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 Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 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 Shulchan 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-Chaim states that Sephardic practice also follows this view, despite the ruling of the Shulchan 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-Shulchan (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 Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav (263:15 and in kuntres acharon, 5) equates the obligation of Shabbos candles with that of Chanukah 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-Shulchan (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 Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav and Arukh Ha-Shulchan, 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.

(Reposted from March 2005)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief 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 serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five 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.

54 comments

  1. For accuracy sake, the campaign began around 1975.

  2. For Sephardim who follow Rav Ovadia Yosef, Yalkut Yosef brings the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch as halacha (Yalkut Yosef 163:18), however the presence of electric lights is not a problem (163:8). The specific issue of daughters lighting when their mother has already lit is brought in 163:14 where he notes that the custom is for the daughters not to light, and that if they do the should not make a beracha.

  3. Regarding your Ma’aseh Rav, wasn’t Rav Soloveitchik’s town full of Lubavitchers?

  4. Do you really think that candles add light to a well-lit (electrically) room?

  5. Once Shabbos candles are lit, and the blessing recited, Shabbos arrives in the home. Doesn’t that preclude anyone else lighting a new pair of candles in the same home, because that would be a melacha?

  6. re: Dov’s question, candles definitely ad “something,” whether or not it is extra “light” in the sense of seeing utility. My baby, for example, finds them way cooler than a halogen lamp. The reason I mention this is to ask whether there is some halachic way to formulate that we say the bracha over that special something rather than simple “light”?

  7. I still remember the cars going around on Fridays with loudspeakers and bringing Shabbos candles to the single women when I was living in Israel in 1975/6.

  8. Nice little poke at chabad with the rebbe going against the alter rebbe.

  9. The whole question of “obligation” in this matter is ridiculous. When R. Zera (?) says זאת אומרת הדלקת נר מצוה היא, he doesn’t mean “mitzva” as in a strict obligation, like, say, holding the lulav or reciting the Shema. It’s a “mitzva” just as eating cholent is a mitzva — honoring the Sabbath with light.

    The only reason that some (!!!) of the Geonim instituted a berakha over the lighting of these candles is as an anti-Karaite polemic: (some!) Karaites say that we are forbidden to start a fire before the Sabbath, and keep it burning over the course of the Sabbath, so these Geonim instituted that we should say: “Blessed art Thou […] who commanded us to light candles for the Sabbath”, that is, commanded us to follow the Oral Law, which allows the lighting of candles before the Sabbath. Rav Saadia Gaon says that “some people” say this berakha.

    The whole point, though, is light. Turning on a lightbulb works as well. But yes, candles are nice, so we try to use candles. So, young children (girls and boys) living in their parents’ houses want to add more candles? Gezunteheyt. And the berakha? Eh, saying the berakha in the first place is dubious enough, but if we’re letting one person say it (as we do), we may as well let many people say it. After all, the (bar-mitzva-age) children are as obligated to keep the Oral Law as the parents are.

  10. Incidentally, I find it offensive that Chabad equates lighting Shabbos candles (for women) with tefillin (for men); the first is housework, the equivalent of changing the lightbulbs,* whereas the second is wearing God’s name and unity on one’s flesh. Did Chabad make up this equation? I don’t know.

    (*And can be done by anyone: Jewish woman, Jewish man, or even non-Jewish servant, of either sex.)

  11. A citation to R. Bleich’s comprehensive treatment of the issue (which contains all the relevant sourcs, some of which you repeated here) would be nice. Volume 16, issue 1 of Tradition. “Survey of Recent Halakhic Periodical Literature: Sabbath Candles for Young Girls”

  12. He goes on to state that if the homeowner lights candles and recites a blessing,

    The wife is the homeowner? Sounds feminist!

    The reason I mention this is to ask whether there is some halachic way to formulate that we say the bracha over that special something rather than simple “light”?

    Borei meorei haesh is such a bracha (though not the one we say here of course)

    Once Shabbos candles are lit, and the blessing recited, Shabbos arrives in the home. Doesn’t that preclude anyone else lighting a new pair of candles in the same home, because that would be a melacha?

    No, once a person lights candles, THAT PERSON has accepted tosefet shabbat. Other people are unaffected.

  13. Canuck, I don’t see your problem. After a woman lights candles, her husband, for example, can still do melacha.

    Does it matter that official YU policy is that undergraduate men should light “candles” (an electric light only, though) in their dorm rooms?

  14. R. Schachters formulation, “When a student asked him…” does not inspire great confidence in the accuracy of this report. Did RHS hear this statement of the Rav second, or perhaps third or fourth hand. How reliable were the transmitters? There is a reason why the Gemara takes such care in presenting lines of transmission of particular statements. Presumably this quote of the rav is accurate and it is still verifiable. But I uncomfortable with the fact that halakha is being transmitted in a way that no respecatble newspaper would transmit news.

