Flying High – A Traveler’s Guide to Kindling the Menorah

Question #1: “Rabbi…” I recognize Shlomo Rabinowitz’s voice on the phone. “My company is sending me to Japan next week, right in the middle of Chanukah,” he continues, “and to top it off, one of my flights has me on the plane the entire candle lighting time. How do I fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights five miles above earth? Furthermore, in Japan I will be busy at conferences all day long. Where and when will I light my menorah there? Can I kindle in a corner of the conference room?”

Question #2: Rav Mordechai, a fundraiser acquaintance of mine, asked me how to fulfill the mitzvah of hadlakas Ner Chanukah when he is out of town soliciting tzedakah until late in the evening.

Question #3: The Schwartz family is spending Shabbos Chanukah with friends on the other side of town. May they kindle the menorah at their friends’ home on motzei Shabbos, or must they wait until they return home?

(Although all names have been changed, each of these cases reflects an actual shaylah people asked me.)

True, most of us will not be collecting funds all of Chanukah or flying to Japan. However, resolving these shaylos provides a good opportunity to explain the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah in greater depth. First, we will go through the basics of the mitzvah, and then we will examine the details that apply to travelers.

Every Jew must light Chanukah lights or have an agent kindle for him (see Rambam, Hilchos Chanukah 3:4). Many people do not know that the basic mitzvah requires kindling only one flame, whether oil or candle, for the entire household on each night of Chanukah, regardless of which night of Chanukah it is, and regardless of how many people live in one’s house (Shabbos 21b). Kindling the additional lights is in order to observe the mitzvah according to the exemplary standard that the Gemara terms mehadrin min hamehadrin.

In places where the custom is that the entire household lights only one menorah, which is the predominant practice among Sefardim, the person who kindles functions as an agent for the rest of the family. Even in places where the custom is that each individual kindles his own menorah, as is the common Ashkenazic practice, married women do not usually light (Elyah Rabbah 671:3; Mishnah Berurah 671:9), and most people have the custom that single girls do not either (Shu’t Shaar Efrayim #42; see Chasam Sofer, Shabbos 21b s.v. vehamihadrin and Mikra’ei Kodesh #14 who explain reasons for this practice). According to both the Ashkenazic and the Sefardic approach, the head of the household fulfills the mitzvah for those family members who do not light for themselves. In fact, he is their agent not only for the kindling, but also for the brachos he recites before lighting. (The difference between the Ashkenazic and the Sefardic custom reflects different interpretations of mehadrin min hamehadrin.)

WHAT ABOUT A GUEST?

So far, we discussed how the regular household members fulfill their mitzvah of Ner Chanukah. However, what about a guest who is not a regular member of the household? Does he have his own obligation to kindle Ner Chanukah or does the head of household’s kindling exempt him as it does the regular household residents? If he has his own obligation, how does he fulfill this mitzvah? The Gemara (Shabbos 23a) discusses this question in the following passage:

“Rav Sheishes said, ‘A guest is obligated in Ner Chanukah.’ Rav Zeira said, ‘Initially, when I was in Yeshiva, I paid my host a coin to include myself in his Ner Chanukah. Now that I am married but am still occasionally away in Yeshiva for Chanukah, I do not need to pay my host where I am staying because my wife kindles on my behalf in my house.’”

We see here that a guest must observe the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah himself and not through the head of household’s lighting. Rav Zeira described two methods whereby the guest can fulfill his requirement without actually kindling his own menorah. The first method is to become a partner in the candles or oil of his host, which he does by purchasing ownership in them. (An alternative way of fulfilling this approach is for the guest to acquire a portion in the items by picking them up with his host’s permission.)

The second method Rav Zeira suggests is when the guest is a member of his own household, although he is not with them for Chanukah. In this case, he is automatically included when his family kindles, even though he is not home.

By the way, the guest can fulfill his mitzvah in a third way — by kindling his own menorah in his host’s house. However, in this instance, if he wants to recite a bracha on his own kindling, he should decide that he is following this approach before his wife kindles (Mishnah Berurah 677:15). Otherwise, since he has already fulfilled his responsibility to perform the mitzvah through his wife’s kindling in his house, his own kindling is unnecessary and a bracha recited before kindling them is levatalah, in vain.

