Some Light Chanukah Questions
Question #1: My sister invited our family for Shabbos Chanukah, and we will be sleeping at her neighbor’s house. Where do we set up the menorahs, particularly since I do not even know the neighbor?
Question #2: My husband has a meeting at work tonight and will not be home until very late. What should we do about kindling Chanukah lights?
Question #3: I will be attending a wedding during Chanukah that requires me to leave my house well before lighting time, and I will not return until very late. Can I kindle at the wedding, just like the lighting that takes place in shul?
Question #4: I will be spending part of Chanukah in a hotel. Where should I kindle my menorah?
Each individual has a requirement to light Chanukah lights, or to have an agent kindle the lights for him (see Rambam, Hilchos Chanukah 3:4). 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 and the guests. (However, cf. Minchas Shelomoh 2:58:41 and 42, who understands this halacha differently.) Even in places where the custom is that each individual kindles his own menorah, as is common Ashkenazic practice, married women do not usually light, and most people have the custom that single girls also do not light (see Chasam Sofer, Shabbos 21b s.v. vehamehadrin, Elyah Rabbah 671:3,and Mikra’ei Kodesh #14 who explain reasons for this practice). In these instances, the male head of household kindles on behalf of his wife and daughters. A guest visiting a family for Chanukah can fulfill his or her obligation by contributing a token amount to purchase part of the candles or oil. By doing this, the guest becomes a partner in the Chanukah lights and fulfills his mitzvah when the host kindles them. An alternative way to become a partial owner of the Chanukah lights is for the host to direct the guest to pick up some of the oil or candles and thereby become a partial owner.
Eating in One House and Sleeping in Another
If someone is a guest and is eating at one house during Chanukah but sleeping in a different house, where should he light the menorah?
One should kindle where he is eating (Rema, Orach Chayim 677:1). In this situation, the place where one eats his meals is his primary “home.”
Many poskim contend that in Eretz Yisroel, the answer to this question depends on additional factors, including whether anyone else is staying in the house where the guest is sleeping. In their opinion, if no one else is kindling a menorah where the guest is sleeping, he should kindle the menorah there. Otherwise, he should kindle where he is eating.
The reason for this difference is that, in Eretz Yisroel, where the custom is to light outdoors when practical, someone walking through the street expects to find a menorah lit at every house. Thus, there is a responsibility to be certain that a menorah is kindled in every house that is occupied. In chutz la’aretz, since the menorah does not need to be visible outdoors to fulfill the mitzvah, a person walking outside the house and not seeing a lit menorah will simply assume that someone kindled indoors. Therefore, one does not need to make sure that every house has a lit menorah.
Similarly, someone in Eretz Yisroel who is using two houses should light a menorah in each of them, although he should recite only one bracha; in chutz la’aretz he does not need to kindle a menorah in each house.
I can now answer the first question I asked above: If someone will be eating in one house and sleeping in another, where should he kindle the menorah? The answer is that, in chutz la’aretz, he should kindle where he will be eating. In Eretz Yisroel, other factors may be involved, and one should ask a shaylah.
Many poskim contend that a guest who is spending Shabbos at someone else’s home and is leaving after Shabbos may kindle the menorah at his host’s house on Motza’ei Shabbos (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:391). Some poskim suggest that someone who follows this approach should spend some time, preferably a half-hour, appreciating his lights at the host’s house before leaving (see Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:394).
At this point, let us discuss the second of our opening questions: My husband has a meeting at work tonight and will not be home until very late. What should we do about kindling Chanukah lights?
To answer this question, we need to discuss two issues. The first is:
When Should I Kindle the Menorah?
Early poskim dispute concerning when is the optimal time to kindle the Chanukah lights. According to the Gra, the best time is immediately after sunset, whereas most Rishonim rule that it is preferable to kindle at nightfall or shortly before nightfall.
The usually accepted approaches are to kindle sometime after sunset but before it is fully dark. Thus, Rav Moshe Feinstein kindled the menorah ten minutes after sunset, the Chazon Ish lit his menorah twenty minutes after sunset, while others contend that the optimal time to light the menorah is twenty-five minutes after sunset.
