Single Women and Shabbos Candles

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In the early 1980s, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe began a campaign to encourage single women to light Shabbos candles. While there are obvious sociological benefits to this practice, there are three halakhic issues that arise with it. Here, we are talking about single women and girls who live with their parents. Should they start lighting their own candles, in addition to their mothers’ candles?

I. Changing Customs

The campaign was aimed largely at Jews who are not observant of Jewish law. However, there was also encouragement given to those who are fully observant. Such women, however, have family customs and if their custom is that the single women do not light their own candles then they should certainly not deviate from their custom. Ve-al titosh toras imekha has multiple meanings in this case.

However, the halakhic questions that were raised at the time by those opposed to this practice had to do with whether even those women (and girls) requiring kiruv may light their own candles and, specifically, whether they may recite a blessing over those candles.

II. Existing Light

If a mother lights candles first and then her daughter wishes to light her own candles, there is a question of whether the second candles add anything to the mitzvah. The reason for lighting the candles is to ensure that there is light in the house for Shabbos. Once light has been established by the mother’s candles, there seems to be no mitzvah need for the daughter’s candles.

A similar case is discussed in Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayim 263:8) in which two families are eating in the same room. Should the families light their own candles, even though one set of candles would provide sufficient light? The Shulhan Arukh cites two opinions on the matter and rules that only one family should recite a blessing over the candles due to the doubt. This would seem to indicate that a daughter may not recite a blessing on her own candles.

However, the Rema notes that Ashkenazic practice is to allow both families to recite a blessing because the second set of candles adds light to the room. Indeed, this is the reason that today, when we have electric lighting in our homes, we still recite a blessing over the Shabbos candles — the candles add light to the room. Absent this gloss of the Rema, it would be questionable whether anyone today would be able to recite a blessing over Shabbos candles without first turning off all of the electric lights in the room. Furthermore, the Kaf Ha-Hayim states that Sephardic practice also follows this view, despite the ruling of the Shulhan Arukh. All of this implies that there is no problem with a daughter reciting a blessing over her own candles because the candles are adding light to the room.

Furthermore, the Arukh Ha-Shulhan (263:6) rules that if the two families light candles at exactly the same time, then all agree that they may both recite the blessing. The only question is when one family lights first. Therefore, if a mother and daughter light their own candles at the same time, they definitely may both recite the blessing.

III. Family Lighting

The Shulhan Arukh Ha-Rav (263:15 and in kuntres aharon, 5) equates the obligation of Shabbos candles with that of Hanukah candles, in the sense that both are obligations on the household rather than the individual. Therefore, a woman who is a guest at another family’s house “is not at all obligated to light a candle there because the obligation to light a Shabbos candle does not fall on her since she is included in the family of the homeowner.” He goes on to state that if the homeowner lights candles and recites a blessing, then the guest may not light with a blessing even if the homeowner tells her to do so and makes her his agent for a particular room. In other words, the obligation of lighting candles falls on the household, not on any individual. Once the household has fulfilled its obligation, there is no need, and thus no right, for additional candles to be lit. The Arukh Ha-Shulhan (263:5) seems to take a similar approach.

Therefore, it would seem that a daughter may not light her own candles and recite a blessing on them because the household has already fulfilled its obligation with the mother’s candles. However, standard practice does not follow this position of the Shulhan Arukh Ha-Rav and Arukh Ha-Shulhan, as guests regularly light Shabbos candles with a blessing when staying and eating in someone else’s home. But those who follow this approach (such as me), would not allow single women to light candles with a blessing in their parents’ home.

IV. Ma’aseh Rav

R. Hershel Schachter, Mi-Peninei Ha-Rav, p. 75:

The Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke in public about the importance of lighting candles on Shabbos eve, even for single women who live in their parents’ home, and the Hasidim made a big controversy over this. When one of the students asked [R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik] for his opinion on the subject, he responded that he does not understand what innovation there is in this matter. That was the practice in Europe, even in [R. Soloveitchik’s] town, and that is how [R. Soloveitchik] practiced with his daughters when they were single — they lit their own candles, with a blessing, even when his wife also lit candles with a blessing.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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