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Chanuka: Halachic Musings

 

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

One should be especially meticulous with the mitzva of lighting the Chanuka menora.[1] We are taught that those who are careful in this area will merit having children who are Torah scholars.[2] Even the most destitute person is required to light a Chanuka menora even if he is forced to beg or even sell his garment in order to purchase candles or oil to do so.[3] Although universal custom is to increase the number of candles that are lit on each night of Chanuka (i.e., one candle on the first night, two on the second night, and so on),[4] one is only truly required to light a single candle each night.[5] So too, in many communities every member of the household lights his own menora even though only one menora per home is all that is truly required.[6]

Women are equally obligated to light the menora, as they too were a part of the miracles of Chanuka.[7] Indeed, although common custom is for the man of the house to light the menora on behalf of his wife and family, a woman is technically able to do so, as well.[8] One who is blind should preferably participate in someone else’s menora lighting by contributing towards the cost of the candles rather than lighting a menora of his own. A blind man who is married should have his wife light for him. This is because it is a matter of dispute whether a blind person who lights a menora is permitted to recite the accompanying blessing over his lighting.[9] 

A person should try to acquire for himself a beautiful Chanuka menora made of metal,[10] copper,[11] or silver.[12] There is an opinion that the Chanuka candles must be placed in some type of holder or vessel in order to properly fulfill the mitzva. According to this approach, one who merely lights freestanding candles will not have fulfilled the mitzva.[13] The candles should be placed in a straight line and not in a circular or zigzag formation.[14] One should ensure that the candles are placed far enough apart from each other so that the heat of one candle does not melt the candle next to it.[15] 

It is praiseworthy to remain in the vicinity of one’s menora for at least half an hour after lighting and to use the time to contemplate the miracles of Chanuka.[16] One may not make any use of the Chanuka lights whatsoever. They are only to be looked upon in order to arouse praise and thanksgiving to God for the miracles that He performed for us. One may not even study Torah by their light.[17] In an emergency, some authorities allow one to recite the Havdala blessing over fire upon the Chanuka candles on the Motzaei Shabbat of Chanuka.[18] Many women have the custom not to perform any work while the candles are burning in order to recall the role that Yehudit played in the military victory.[19] Some women only keep this custom on the first and last nights of Chanuka.[20]

It is preferable to use olive oil to light the menora[21] in order to recall the miracle of the oil[22] and to recall that oil was always used to light the menora in the Beit Hamikdash.[23] It is also said that olive oil provides the cleanest and purest flame.[24] One should endeavor to use olive oil for the Chanuka menora even if doing so is more expensive.[25] The lights of the menora must be from either oil or candles; one may not use both on the same menora.[26] However, there is no requirement to use the same substance on each night of Chanuka and one may light with candles on one night and oil on another.[27] While it is considered ideal to light the menora outside of one’s home,[28] common custom is to light the menora indoors at a window that faces the street so that it can be seen by passersby.[29] 

There are a number of different opinions as to when the menora should be lit each evening. The Talmud states that the menora should be lit at sunset but there are a number of interpretations as to exactly what this means.[30] According to the Rambam,[31] it means at the beginning of sunset, which is when the sphere of the sun recedes below the horizon. Although the sun has officially “set” at this time there is still daylight for some time longer. According to the Shulchan Aruch, however, it means at the end of the sunset period, which is when it is almost completely dark outside.[32] There are also more than seven other opinions in addition to the views of the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch as to when the menora should be lit. The Aruch Hashulchan, however, dismisses all these views and rules that one should only light after dark.[33] All authorities agree, however, that no matter when one lights the menora, one must ensure that there is enough oil or candles for the menora to burn for at least thirty minutes after nightfall.[34]


[1] OC 671:1.

[2] Shabbat 23b; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 2:340.

[3] OC 671:1.

[4] OC 671:2.

[5] Shabbat 21b.