Until When May I Kindle the Menorah?
At the time of the Gemara, one fulfilled the mitzvah of lighting menorah only if one lit within a half-hour of the earliest time for lighting (Shabbos 21b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 672:2). This was because the focus of lighting the menorah was to publicize the miracle to people in the street. Since, in the days of Chazal, the streets were empty shortly after dark, there was no longer any mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights half an hour later.
Today, the pirsumei nisa (publicizing the miracle) is primarily for the members of the household, and therefore many poskim hold that it is not essential to kindle the menorah immediately when it begins to get dark (see Tosafos, Shabbos 21b s.v. de’ei). Nevertheless, because this halacha is disputed, one should strive to kindle at the optimal time, which is close to twilight, as we mentioned above. In addition, there is also a halachic problem with working before one performs the mitzvah, similar to other mitzvos, such as bedikas chometz or hearing megillah, where it is prohibited to work or eat before fulfilling the mitzvah (Shu’t Maharshal #85; Mishnah Berurah 672:10; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:395:4). Someone who missed lighting menorah at the proper time because of extenuating circumstances should kindle his menorah as soon as his family is assembled at home (Rema Orach Chayim 672:2and Mishnah Berurah ad loc.).
An alternative method can be followed when a husband is delayed. The husband can arrange to have a member of the household, such as his wife, act as his agent and light at the optimal time (Mishnah Berurah 675:9; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 4:170). If he follows this approach, he does not need to light when he arrives home later, and if he does light, he should not recite the brachos. Alternatively, the wife can light at the proper time for herself, and the husband can light when he gets home. If one follows the latter approach, the husband and wife are no longer functioning as agents for one another, as they usually do germane to mitzvos such as ner Chanukah and ner Shabbos. Rather, each is fulfilling the mitzvah of ner Chanukah separately.
Whether to follow this approach depends on the sensitivities of the people involved. My Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Y. Ruderman zt”l, frequently lectured us on the importance of being concerned about others’ feelings. He often repeated the story of the Chofetz Chayim’s rebbe, Rav Nachumke, who waited several hours until his rebbetzin returned home before lighting the Chanukah lights. Therefore, if kindling the menorah early via an agent will create friction between family members, one should wait and kindle at a time that creates more shalom bayis (see Shabbos 23b). It is important to discuss the matter in advance and decide on an approach that keeps everyone happy.
At this point, let us examine the third of our opening questions: I will be attending a wedding during Chanukah that requires me to leave my house well before lighting time, and I will not return until very late. Can I kindle at the wedding, just like the lighting that takes place in shul?
Answer: Let us ask this question about the baalei simcha themselves! If a wedding takes place during Chanukah, where should the baalei simcha light the menorah?
I have attended weddings during Chanukah where the baalei simcha brought their menorahs to the hall and kindled them there. However, this seems incorrect, because the baalei simcha are required to kindle Chanukah lights at their own homes (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:398). Therefore, they should light the menorah at their homes sometime during the evening. If this is not convenient, they should arrange for someone to act as their agent and kindle their menorah for them at their house (see Mishnah Berurah 677:12). Guests attending the wedding who cannot kindle their menorah at home should also arrange for someone to light their menorah at their house. If they are concerned about leaving unattended lights burning, they should have someone remain with the lights for half an hour, and then the “menorah sitter” may extinguish the lights. If someone wishes to light an additional menorah at the hall without a bracha, in order to make pirsumei nisa, he may do so. However, this lighting does not fulfill the mitzvah (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:398).
Why Is This Different from Lighting in Shul?
Since one fulfills the mitzvah only by kindling the menorah in or near one’s residence, why do we kindle a menorah in shul?
Lighting the Chanukah menorah in shul does not fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights, but is a centuries-old minhag that we perform to make pirsumei nisa.
This practice prompts an interesting question. If lighting a menorah in shul is only a minhag, why do we recite a bracha on it? Do we ever recite brachos on minhagim?
