Guests and Travelers on Chanukah

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by R. David Brofsky

The basic mitzva of ner Ḥanukka is “ner ish uveito” (Shabbat 21b), that a light be kindled in the home each night of Ḥanukka. What should you do if you are away from your bayit on a night of Ḥanukka? The Gemara teaches:

R. Sheshet said: A lodger [akhsanai] is obligated in ner Ḥanukka. R. Zeira said: At first, when I would visit the house of Rav, I would share the costs with the host. After I was married, I concluded that now I certainly don’t need [to light when a guest elsewhere], as [my wife] is lighting for me at my home. (Shabbat 23a)

Two halakhot emerge from this passage: (1) A traveler may fulfill his obligation through the lighting performed by someone else in his home. (2) A guest may fulfill his obligation by sharing the costs of the Ḥanukka lights with the host.

Ran explains that R. Sheshet initially compared the obligation of hadlakat neirot with that of mezuza. The mitzva of mezuza is purely a ḥovat bayit, an obligation on the house, as opposed to a personal obligation. Similarly, R. Sheshet thought, a guest would not be obligated to light neirot Ḥanukka, as the obligation is on the house and not each individual. He ultimately concluded, however, that a guest is, in fact, obligated. It remains unclear which aspect of his initial assumption he rejected. Perhaps he concluded that hadlakat neirot is actually a ḥovat gavra (personal obligation), and that it therefore remains binding even if one resides in another person’s home. Alternatively, he may have accepted the classification of ner Ḥanukka as a ḥovat bayit, but maintained that it applies to a traveler nevertheless. A guest must thus participate in his host’s expenses in order to fulfill this mitzva.[1. Ran, Shabbat 10a.]

The Shulḥan Arukh rules in accordance with this Gemara, stating that a guest who has no one to light for him at his own home and who does not have a separate entrance where he lodges should fulfill his obligation by sharing in the host’s expenses for the oil.[2. Shulḥan Arukh 677:1.] The Aḥaronim discuss whether or not the host must actually add some oil to serve as the guest’s share. Magen Avraham notes that the while the guest may pay for the additional oil, the host may give him a portion as a gift.[3. Magen Avraham 677:1.] Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer (1870–1939) writes that the guest should explicitly state that he is giving the money to the host to acquire a share in the costs of the lights. The host should then respond that he transfers a portion of the lights in exchange for the money he received.[4. Kaf HaḤayim, 677.]

Nowadays, it is customary among Ashkenazim to kindle their own Ḥanukka lights rather than rely upon the lighting of the baal habayit (host). It is possible that this practice is rooted in the general observance of the mehadrin min hamehadrin standard, which requires each member of the household to light. Even if a guest fulfills his basic obligation through the host’s lighting, the higher standard of mehadrin min hamehadrin might require him to light his own candles. Interestingly, Rabbi Yaakov ben Moshe Moellin, Maharil, records the custom among guests in his day (the fourteenth century) not to share the costs of the host’s lights, but rather to light personally. Instead of explaining this practice as an attempt to fulfill the mehadrin min hamehadrin standard, he attributes it to the concern that others might suspect that he did not light.[5. Responsa Maharil, 145.] Others imply that despite this prevalent practice, one may still share the costs with the host and need not be concerned with the possibility of suspicion.[6. Darkhei Moshe 677.]

The Mishna Berura cites the view requiring guests to kindle their own lights in order to avoid suspicion, but he then dismisses this argument.[7. Mishna Berura 677:7.] He rules in accordance with the view of Magen Avraham that only guests who stay in quarters with a separate entrance must light their own lights.[8. Magen Avraham 677:3.] Nevertheless, the Mishna Berura concludes that whenever possible, a guest should kindle his own lights in order to fulfill the mehadrin min hamehadrin standard.