WHAT ABOUT TIME ZONES?

What happens if the guest is in a different time zone from his family? Can the guest fulfill his mitzvah with his family’s kindling even though he is in a different time zone?

The poskim who discuss this shaylah dispute whether one fulfills the mitzvah with his family’s lighting if their lighting takes place at a time when there is no mitzvah to kindle Ner Chanukah in his time zone. According to many, an Israeli resident visiting the United States will not fulfill the mitzvah through his family’s kindling and vice versa (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 7:46; however, see Halichos Shelomoh Volume 2 pg. 261, that Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach disagrees). Minchas Shelomoh II:56:2 s.v. ומ”מ (red edition) contends that you fulfill the mitzvah with your household; a guest has no household and therefore has his own mitzvah. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Rav Shelomoh Zalman held that you fulfill the mitzvah with your household when you are east of your family – it could be that he held this way only when you are west of the family, and thus they have fulfilled their chiyuv already and you never become chayov in the mitzvah. But where the individual is east of his family, and thus becomes chayov earlier, it could be that the halacha is different.

Nevertheless, someone traveling within the United States might fulfill his or her mitzvah through the kindling at home if the family kindles when people are still frequenting the streets in the city that he/she is visiting.

According to our analysis, if Shlomo Rabinowitz was flying from Chicago to New York instead of Japan, he could rely on the candle lighting in his house since the candles will be kindled at a time that he is obligated in Ner Chanukah. (We will discuss shortly whether he recites the bracha she’asah nissim upon arrival in New York.) However, if he is in Asia, it is unclear whether he can rely on his family’s menorah since his family will kindle the lights at a time when he cannot perform the mitzvah.

WHAT IF SOMEONE HAS NO REAL RESIDENCE ON CHANUKAH?

Rashi (Shabbos 23a) cites the following case: Someone traveling by boat who is unable to light a menorah should recite the brachos of she’asah nissim and shehechiyanu (on the first night of Chanukah) when he sees a kindled menorah, even though he is not kindling himself. In other words, one recites the bracha of she’asah nissim in commemoration of the miracle of the lights and not for the actual mitzvah of kindling. Similarly, we recite the bracha shehechiyanu for seeing the lights of the menorah, not for fulfilling the mitzvah of kindling. However, in both instances one recites the bracha only on a menorah that fulfills the mitzvah, and not on a menorah lit in a shul or other public place. Kindling menorah in a shul or other public place is only a custom and does not fulfill the mitzvah (Shu’t Rivosh #111).

However, we still need to explore whether an airplane has the same halacha as the boat discussed by Rashi. To explain the possible difference, we will first discuss a teshuvah authored by Rav Shalom Mordechai Shvadron, the famous Maharsham of Brezan, the posek of his generation (late 19th century – early 20th century Galicia) about kindling menorah while riding a train.

RIDING THE TRAIN

Rav Shimon Valtuch, the Rav of Leipzig, Germany, sent a shaylah to the Maharsham asking whether someone traveling by train should light his Chanukah menorah on board. The Maharsham ruled that since he has paid for the entire night, it is as if he rented a house to eat and sleep, and the obligations of Ner Chanukah apply on the train.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BOAT AND THE TRAIN?

But if so, why does Rashi rule that someone traveling by boat cannot fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights and instead recites the brachos of she’asah nissim and shehechiyanu on the lights he sees on shore. Why does the Maharsham give a different ruling concerning a train than Rashi ruled concerning someone traveling by boat? The Maharsham explains that Rashi’s case involved an unroofed boat which cannot qualify as a house since it does not provide adequate shelter. This implies that someone spending Chanukah on a cruise ship or even on a yacht would have a mitzvah of kindling menorah on board.

The Maharsham considers whether the train is the same as a house even though it is constantly moving, and rules that this makes no difference. Thus, someone in a house trailer should kindle a menorah in its window, even if the trailer is on the move. However, it is unclear whether someone spending Chanukah night traveling in a car or truck should kindle Ner Chanukah there, since he has nowhere to sleep properly. Therefore, it might not be considered as lodging.

In addition, we should note that there is evidence that other authorities contemporaneous to the Maharsham did not accept his opinion, but felt that one fulfills the mitzvah only in a proper residence.