The poskim explain that we recite a bracha because it is an accepted minhag, just as we recite a bracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, even though Chazal did not obligate this recital of Hallel and it, too, is technically a minhag (Shu’t Rivash #111; for other reasons see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 671, s.v. uma shekasav shemeinichin).
There Is a Concert in School on Chanukah. Should We Light the Menorah with a Bracha to Perform Pirsumei Nisa?
Although lighting a menorah at the assembly will also be an act of pirsumei nisa, one fulfills no mitzvah or minhag by doing so. Therefore, one should not recite a bracha on this lighting (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:398).
Why Is the Concert Different from Lighting in Shul?
Lighting in shul is a specific, established minhag. We cannot randomly extend this minhag to another situation and permit reciting a bracha (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:398).
Lighting in a Hotel
And now, let us analyze the last of our opening questions: I will be spending part of Chanukah in a hotel. Where should I kindle my menorah?
Answer: One should light the menorah in one’s room (Chovas Hador, Ner Chanukah 2:9;see Shu’t Maharsham 4:146,who requires one to kindle Chanukah lights even while riding the train). If there is concern about a fire hazard, one should remain with the menorah until a half-hour after nightfall, or at least for a half-hour after kindling, and then extinguish the lights. On Shabbos, place only enough oil to burn the required amount of time, which is until a half-hour after nightfall.
Menorah in the Window?
May one place the menorah near the window of his hotel room? This depends. If someone will be able to see the lit menorah from outside, then it is preferable to light in a window. If no one will be able to see the menorah from outside, he should simply kindle the menorah on a table in his room.
If a hotel forbids lighting flames in its bedrooms, and one is eating regularly in the hotel’s dining room, one may light in the hotel dining room. Although frum hotels often set up menorahs in the hotel lobby, many poskim contend that one does not fulfill the mitzvah by placing a menorah there, since one is required to kindle Chanukah lights at one’s “home,” which is where one regularly eats or sleeps, and not in a lobby. Other poskim are lenient, and contend that the entire hotel lobby is considered one’s living area — just as one’s entire house is considered one’s living area. Therefore, according to these authorities, one may fulfill the mitzvah by lighting in the hotel lobby.
Visiting during Chanukah
Where do I light menorah if I visit a friend for Chanukah dinner, but I am not staying overnight?
Many people err and 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 with this is that one is required to kindle Chanukah lights at one’s own house. Therefore, the guest must kindle the Chanukah lights at his own house and then go to his friend’s house for the festive meal (Taz 677:2; Mishnah Berurah 677:12).
Where should a bachur in yeshivah kindle his menorah? This is a dispute among contemporary poskim. Some contend that he should light in the yeshivah dining room, since it is preferable to kindle where one eats, as we mentioned above. Others contend that his dormitory room is considered more his “dwelling” than the dining room, and that he should light there (Shu’t Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah III 14:5; Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 7:48; Chovas Hador pg. 106). To resolve this issue, some bachurim have the practice of eating one meal each day of Chanukah in their dormitory room and kindling the menorah there.
What about a yeshivah bachur who spends his entire day in the yeshivah, but sleeps at home?
It is unclear whether his main obligation to light is at home or in yeshivah. Some poskim suggest that he fulfill the mitzvah by relying on the people kindling at each place — his family lighting at his home and his fellow students lighting in the yeshivah.
Reward for Lighting Ner Chanukah
The Gemara teaches that someone who kindles Ner Chanukah will merit having sons who are talmidei chachomim (Shabbos 23b, see Rashi). This is puzzling; since all observant Jews kindle Ner Chanukah, why aren’t all our sons talmidei chachomim? The Rishonim explain that this bracha applies only to someone who observes the mitzvah carefully, in all its details (Sod Hadlakas Ner Chanukah, authored by Rabbi Yitzchok, the son of the Raavad). It is, therefore, in our best interest to be thoroughly familiar with all the halachos of kindling the Chanukah lights. May we all be blessed with a happy and healthy Chanukah!!