[6] Rema, OC 671:2.

[7] Shabbat 23a; Rivevot Ephraim 2:182:11, 4:157.

[8] Magen Avraham 675:4; Taz, OC 675:4.

[9] Shu”t Maharshal 77; Sha’arei Teshuva 675:3; Rivevot Ephraim 3:460:22, 4:163:7.

[10] OC 673:3.

[11] Mahari Bruna 39.

[12] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:5.

[13] Avnei Nezer 2:500; Rivevot Ephraim 1:434:2.

[14] Rema, OC 671:4; Magen Avraham 671:3; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:9.

[15] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:9.

[16] Shav Yaakov 22.

[17] OC 673:1.

[18] Yabia Omer 4:24:5; Rivevot Ephraim 6:370.

[19] OC 670:1; Rema, OC 670:1; Magen Avraham 670:1; Rivevot Ephraim 5:434:1.

[20] Kol Bo; Maharil.

[21] OC 671:3.

[22] Mahari Bruna 39.

[23] Kaf Hachaim, OC 673:12. See Rivevot Ephraim 6:360 at length.

[24] Shabbat 23a.

[25] Elya Rabba 673:1.

[26] Sha’ar Ephraim 39.

[27] Elya Rabba 673:2.

[28] OC 671:5.

[29] Rema, OC 671:7; Mishna Berura 671:38; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:8.

[30] Shabbat 21b.

[31] Rambam, Hilchot Chanuka 4:5.

[32] OC 672:1.

[33] OC 672:4.

[34] OC 672:2.

 

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About the author

Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of “The Dalet Amot Halacha Series” (6 Vol.) among other works of halacha. rabbiari@hotmail.com

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

18 Responses

  1. Shlomo says:

    One should be especially meticulous with the mitzva of lighting the Chanuka menora.

    There are many laws where a source says you should be especially meticulous. Can someone make a list of the laws where you don’t have to be meticulous? It would make life easier :)

  2. yitznewton says:

    If you leave your house with the candles lit, make sure you have them securely placed – a house in our neighborhood burned to the ground a few years back in a menorah fire.

  3. IH says:

    When I got to Shabbat 23a in Daf Yomi, I was struck by:

    אמר רב הונא חצר שיש לה ב’ פתחים צריכה שתי נרות (ואמר) רבא לא אמרן אלא משתי רוחות אבל מרוח אחת לא צריך מ”ט אילימא משום חשדא חשדא דמאן אילימא חשדא דעלמא אפילו ברוח אחת נמי ליבעי אי חשדא דבני מתא אפי’ משני רוחות נמי לא ליבעי לעולם משום חשדא דבני מתא וזימנין דמחלפי בהאי ולא חלפי בהאי ואמרי כי היכי דבהאי פיתחא לא אדליק בהך פיתחא נמי לא אדליק

    Given the enormous appeal of lighting Chanuka candles across the Jewish spectrum today, this concern of the Amoraim really makes one think about the social realities of their time and place.

  4. Nachum says:

    IH: There are theories that Chanuka actually went the way of most of the days in Megillat Taanit and was only revived due to the Bavli. It’s mentioned in the Mishna, but a lot of the Mishna reflects the Second Bayit era. Nothing in the Yerushalmi…you can see where people got the idea.

  5. Mr. Cohen says:

    I congratulate Rabbi Ari Enkin for writing this excellent article.

  6. Mr. Cohen says:

    Nachum: We do not possess complete copies of the Jerusalem Talmud, so we cannot say “Nothing in the Yerushalmi” with 100% confidence.

  7. Nachum says:

    Mr. Cohen: אם כן, אין לדבר סוף, but you are correct as well.