  15. emma –

    I think candles are wonderful, as are beautifully set tables and delicious food. All of these are in keeping with the general mitzva of honoring the Shabbos. The only thing which we make a bracha on, however, is the specific obligation to light up the house. The purpose of this lighting is shalom bayis, and more specifically, as mentioned in the Rishonim, so that people shouldn’t be tripping over things. This is already completely taken care of with our electric lights. Therefore, although lighting candles might be an honor for the Shabbos, regarding this particular obligation they would seem to be superfluous.

  16. There are two basic ways customs change. One is when people start doing something (see R. Z.H. Chajes) and the Rabbis accept it and (often) justify it after the fact (kitniyot is a prime example.) The other is when an “adam gadol” introduces a practice because he sees that the people of his time require it, and people adopt it. I am not one of the rebbe’s Chassidim, far from it, but there is not question in my mind that he qualifies to introduce such a practice.

  17. Perhaps I should have been careful to put qualified in the past tense.

  18. “The Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav (263:15 and in kuntres acharon, 5) equates the obligation of Shabbos candles with that of Chanukah candles, in the sense that both are obligations on the household rather than the individual.”

    Interestingly enough Hannukah candles get a special Berkaha in Tr. Shabbat, while the Shabbat ones-while obligatory, have no special formula for a blessing, until the geonic period…

  19. Nachum – I’m still confused about the mitzvah, and baffled by your statement about lighting electric “candles” in YU dorms. I accept to live in ignorance :-).

  20. What’s so hard? The woman (or man) accepts Shabbat when s/he lights the candle. Someone who does not light a candle accepts it at some point in Maariv. (I’ve heard Barchu and I’ve heard “Mikadesh HaShabbat” in the quiet Shemona Esrei.) With none of that, it’s accepted when hearing and/or saying Kiddush. With none of that, it’s when the sun sets. (In the case of Maariv and Kiddush, even if the sun sets before then, of course. In the case of candles, you can’t light after sunset, of course.) Having a lit candle in the house does not obligate someone who doesn’t want to be obligated in it, unless they themselves lit it and said the bracha.

    As the nature of candle lighting is for light, use of an electric light is perfectly acceptable, at least b’dieved, in places that don’t allow fire (hospitals, dormitories such as YU’s). You say a bracha on it. I assumed that YU’s dormitory handbook had some halachic approval from someone who knew halacha. 🙂 The same is not true of Chanukkah, of course- we lit in the lobby then.

  21. Lawrence Kaplan

    Mike S. : The Rebbe was NOT the Rebbe of Klal Yisrael. It was one thing for him to tell his Hasidim or unaffiliated Jews that single girls should light Shabbat candles. The halakhic problems are not insurmountable. The real isue is al titosh. What right had the Rebbe to issue a call to the effect that single girls from Orthodox homes where the minhag is for singlr girls not to light candles that they should disregard their family minhag? I never understood this.

  22. What right had the Rebbe to issue a call to the effect that single girls from Orthodox homes where the minhag is for singlr girls not to light candles that they should disregard their family minhag? I never understood this.
    ===================================
    and Yeshiva’s in general (not YU) encouraging boys to take on the yeshiva’s minhag you understand?
    KT

  23. Reb Gil – maybe RYBS’s practice was the Brisker minhag. I recall that in his Radiance of Shabbos, Rabbi Cohen brings in a footnote on this issue that this is minhag of both CHABAD and of Brisk.

  24. “No, once a person lights candles, THAT PERSON has accepted tosefet shabbat”

    i thought that even when one lights, one can do so having in mind not to accept yet shabbat/chag and one may continue to do melacha?

  25. Lawrence Kaplan

    Joel Rich: Who said I did? But at least those boys attended that Yeshiva and had some connection with it.

  26. Lighting Sabbath candles was a way to remind people that it was Sabbath, and when the Rebbe stressed that even young girls should do this, he understood that by getting the children to lead them, he might bring about a change in the Jewish family so that it would perhaps choose to observe the Sabbath that followed that lighting. […] The idea was that if every Jewish home kindled the lights at the same time in each location, as the sun set on Friday, there would perhaps be a spiritual solidarity of each with all and the Sabbath, a way of moving of heaven and earth in a mystical way that would not only kindle the lights but also the Jewish souls of those who were doing so. Jewish engagement and solidarity would, the Rebbe imagined, become inevitable. Giving charity, another key part of the mitzvah campaign, would likewise bind Jews to one another.

    The Rebbe by Heilman and Friedman, p. 183

  27. I guess some people are more interested in uniting, than in dividing, Jews.

  28. I retract my last (editorial) comment.

  29. However, there was also encouragement given to those who are fully observant.

    It seems to me this is good leadership practice. The fully observant should do precisely the same as what they preach to those who are not.

