, nor should one go to sleep during that time. One may begin to eat, work, or sleep during this period if he asks a friend to remind him to light on time. Nevertheless, even if one begins these activities in a permissible fashion, i.e., more than half an hour before candle-lighting time, he must stop at tzeit and light the candles, so that he does not miss the time that the Sages enacted (mb 672:10; sht ad loc.; Peninei Halakha: Prayer 25:9).

One who is in the middle of work and cannot get home in time to light at tzeit may continue working until he is finished. However, he must take care not to eat until he fulfills the mitzva. In addition, if his work is the kind that can drag on for a long time, to the point where there is a concern that he will end up forgetting to light the candles, he may continue working only if he asks a friend to remind him to light when his work is done (see below 13:6, 9).

One may not even study Torah once the time for lighting the Ĥanuka candles arrives. However, if a regular Torah lecture takes place at that time, and it would be difficult to reschedule it for another time, it is best to keep the lecture at its normal time and remind everyone at its conclusion to light Ĥanuka candles (see below ch. 13, n. 13).

14. Lighting in the Synagogue

It is customary to light Ĥanuka candles in the synagogue, reciting all of the berakhot there that we recite at home. Even though the Sages ordained only that one must light at home, the custom developed to light in the synagogue as well, in order to publicize the miracle further. The candles are customarily placed near the southern wall of the synagogue, similar to the location of the Menora in the Holy Temple. One does not discharge his obligation through this lighting, and even the person who actually recites the berakhot and lights the candles in the synagogue must light again, with the berakhot, at home (sa 671:7).[16]

It is customary to light the candles between Minĥa and Ma’ariv, because that is when the largest number of people is in the synagogue and the miracle will be publicized most effectively. After Ma’ariv, however, people are in a rush to get home and light.

In synagogues where they pray Ma’ariv late – significantly later than tzeit – they should light the candles before Ma’ariv.

Most congregations pray Minĥa on Friday afternoon shortly before shki’a, making it impossible to light Ĥanuka candles after Minĥa, because that is when one must accept Shabbat. Therefore, people in such communities should light before Minĥa. Congregations that pray Minĥa a long time before shki’a, however, should light the candles after Minĥa and make sure to finish lighting at least five minutes before shki’a, so that they can accept Shabbat before shki’a and fulfill the mitzva to extend the sanctity of Shabbat into the mundane week (mb 671:47). On Motza’ei Shabbat, we light the candles in the synagogue after Ma’ariv, because before then Shabbat has not yet ended.

Since the reason for lighting candles in the synagogue is to publicize the miracle, at least ten people must be present at the time of lighting. What should one do if ten people have yet to assemble, and it is not possible to delay the lighting – on Friday, for example, when there is a concern that the congregation will not manage to finish praying Minĥa on time? Some say that they may recite the berakhot and light the candles even though fewer than ten people will hear the berakhot, because ten people will certainly gather together afterward and see the candles (ma, mb 671:47, bhl ad loc.). Others maintain that they should light without a berakha (Mor U-ketzi’a, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 671:72).[17]

[16]. The main explanation the Rishonim provide for the custom to light in the synagogue is that it serves to publicize the miracle; see Me’iri (Shabbat 23b), Manhig, Kol Bo, and many others. Rivash §111 writes that when people began lighting indoors, they introduced the custom of lighting in the synagogue, in order to publicize the miracle. Manhig gives an additional reason: Since the miracle occurred in the Temple, the Sages wanted to publicize it in the synagogue, which is considered a miniature version of the Temple. According to these explanations, one does not fulfill his obligation through this lighting. Orĥot Ĥayim, however, explains that the custom is also to enable those who do not know how to perform the mitzva, or are not diligent about it, to fulfill their obligation. Some say that the purpose of this custom is to enable guests who are away from their homes to fulfill the mitzva. According to these explanations, it would seem that one can fulfill his obligation, under pressing circumstances, through the lighting in the synagogue. Rashi, Rambam, and Mordechai – cited above in n. 6 – maintain that if one fulfilled his obligation through the lighting performed in his home by someone else, in his absence, he has not fulfilled his obligation to thank God. According to this opinion, one may fulfill his obligation to give thanks by hearing the berakha of She-asa Nisim in the synagogue.