Although this is indeed the common practice, Rabbi Eliyahu Schlesinger suggests that that a lodger’s lighting might be halakhically meaningless if he does not formally join his host’s household. The obligation of ner Ḥanukka requires lighting in one’s bayit, his home, and a guest does not have a “home” in which to light unless he becomes part of his host’s household. Rabbi Schlesinger therefore suggests, in contrast to the Mishna Berura’s position, that a lodger must share the costs of the lights in order to fulfill the mitzva at all.[9. Ner Ish UVeito, p. 368.]

R. Sheshet noted that a married traveler need not be concerned with participating in his host’s lighting, as his wife lights for him at home. May a traveler whose wife lights for him still light his own candles where he sleeps? Terumat HaDeshen cites two opinions regarding whether the guest may kindle his own lights with the berakhot in this situation.[10. Terumat HaDeshen 101.] Maharil observed that most guests in his time lit on their own even in such situations, and he maintained that a guest may even recite the berakhot in this case, as he presumably has in mind not to fulfill his obligation through his wife’s lighting.[11. Responsa Maharil, 145.] Beit Yosef, however, disagrees, rendering such a berakha a berakha levatala (a blessing in vain).[12. Beit Yosef 677.] The Eliya Rabba cites Shaar Efraim, who suggests that this debate relates to the definition of mehadrin min hamehadrin. According to the Sefardic tradition, which demands that only the head of the household light, once one’s wife lights at home, the husband has no reason to light his own candles. According the Ashkenzic tradition, however, which mandates that each and every member of the household light, even if one’s wife lit at home, he should still ideally light his own neirot Ḥanukka. Eliya Rabba[13. Eliya Raba 677:4.] himself, however, rejects this reasoning, suggesting that even according to Ashkenazic tradition, a traveler whose wife lights for him at home is not encouraged to light his own candles.

Rema rules that a traveler whose family lights for him back home may still light with the berakhot.[14. Rema 677:3.] Levush,[15. Levush 677:1.] Taz,[16. Taz 677:1.] Magen Avraham,[17. Magen Avraham 677:1.] and other Aḥaronim rule in accordance with Rema, whereas Maharshal and Peri Ḥadash disagree. Given the difference of opinion among the authorities in this regard, the Mishna Berura suggests that one should preferably listen to someone else’s berakhot rather than recite them personally, although he does not censure those who do recite the berakhot in such a case.[18. Mishna Berura 677:15.]

Defining Ones Home: One who Eats and Sleeps in Different Places

Clearly, one who eats and sleeps at home should light neirot Ḥanukka at his own home. Taz criticizes the mistaken practice of dinner guests who light in their hosts’ homes instead of their own, for “this is no different than if they had been standing in the street during candle lighting, where lighting is certainly not applicable.”[19. Taz 677:2.] (We will later discuss the case of one who has no home.) Thus, if one visits friends or family for dinner and plans to return home, he must light Ḥanukka candles at home, and not with his hosts.

A more complex question involves guests who sleep in one place and eat somewhere else. Tur cites his father, Rosh, as ruling that a person in this situation should light in the place where he sleeps, for if he lights in the house where he eats, people might suspect that he did not light neirot Ḥanukka at all.[20. Tur 677.] In his Darkhei Moshe commentary on the Tur, Rema notes that Rashba disagrees with this conclusion, ruling that one who eats in someone else’s house must share in the host’s lighting expenses even if he sleeps elsewhere.[21. Responsa Rashba 1:542.] In other words, Rashba assumes that the place where one eats determines his status regarding the obligation of hadlakat neirot.

Rabbi Yosef Karo rules in the Shulḥan Arukh that one who has a private entrance to his residence should light there, even if he regularly eats elsewhere.[22. Shulḥan Arukh 677:1.] Rema disagrees, once again citing Rashba, and writes, “Some say that nowadays, when we light inside the house, one should light in the place where he eats, and such is the custom.”[23. Rema 677:1.]

This debate between Rosh and Rashba affects one who stays at a hotel during Ḥanukka, sleeping in his room but eating in the hotel’s dining hall. According to Rosh, he should light in the room where he sleeps. Rashba, however, would seemingly rule that one should light in the dining room. However, since the entrance to the building might be considered the “entrance of one’s courtyard adjacent to the reshut harabbim,” it may be the preferred location for lighting. This indeed seems to be the custom in many hotels, especially due to fire safety concerns.[24. Of course, one who travels alone may rely upon his family’s lighting at home, if necessary.]