    Whether Chabad is consistent in this throughout their kiruv enterprise is a legitimate question, but in this case they were — which is laudable.

  30. Lawrence:

    It seems to me that the Rebbe had every right to call on people in general to adopt the practice, and those who followed other rabbis or listened to their parents had every right to reject his call and follow their own authorities and traditions.

    Just as, for example, the Noda B’Yehudah had every right to suggest that the traditional shiurim were only half what they should be and others (at least for the first hundred and fifty years after he said that) rejected the suggestion.

    That a rabbi has the stature to propose a changed practice does not preclude the possibility that other also have the stature to urge rejection of the proposal.

  31. Lawrence Kaplan

    Mike S. I do not agree with you. First the Noda B’Yehudah had firm halakhic grounds for his view on shiurim, and he expressed it, as is proper, in one of his halakhic works. There is no such halakhic imperative with reference to single girls lighting Shabbat candles. Second, the Noda B’Yehudah did not go on a campaign urging that all Jews should double their shiurim.

  32. Lawrence Kaplan

    IH: I do not understand your point about consistency. It was the Lubavitchers who were urging single girls in non-observant families to light Shabbat candles. So the observant Lubavitch single girls should light them also. What does this have to do with non-Lubavitch families where the minhag is for single girls not to light them and who are not preaching to anybody?

    As for unity: If everyone were Shomer Shabbat, and the only thing dividing Jews is that in some houses single girls lit candles and in other houses they did not, but everyone fully respected each other’s views, we’ll already be in messianic times!

  33. Moshe Shoshan wrote: R. Schachters formulation, “When a student asked him…” does not inspire great confidence in the accuracy of this report. Did RHS hear this statement of the Rav second, or perhaps third or fourth hand. How reliable were the transmitters?

    I’m glad we are living in an age where we can not only ask RHS but even if we do not, we have the Rav’s family (try a daughter) that can be asked. I don’t see the value in questioning the story here when a perhaps more constructive approach might be to ask whether someone can ask e.g. Rebbetzin Lichtenstein and indeed R’ Schachter! We aren’t talking about so called “revisionism” of the Rav’s philosophy!

  34. Prof Kaplan: “What right…”

    The right of Lubavitch imperialism – the view that the Jewish world is divided into Lubavitch and not-yet-Lubavitch. So little girls should be encouraged to light candles, because one day they too will be Lubavitch. That’s why Lubavitch doesn’t care about movements, the way most Orthodox do – to them, we’re all the same, MO, C, R, Rc, atheist – we’re all Not Yet Lubavitch. This is what they call “hafotzas hamaayanos”, spreading the wellsprings, convincing all Jewry to become subjects of the King Messiah, the Rebbe. See Chabadpedia – this started with the Baal Shem Tov chapping regular frum intellectual yidden for Chassidus, and continues today – all yidden must be chapped for Chabad.

    It’s why they call their late Rebbe “the leader of world Jewry” – because all Jewry is his subjects, they just don’t all know it yet.

  35. Jon Baker,

    While you are more or less correct about Lubavitch’s attitude, I’m not sure you’re correct in this particular instance. I have been aroud Lubavitch on and off for years and do not think they advocate that all frum girls like candles.

    I have seen Lubavitchers proseltyze countless times for all sorts of issues. This is not one of them as far as I can tell. If you are a good Bais Yaakov girl, they will not try to convince you to light candles before marriage. (If you are a wayward or searching Bais Yaakov girl, I agree that they might.)

  36. Lawrence Kaplan

    Jon Baker: My thoughts exactly, if expressed a bit crudely. I just didn’t want to spell it out. Zachah, melakhto na’asah al yedei aheirim.

  37. “The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (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… But those who follow this approach (such as me), would not allow single women to light candles with a blessing in their parents’ home”

    The Aruch hashulchan specifically says that single daughters can make a bracha (263:7) and explicitly distinguishes between a man making a bracha once the woman of the household already made one and single daughters doing so, and says the single daughters may light with a bracha because the mitzva is more binding on women. Evidently his minhag was that single daughters did light.

  38. Lawrence: if the Noda B’yehuda did not start a campaign over shiurim, Lakewood has. I even saw one newly minted Kollel fellow, fresh come from Lakewood to LA ask R. Meiselman to put away the becher he was about to use (which was later revealed to have been R. Chaim’s) and use a larger one. Nor is this sort of behavior new. Consider the obliteration of Palestinian customs in favor of Babylonian ones during the period of the Geonim.

    Nor is this sort of “Halachic Imperialism” currently limited to Chassidim and the quasi Chassidim of Lakewood. Consider R. Ovadia Yosef’s attempts to get all Israeli’s to follow the p’sak of the Beit Yosef. He was largely successful in getting the Sefardim to abandon their sometimes contrary p’sakim, but has failed at getting the Ashkenazim to go along. Unlike real imperialism, this sort is not backed by superior weaponry, and those with contrary traditions are both free and right to ignore it.