TRAVELING IN STYLE

There are two common ways of traveling by train – either in a private compartment, or, more commonly, on a seat in a public compartment. Since the Maharsham seems to consider even the second case enough of a lodging to light, this implies that one’s seat on a plane is also considered sufficient “lodging” to require kindling Chanukah lights on board.

Because of safety considerations, no one will permit you to kindle a menorah on an airplane. However, according to those opinions that one may fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights with a flashlight or an electric light (a subject we will iy”H discuss a different time), Shlomo Rabinowitz traveling to Japan in the middle of Chanukah has an interesting solution to his predicament. He can take a flashlight or other battery operated light onto the plane with him, turn it on for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah, and leave it burning for half an hour. Although this is only one light, I noted above that one fulfills the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah by kindling only one light. (If practical, he could bring along a few flashlights and fulfill the mitzvah mehadrin min hamehadrin.) For those interested in following this approach, Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach contends that it is preferable to fulfill the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah with a battery-operated light over other electric lights (Halichos Shelomoh Volume 2, pg. 283).

CAN HE KINDLE IN THE CONFERENCE ROOM?

Although kindling in the conference room may inform everyone that it is Chanukah, one does not fulfill the mitzvah with these lights, because one fulfills the mitzvah only in one’s residence.

LIGHTING IN A HOTEL

Does Shlomo Rabinowitz fulfill the mitzvah by kindling in his hotel room?

Yes, because the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah is fulfilled even in a place that is his home for only one night (Chovas Hadar, Ner Chanukah 2:9).

SHOULD ONE PLACE THE MENORAH IN THE WINDOW OF HIS HOTEL ROOM?

If people can see the lit menorah from outside, it is preferable to light in a window. If no one can see the menorah from outside, he should simply kindle the menorah on a table in his room.

WHEN MUST HE KINDLE THE MENORAH?

Ideally, he should kindle the menorah around nightfall wherever he is. However, if this is not practical, he may fulfill the mitzvah at any time that it is common to find people in the streets of the town that he is visiting. If he cannot return to his room until even later than this time, he should kindle the menorah without reciting the brachos. This is assuming he is traveling alone. If he is traveling with someone else who is Jewish, he can recite the brachos even late at night, provided that both of them are awake to witness the kindling (Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 2:215).

What about Rav Mordechai, our fund raiser? How does he fulfill the mitzvah of hadlakas Ner Chanukah while he solicits tzedakah the entire evening?

I suggested that he appoint an agent (a shaliach) at the place where he is sleeping to kindle the menorah on his behalf. Alternatively, he could acquire partial ownership in the oil of his host’s menorah by paying him a token sum of money.

VISITING DURING CHANUKAH

Where do I light menorah if I visit a friend for Chanukah dinner and I am not staying overnight?

Many people mistakenly think that one may fulfill the mitzvah by kindling the menorah at someone else’s house while visiting. I know of people who invite guests to their house for menorah kindling and dinner. The problem is that one is required to kindle Chanukah lights at one’s own house, and kindling at the friend’s house does not fulfill the mitzvah. Therefore, the guest must kindle the Chanukah lights at his own house and then leave to join the festive meal (Taz 677:2; Mishnah Berurah 677:12).

WHAT ABOUT THE SCHWARTZES?

Remember the Schwartz family that is spending Shabbos Chanukah with friends on the other side of town? Must they come home to kindle on motzei Shabbos, or can they kindle at the home where they were Shabbos guests?

If one spends Shabbos at someone’s house, he may kindle the menorah there on Motzaei Shabbos (Tshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:391). Some poskim suggest that one remain near the menorah until it has burned for a half-hour (see Tshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:394).

The Gemara teaches that someone who kindles Ner Shabbos and Ner Chanukah will merit to have sons who are Talmidei Chachomim (Shabbos 23b, see Rashi). This is puzzling — since all observant Jews kindle these lights, why are there not many more Talmidei Chachomim? The Rishonim explain that this promise only applies to someone who observes the mitzvah carefully in all its details (Sod Hadlakas Ner Chanukah, authored by Rabbi Yitzchok, the son of the Raavad). So it is certainly worthwhile to thoroughly review the halachos of Chanukah lights before the wonderful days of Chanukah catch up with us.