A similar question arises when one travels for just one night. When one goes away for Shabbat, for example, and returns home on Saturday night, where should he light Ḥanukka candles that night? Is his status determined by the place where he slept the night before or the place where he intends to sleep that night? Some suggest that if one can return home in time to light while there are still people outside, he should quickly return home after Shabbat and light there.[25. Ḥovat HaDar, chap. 1, n. 65.] Others, however, maintain that one may light in his host’s house before returning home, particularly if he will be returning home late.[26. Yemei Hallel VeHoda’a, p. 274, in the name of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.]

Dormitory Students

Much has been written regarding the question of where yeshiva students should light Ḥanukka candles. As we have already discussed, since Sephardic authorities maintain that only one person per household must light, Sephardic students must establish if they are considered independent in determining whether they should personally light or if their obligation is fulfilled through their families’ lighting at home. Students of Ashkenazic descent should certainly light, as according to Ashkenazic authorities, every member of the family lights in order to fulfill the mehadrin min hamehadrin standard. In addition, since they essentially live independently from their parents, it is possible that they must light even to fulfill the basic mitzva of ner ish uveito, which they likely no longer fulfill through their parents’ lighting.

Students in school or yeshiva often eat and sleep in different rooms, and even in different buildings if the cafeteria and dormitory are situated in different places on the campus. Where should one light in such a situation? Rabbi Moshe Feinstein maintains that students should light where they sleep, as the dining room is communal and not designated specifically for any particular student. He advises that students “draw lots” to determine who should stay and watch the lights to prevent a fire.[27. Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 3, 14:5 and Oraḥ Ḥayim 4, 70:3.] Rabbi Yitzḥak Weiss,[28. Minḥat Yitzḥak 7:48.] Rabbi Binyamin Zilber,[29. Az Nidberu 5, 38:2.] and Rabbi Shmuel Wosner[30. Shevet HaLevi 3:83.] concur. Some suggest that one who lights in a dormitory room should light at the door facing toward the hallway, while others prefer lighting at the window.[31. Iggerot Moshe, Oraḥ Ḥayim 4, 70:3.] In contrast, Ḥazon Ish[32. See Teshuvot VeHanhagot 2 342:11.] and Rabbi Aharon Kotler[33. Cited by Rabbi Shimon Eider, Halachos of Ḥanukka, p. 37.] rule that one should light where he eats, in accordance with Rema’s ruling noted above.

Rabbi Moshe Harari cites Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as commenting in a personal conversation that students may light neirot Ḥanukka either in the entrance to their dormitory building or in the cafeteria – but not in their rooms, due to safety concerns.[34. Mikra’ei Kodesh, Ḥanukka, p. 100, n. 101.] This is, in fact, the custom in Rabbi Auerbach’s yeshiva, Kol Torah, in Jerusalem. Students at Yeshiva University also light at the entrance to their dormitory buildings.

On the Road: One Who Travels Without a Home[35. Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon analyzes this question at length in his “Ner Ḥanukka Leḥayal VeLaMetayel” (Be’orekha Nireh Or, 2004).]


May one fulfill the mitzva of ner Ḥanukka outside of a house? For example, may one traveling on a train or camping in an open field light neirot Ḥanukka? We have previously questioned whether we should define the mitzva of ner Ḥanukka as a ḥovat bayit – an obligation upon the house, similar to mezuza – or a ḥovat gavra – a personal mitzva that happens to be performed in the home. Clearly, one who views the obligation as a ḥovat bayit would not require lighting in the situations mentioned, just as one is obviously not obligated in mezuza if he has no home. If, however, we view the obligation as a ḥovat gavra, then the question arises as to whether the obligation remains applicable even in the absence of a home.