Nevertheless, the halakha is that one who lights in the synagogue does not fulfill his obligation, because each person is obligated to light in his home. When one lights for one’s wife and children after having recited the berakhot in the synagogue, it is clear that he must recite all of the berakhot again at home. However, if the person who lights in the synagogue lives alone, he should recite only two berakhot on the first night, because some maintain that the berakha of She-heĥeyanu pertains to the day itself (see Beit Yosef 676:3, sht ad loc. 3), and he has already fulfilled his obligation with the berakha that he recited in the synagogue. Thus state mb 671:45 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 671:74. (Yeĥaveh Da’at 2:77 states that such a person should also refrain from repeating the berakha of She-asa Nisim. By contrast, Igrot Moshe, oĥ 1:190, states that he should repeat She-heĥeyanu as well.) Therefore, it is preferable, le-khatĥila, for one who is free of all these uncertain elements to light the candles in the synagogue, like one whose custom is to let his father light for him at home.

[17]. Responsa Rav Pe’alim, oĥ 2:62 states that if there are ten people present with the inclusion of women in the women’s section, one may recite the berakhot even according to those who require the presence of ten. Torat Ha-mo’adim 7:8 cites opinions that allow children to be included in the count as well, adding that it is preferable in such a case to ask a child to recite the berakhot.

15. Candle Lighting at Public Gatherings

Many people glorify the miracle by lighting Ĥanuka candles wherever people gather, like at weddings, bar mitzvas, bat mitzvas, Ĥanuka parties, and lectures. But may one recite a berakha over the lighting at such an event? Many contemporary rabbis maintain that one should not recite a berakha, because the berakhot are customarily recited only in synagogues, and we do not have the authority to invent new customs in other places. According to them, a berakha that one recites in places other than a synagogue is considered a berakha le-vatala. The reason we light specifically in synagogues is likely to commemorate the Menora that was lit in the Holy Temple, since synagogues are considered miniature versions of the Temple. Elsewhere, however, one may not light with a berakha. Nevertheless, several poskim maintain that one may light Ĥanuka candles with a berakha wherever there is a public gathering. Since the reason we light in the synagogue is to publicize the miracle, one should light with a berakha wherever masses of people gather. It is preferable, though, to pray Minĥa and Ma’ariv – or even just Ma’ariv – in such a place, so that it will be considered a synagogue, to some degree. Then one certainly may recite a berakha, as the custom dictates.

In practice, one who wishes to rely on the opinion that one may light with a berakha may do so. If the guests at the event include non-observant Jews, who may not have lit candles at home, it is especially important to light with a berakha, because only then will everyone stand up – to hear the berakhot – causing the miracle to be publicized in front of their eyes. They will also learn how to fulfill the mitzva properly. If possible, it is preferable to ask someone who is unaccustomed to performing mitzvot to recite the berakhot and light the candles. This way, it will become clear that the mitzvot belong to the entire Jewish people, observant Jews and non-observant Jews alike.[18]


[18]. Those who maintain that one may not recite the berakhot include: Minĥat Yitzĥak 6:65; Tzitz Eliezer 15:30; Divrei Yatziv, oĥ 286; Shevet Ha-Levi 4:65; R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach; and R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. On the other hand, R. Mordechai Eliyahu permits reciting the berakhot, on condition that they pray Ma’ariv there, and R. Shaul Yisraeli permits it even if they do not pray Ma’ariv there (Mikra’ei Kodesh [Harari] ch. 10, n. 24). Yabi’a Omer 7:57:6 concurs, adding that R. Yaakov Rosenthal also concurs in Mishnat Yaakov. Az Nidberu 5:37, 6:75 rules that one should recite a berakha when the lighting takes place outdoors.

The reason I wrote in the main text that it is preferable to ask a non-observant Jew to light the candles is that even if the halakha follows the more stringent opinion, we can view his berakha as educational, similar to our practice of training minors to recite berakhot.

Chapter Contents