  8. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    note the chatam sofer’s pointing out that RYehudaHannassi was from malchut bet david, and opposed the chashmonaim for taking over the melucha, so he avoided all mention of chanukkah in the mishna (except for the side comment of a horse kicking over the chanukkah light in BM, alluded to by the safety warnings here.)

    also, two different aspects of the miracle: implying two different reasons for celebrating channukkah in two different time periods (hanerot hallalu implying the eight day pach shemen miracle, and biymei … implying the military victory miracle.) till channukah became universally accepted in post talmudic times.

    oil was the universal candle till the 19th century (though candles did exist), and ppl knew how to handle it safely (though there were still many incidents of homes burning down.)

    using olive oil (as per second perek of shabbat) because it burns nice and clean may be overridden by the fact that parrafin burns even nicer. and using cotton wicks may be overriden by the fiberglass wicks used today, which burn much nicer.

  9. william gewirtz says:

    First, the gemara says mishetishkeh ha-hamah not shekiyah/sunset; mishetishkeh more than likely means some number of minutes after sunset. Second, your interpretation of Rambam is different than R. Kapach’s who argues convincingly that Rambam does not mean sunset precisely. Third, the definition of the sphere of the sun descending below the horizon, is not Rambam, but his son and was not said as commentary to this specific halakha. Fourth, the SA is following Rabbeinu Tam; we do not.

    I believe the minhag of lighting a few minutes before hashekha/3 medium stars is most likely in closest alignment with the gemara. 15 – 20 minutes or so in Jerusalem and a very few minutes later in NY. but in the modern day, with extensive illumination, and people out and about later, i suspect we can also light a bit later.

  10. Nachum says:

    MMY: The whole civil wars and Herod thing may have left a bad taste in people’s mouths, nothing to do with what family you were from. Some give the more charitable explanation that he didn’t want to stir things up with the Romans by talking about a revolt. (That didn’t stop Josephus, it should be stressed.) A much more logical explanation is that Chanukah either wasn’t celebrated or wasn’t such a big deal in his time- you don’t need a whole masechet to tell you to light one candle a night for eight nights.

    In any event, Chanukah is mentioned about ten times in the Mishna. I have a list somewhere.

    Candles existed long before the 19th Century. Ashkenazim didn’t know from olive oil at all and used candles for Chanukah exclusively.

  11. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    the (original chanukkah) chashmonaim fought the greeks, not the romans. the romans had no problems with criticising greeks. yes, chanukkah was not universal (whatever that means) till post talmudic, as i said. and you dont need a whole masechet for purim, either.

    i said candles existed, but they were far from universal. bad oil, perhaps. they didnt have corn oil, either, but supposedly had low cholesterol. they knew olive oil was better, for lighting and for eating, but a rarity.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Nachum
    You say, “The whole civil wars and Herod thing may have left a bad taste in people’s mouths”. My ndestanding has always been that R. Yehuda Hanassi, who lived in a time of respite from the previous strife filled era, did not want to encourage/reignite a revolt against the Romans by elaborating on a previous succesful revolt.(shades of the Bar Kochba). Hence his relative silence. Perhaps, this can be read into the Chasam Sofer as well.
    YM

  13. Ephrayim says:

    Regarding the omission of the miracle of Hanukah, I believe that all the speculation and theories were laid to rest with Vered Noam’s article in HUCA “The Miracle of the Cruse of Oil”. I know that Shamma Friedman has an article critiquing it, which I have yet to read, but I don’t see how her proof that the miracle of the oil was invented by babylonian redactors for purely literary purposes can be argued with.

    @MMY I agree with you that paraffin and fiberglass wicks are halachikly more desirable. R’ Enkin quoted Teshuvohs Ri’vi’vos Ephraim which in turn quotes R’ Moshe in Dibros Moshe who specifically writes from the Talmud it is evident that olive oil has no special status. He further argues that even Maharil was not giving olive oil preference over other oils. A similar teshuva can also be found in Igros Moshe vol 9 (though in that one I don’t remember him saying this strange thing about if it is kasis than it would be preferable because it is similar to the mikdash). I don’t know why R’ Enkin quotes the teshuvah but still writes that it is better to use olive oil. In case anybody is still hesitant I asked R’ Schechter and he agreed that modern oils that burn better than olive oils should be used.