Although the Rishonim do not explicitly address this question, later authorities inferred from a number of sources that the obligation of ner Ḥanukka requires a house. For example, Tosafot explain that the berakha of “she’asa nissim” upon viewing Ḥanukka lights was instituted to enable “those who do not have houses and who are unable to fulfill the mitzva” to participate in the mitzva of Ḥanukka.[36. Tosafot, Sukka 46b, s.v. haro’eh.] This comment assumes that people without homes do not light Ḥanukka candles. Similarly, Rashi explains that this berakha is intended for one who has not yet lit in his house and for one traveling by boat, who does not light.[37. Rashi, Shabbat 23a, s.v. haro’eh.] (Rashi does not explain, however, why a boat is not considered a house.) Furthermore, Rambam writes that “the mitzva [of Ḥanukka] entails that each and every house light,”[38. Hilkhot Ḥanukka 4:1.] implying that the mitzva must be performed in (or by) a house. In contrast, Ran cited earlier seems to understand the Gemara as establishing that the mitzva is not a ḥovat bayit, but rather a personal obligation.[39. Ran, Rif, Shabbat 10a, s.v. amar.] Finally, above we cited Taz, who criticizes the mistaken practice of dinner guests who light in their hosts’ homes instead of their own, noting that “this is no different than if they had been standing in the street during candle lighting, where lighting is certainly not applicable.”[40. Taz 677:2.] This clearly implies that one without a house may not light Ḥanukka candles. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein[41. Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 3, 14:5.] and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach[42. Halikhot Shlomo, p. 257.] rule accordingly.

Other Aḥaronim maintain that although one must light in a “house,” even a temporary residence may be considered a “house” in this respect. For example, Rabbi Shalom Mordechai ben Moshe Schwadron (Maharsham, 1835–1911), writes that one may light while traveling on a train, as he in effect “rents” his cabin.[43. Responsa Maharsham 4:146.] The Arukh HaShulḥan concurs.[44. Arukh HaShulḥan 677:5.] Interestingly, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein accepts the assumption that one may light only in a “bayit,” yet questions whether a “bayit” must, by definition, be a roofed enclosure or if any fixed dwelling place, even without a roof, would suffice. If such a structure may plausibly be considered a bayit, one must have dwelled there for a minimum amount of time, either a week or even thirty days, in order for it to be considered one’s home. Therefore, campers who sleep in a certain place for less than a week should not light neirot Ḥanukka, but should rather rely on the lighting performed in their homes.[45. See here (accessed February 1, 2012).] Rabbi Auerbach apparently also shared this doubt, as he ruled that while soldiers who sleep in the open fields should not light, those sleeping in trenches should light without reciting the berakhot.

Others maintain that the requirement of “bayit” is optimal, but not mandatory, and one may therefore light even without a house. Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, for example defines the mitzva as one which is incumbent “akarkafta degavra,” upon each and every head, and thus does not depend upon a house at all.[46. Tzitz Eliezer 15:29.] Rabbi Binyamin Zilber concurs.[47. Az Nidberu 6:75.] Rabbi Waldenberg therefore maintains that soldiers should light next to their beds and with the berakhot.[48. Tzitz Eliezer 15:29.] Rabbi Tzvi Pesaḥ Frank ruled in 1974 that while soldiers who sleep in tents that protect them from the rain may light neirot Ḥanukka, those who sleep in open fields should not.[49. Mikra’ei Kodesh, Ḥanukka p. 18, n. 3.] Rabbi Ovadia Yosef rules that soldiers sleeping outside should light without reciting the berakhot.[50. Ḥazon Ovadia, p. 156.]

Reposted from 2013. This essay is excerpted from R. David Brofsky’s Hilkhot Mo’adim: Understanding the Laws of the Festivals, republished with permission.

About David Brofsky

Rabbi David Brofsky is a senior faculty member at Midreshet Lindenbaum and writes a weekly halakha shiur for the Virtual Beit Midrash (VBM). He is the author of Hilchot Tefilla: A Comprehensive Guide to the Laws of Daily Prayer, and the recently published Hilkhot Moadim: Understanding the Jewish Festivals.

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