  39. Jon Baker, Mike S.: The “Litvish” community has exactly the same attitude, with different names and titles (Chafetz Chayim=posek aharon, R’ Eliyashiv=gadol hador).

    And really, if you think your opinion is right (as everyone does), shouldn’t you hope that someday everyone will agree and follow it? If a practice has any logic or justification beyond “My parents did it so I will too” (a valid one BTW), you should want members of every community to follow it, not just your own.

  40. Lawrence Kaplan

    Mike S.: Ein hakhi nami.I am opposed to Lakewood imperialism too.

  41. Isaac Baliban
    my point is that RHS should have confirmed this with one of the children. This may not be revisionism, but much of what we call Rav revisionism is not intentional. Rather, by not being careful about the accuracy of the information they report they become much more susceptible to shaping the material to their own biases.

  42. Pink Gun: You are absolutely right. I can’t believe I missed that. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

  43. Baruch,

    I’m not so sure you’re right. I have a friend in Princeton, who was walking along 5th Avenue near 47th St in the mid 1970s with her 5-year-old daughter. Some Lubav in the tank asks,

    are you Jewish, do you light candles (yes), does your daughter?
    Of course not, she’s 5 years old.
    Well, you know, the L Rebbe says that all Jewish women should light candles, from the age of 3.
    Well, I’m not going to have my 5-year-old light a match.
    You can hold her hand and help her.
    Sorry, not interested.

    But when they get home, the daughter is fascinated and wants to light her own candle. So Mommy helps her to light.

    Now, of course, the daughter is grown & married with children of her own.

  44. I am asking out of ignorance. But is having girls and unmarried women living at home and lighting Chanukah lecht a CHABAD institution? Or, is is common practice of umarried girls/women living at home to light on Chanukah?

  45. Rafael: To my knowledge, it varies greatly even within the same community.

  46. I am very surprised by some of the comments to the article and even the article itself. It seems that some of the commentors think that the Rebbe is some kind of a moron and is not familiar with a Shulchan Arcuh. All the issues have been addressed by the Rebbe himself as well as by other rabbonim. Please do a little more research on the topic before commenting.

  47. “Moshe Shoshan on February 13, 2012 at 4:12 am
    R. Schachters formulation, “When a student asked him…” does not inspire great confidence in the accuracy of this report. Did RHS hear this statement of the Rav second, or perhaps third or fourth hand. How reliable were the transmitters?”
    If one is really curious as to what the Rav did at home with his daughters ask his daughters. There may be times where there recollection of what occurred is different than various viewpoints expressed in the Ravs name.

  48. “Moshe Shoshan on February 14, 2012 at 8:23 am
    Isaac Baliban
    my point is that RHS should have confirmed this with one of the children. This may not be revisionism, but much of what we call Rav revisionism is not intentional. Rather, by not being careful about the accuracy of the information they report they become much more susceptible to shaping the material to their own biases”
    Certainly Moshe SHoshan has a reasonable basis for his general comments.

  49. Lawrence Kaplan

    Cheski: So enlighten us. I’m paricularly interested in the Rebbe’s take on al titosh.

  50. Your comments about Al Titosh remind me about the well known story of the Misnagdim who complained to R’ Chaim Oizer abouth the Chassidm adding a new Rosh Hashanah. His response was that by us we are always minimizing, but by the Chassidim they are increasing…

    I was not aware that the minhag of young girls not to light their own candles was raised to the level of a holy Minhag that warrants Al Titosh. I would think that Ma’alin B’Kodesh would seem to apply. And if you don’t want to have girls start lighting Shabbos candles then don’t have them light. Why is there a need to get bent out of shape.

    The funniest thing about your comment about Al Titosh is that the source where the Rebbe got the idea of three year old girs lighting Shabbos candles is from Rivkah IMEINU! If you would like to learn the Sicha where the Rebbe addresses the issue click on the link:
    http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14933&st=&pgnum=176

    If you are Yiddishly Challenged click on this link for a synopsis:
    http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1221742/jewish/Do-Young-Girls-Light-Shabbat-and-Holiday-Candles.htm

  51. Lawrence Kaplan

    Cheski: My Yiddish is not that great, but good enough to make out what the Rebbe was saying. Rivka, according to the Rebbe, lit the candles before the hasanah. But she was the ONLY one lighting them. Remember, Sarah was dead. This has nothing to do with a case where the mother is lighting the candles. (BTW, most three year olds nowadays cannot draw water for ten camels.)

  52. In regards to point 3, the SAH, the entire point of the Kuntres Achron is to show grounds to argue with the Chak Yackov, which is the source of Seif 15 and allow for the custom of multiple Brachos even when the 2nd Bracha is made by a dependent.

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