  14. Nachum says:

    “the (original chanukkah) chashmonaim fought the greeks, not the romans. the romans had no problems with criticising greeks.”

    The Romans, like all authoritarian regimes, had problems with hints of revolt. (Look at the Red Chinese, who crack down on *any* non-state movement, no matter how non-political.) Remember that the Jews had just fought a *second* (or third, depending how you count) major revolt against them. Who knows- maybe the Romans wouldn’t have cared. (Again, Josephus writes extensively about the Hasmonean revolt, in fact justifying it and sort of using it to shed light on the revolt he had participated in.) But maybe R’ Yehuda HaNasi felt it was best to be careful.

    “yes, chanukkah was not universal (whatever that means) till post talmudic, as i said. and you dont need a whole masechet for purim, either.”

    And yet somehow they managed one. Of course, Purim is in Tanach, which could make all the difference.

    “i said candles existed, but they were far from universal. bad oil, perhaps. they didnt have corn oil, either, but supposedly had low cholesterol. they knew olive oil was better, for lighting and for eating, but a rarity.”

    Candles were well-nigh universal. I doubt they knew much about olive oil outside of Tanach. I imagine most if not all European Jews never even *saw* an olive. But I think we agree here.

    We also shouldn’t discount the fact that the last Lubavitcher Rebbe had a chiddush (really- he made it up, not that there’s anything wrong with that) that the Chanukiyah should be as similar to the Mikdash Menorah as possible- shape, lighting material, etc. (That’s why they have the straight branches, following his view of the Rambam.)

    Anonymous: Yes, that was one of my other options.

    By the way, I looked up my list of Mishna references to Chanukah. Seven total; I got it from Phil Chernofsky of the OU Center:

    Bikkurim 1:6, RH 1:3, Taanit 2:10, Megillah 3:4 & 3:6, MK 3:9, BK 6:6. (I think the last is what MMY meant- right?)

  15. anon says:

    There is an opinion that the Chanuka candles must be placed in some type of holder or vessel in order to properly fulfill the mitzva. According to this approach, one who merely lights freestanding candles will not have fulfilled the mitzva.[13]

    In NY, Rav Soloveitchik would light directly on his windowsill, without a Menorah.

  16. Nachum says:

    My rebbe, Rav Wohlgelernter, would (and perhaps still does) put out his big fancy menorah and then line up eight tea lights on a tray below it.

  17. Shalom Spira says:

    R’ Ephrayim,
    Thank you for your scholarly comments. Regarding the historicity of the miracle of the cruse of oil, I would point to Shu”t Noda bi-Yehudah II, Even ha-Ezer no. 79, where R. Ezekiel Landua writes as follows:

    “Know, my cherished disciple, and let these words be engraved on the chamber of your heart for memory, the great principle that none of the sages after the Talmud have permission to say anything against the Talmud, and one who says any matter to contradict a [calligraphic] point of a yud [i.e. even the slightest matter] from the words of the Talmd, shall not be considered among the Sages of Israel…”

    Available online here: http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1447&st=&pgnum=325

    Based on the above responsum of R. Landau, while I am certain that Vered Noam is a tzaddeket gemurah and a brilliant talmidah chakhamah, I am absolutely certain that the miracle of the cruse oil is a real historical event, for which we give thanksgiving to HKB”H on Chanukah.

  18. Shalom Spira says:

    [By the way, I want to thank Rabbeinu Nachum, Mori ve-Rabbi R. Kaplan, and the other talmidei chakhamim who responded insightfully to my essay on prenuptial agreements in the other forum. As our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student has decided (sagaciously so) that I may not post any further comment on the other forum, I am expressing my hakarat ha-tov here.]

 
 

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