by R. Daniel Mann
Question: The last time my wife was away for Shabbat, my oldest daughter (under bat mitzva) wanted to light Shabbat candles instead of me. Can a minor daughter do so, and does she have precedence over me?
Answer: The short answer is that you should be doing the hadlakat neirot and not your pre-bat mitzva daughter when your wife is away (Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 43:7). Now we will broaden our view of the topic.
Does a daughter have precedence over her father due to gender? The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 263:3) explains a wife’s advantage over her husband pragmatically – she is usually at home more, taking care of household chores, and so it is appropriate that she has the higher level of obligation and rights. The Tur (OC 263) cites a midrash that it was a woman (Chava) who “extinguished the light of the world” by causing Adam to sin, and therefore it is women’s job to add special light to the world (see also Mishna Berura 263:11). Regarding the first matter, one can argue either way regarding a daughter vs. father, and it might depend on the household. The second matter probably applies to all females. The book Radiance of Shabbat (p. 7) cites Rav Moshe Feinstein as saying that a father has precedence over an above bat mitzva daughter. I would surmise that the reason is that a husband has greater responsibility for the proper Jewish running of his home than his daughter has. The book goes on that between bar/bat mitzva siblings, a girl has precedence.
The bigger problem with your daughter lighting is the principle that one who is not obligated in a mitzva cannot perform it for one who is obligated (Rosh Hashana 29a). However, it is actually not so simple. First, if the mitzva is not to light the candles but to have the candles lit, then it might not make a difference who lights them. Regarding the mitzva of Chanuka candles, we conclude (Shabbat 23a) that since the beracha is “to light,” then it is the act of lighting that is the mitzva and that the lighting can therefore not be done by someone who lacks mature thought, including a child. The same is likely true for the lighting of Shabbat candles. In the past (Chayei Sarah 5772) we discussed this issue in regard to the question of whether one just has to light with the expectation to benefit from the candles or whether one needs to actually benefit. We reasoned, based on sources, that it is likely that there is a mixture of the two elements – lighting and having a proper Shabbat atmosphere – but that the nature of the mitzva is to light. We mentioned the machloket between the Magen Avraham (263:11) and R. Akiva Eiger (ad loc.) whether when it is too late for a Jew to light the Shabbat candles and she gets a non-Jew to light, a member of the Jewish household makes a beracha (see Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 43:(48)). In the final analysis, it is apparent that one would not want someone who is not obligated in the mitzva to light.
Is your daughter obligated? If she is old enough for you to take the question seriously, we assume she is higiah l’chinuch, reached the age at which she can be trained. Indeed, if only such children are available to light, they are obligated Rabbinically to light with a beracha like any other mitzva of the day (and a girl should have precedence over a boy). True, one who is obligated Rabbinically cannot perform a mitzva on behalf of one who is obligated from the Torah (Berachot 20b), but the whole mitzva of lighting is only Rabbinic, so how are you more obligated than your daughter? There is actually a machloket (Shulchan Aruch, OC 675:3) regarding a child of chinuch age lighting Chanuka candles for an adult, as many hold that one who is obligated only Rabbinically for two reasons (the nature of the mitzva; the general nature of the person’s obligations) can do a mitzva on behalf of someone who has only one reason that it is only Rabbinic (e.g., an adult lighting Chanuka candles). We follow the strict opinion (ibid. 689:2; Mishna Berura 675:13).
(When making early Shabbat, be sure not to light before plag hamincha.)