A Summary of Practical Halachot of Hanukkah

Chanuka Menorah and Doughnuts

Lighting the Hanukkah lights

  • It is an especially important mitzvah (mitzvah min hamuvchar)[1] to light olive oil (as opposed to candles). As the miracle which took place involved olive oil.
  • Although kindling the Hanukkah lights is a mitzvah for the man, wherever he may be, it is of special importance that he performs the mitzvah in his home. Therefore, every man should try to kindle the Hanukkah lights at home, making his home known to all.  This is because publicizing the miracle to all is publicizing the victory of the Jewish home “How goodly are thy tents, Jacob…”
  • Kindling the Hanukkah lights is publicizing the miracle to the world at large and, inwardly, to the home.  Publicizing the miracle to the world at large takes preference over the inward direction, and the halachic preferences are determined accordingly.
  • If it is not possible to publicize the miracle to the world for a particular reason, a man discharges his obligation by publicizing the miracle to his family alone.[2]
  • If publicizing the miracle to the world doesn’t allow for publicizing the miracle to his home, it is preferable to publicize it to his home. For example, a man who lives in an apartment house and has two possibilities: kindling the lights in his home without publicizing the miracle abroad, or kindling the lights in a place not recognized as the entrance to his home, should kindle the lights in his home.[3]
  • The kindling of the lights completes the mitzvah, therefore, one must see to it that at the time of the lighting the candles (or olive oil) are in the place in which one wants them to burn.
  • The halachic principle of cabta ein zakuk la holds regarding Hanukkah lights, so that if one of the lights has gone out before the amount of time prescribed by Hanukkah, one needn’t relight it.  Even so, the Poskim wrote that if a light is extinguished prematurely, it is desirable to light it again, but without a blessing.
  • One should recite all the blessings for kindling the Hanukkah lights before kindling the first light. After kindling the first light, one may begin saying the Hanerot Hallalu declaration, although there are some who wait until all the lights are kindled before saying it.
  • If one has put in a large amount of oil in the lamp, one may extinguish the flame after the requisite time has passed.
  • One should teach a child the halachot of Hanukkah lights from the age of five or six years.
  • One who is not going to light Hanukkah lights with the blessing because someone else will be saying the blessing on his/her behalf (details below) should glorify the mitzvah by lighting the lights with the blessing in the synagogue.
  • One who is forced to light the Hanukkah lights somewhere besides his home, and returns home at a late hour should glorify the mitzvah and light the lights at home without the blessing.
  • It used to be the custom that women would refrain from doing work during the first half hour that the lights were burning.
  • It is the Sephardic custom to make Havdalah before lighting the Hanukkah lights.
  • There are Ashkenazis whose custom is to light the Hanukkah lights before Havdala, and others who make Havdala before lighting the Hanukkah lights. Everyone should follow his or her own custom.  One who is unsure of the family’s custom should light the Hanukkah lights before Havdala.

When Women Light Hanukkah Lights

  • The Gemara[4] says “A woman surely lights, as Rabbi Joshua ben Levy said, ‘Women are required to light Hanukkah lights, as they, too, were present at the miracle.'” There were many places where it was customary for the woman to perform her obligation when her husband lit the lights, and a number of reasons were given for this practice[5] (the principle of his wife being an extension of his body, and others).
  • It is a worthy thing to honor and restore customs of old, and to go according to the literal interpretation of the Gemara that it is a mitzvah of the highest order for every member of a family, including the women and the girls. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, זצ”ל, wrote that in Europe it was customary for women to light Hanukkah lights (nonetheless, he did not force his wife to follow that custom), and that was the method of Rabbi J.D. Soloveitchik[6] זצ”ל.
  • If the husband doesn’t return home that night[7], his wife should light the Hanukkah lights on his behalf at the correct time for performing the mitzvah. In addition, it is desirable that her husband should also kindle Hannukah lights, but without the blessing, and listen to the blessings of someone else.
  • If the husband is expected to return at a late hour,[8] (as will be explained in detail below) the wife should kindle the Hanukkah lights on his behalf at the proper time, and he should kindle Hanukkah lights when he returns, but without the blessing.
  • A husband who does not want his wife to perform the mitzvah on his behalf, according to Ashkenazi custom, can state his intention, prior to the time of kindling the Hanukkah lights, not to have anyone perform the mitzvah on his behalf, and then kindle the lights with the blessing when he returns home. According to Sephardic custom, he is not permitted to have such an intention, and may not kindle the Hanukkah lights with a blessing.

The Place for Lighting the Hanukkah Lights

  • The mitzvah is to plan to place the Hanukkah menorah at a height of from 24 to 80 cm. This is the optimum height for publicizing the miracle, according to our sages.  If one has placed the menorah up to a height of 6 meters, he is considered to have performed the mitzvah.
  • In a case where the windowsill is higher than 80 cm., it is preferable to place the menorah there, as publicizing the miracle is the essence of the mitzvah.
  • If the window is higher than 6 meters, but there are buildings and windows facing it, at a height relatively less than 9.6 meters, it is preferable[9] to kindle the Hanukkah lights there with a blessing, since this location allows for the publicizing of the miracle, and there is, at least, the publicizing of the miracle for the family.

The Proper Time For Kindling the Hanukkah Lights

  • One should glorify the mitzvah and return home from work at an early hour, in order to kindle the Hanukkah lights at the proper time.
  • The time for the kindling of the Hanukkah lights is divided into five parts:
    1. Sunset / immediately with the appearing of the stars
    2. Until people are no longer walking in the marketplace
    3. From Plag HaMincha to sunset / the appearing of the stars
    4. After people have ceased to walk in the marketplace and while the members of the family are still awake
    5. After the family has gone to bed and until the appearance of the morning star
  1. Sunset / immediately with the appearing of the stars
  • The most proper time for kindling the Hanukkah lights[10] according to some of the poskim is at sunset (Maimonides posits this method), while others (The Tur and the Shulchan Aruch) say that the most proper time is immediately with the appearance of the stars (Tzet HaKochavim). This is the best time for publicizing the miracle.
  • In my opinion, one who has no set custom should kindle the Hanukkah lights immediately upon the appearance of the stars[11]. However, if he participates regularly in a particular minyan for Ma’ariv which meets immediately after Tzet HaKochavim, he should kindle the Hannukah lights before his regular Ma’ariv service.
  1. Until people are no longer walking in the marketplace
  • “He who forgot, or on purpose did not kindle Hanukkah lights at sunset, kindles the lights until people are no longer going about in the marketplace, which is approximately one-half hour while people are still coming and going, and he thereby publicizes the miracle .” (Shulchan Aruch, תרע”ב ב’).
  • At this hour, one is still publicizing the miracle to the world at large.
  • In our days, when there are electric streetlights, and people come and go later on in the evening, the poskim of our generation[12] wrote this period of time is longer than half an hour: nine to ten pm, depending on the kind of place of the Hanukkah lights, and of the people who live there (town, city, side street, main street). It is possible that on main streets and in commercial centers in which there is a lot of foot traffic one can even say that midnight is the latest time.  It appears that setting the time for kindling the Hanukkah lights depends on foot traffic, and not on vehicular traffic, as people in moving cars or buses are not likely to notice the Hanukkah lights.
  1. From the time of Plag HaMincha to sunset / the appearing of the stars
  • The time for Plag HaMincha is one and one-quarter hours (halachic hours) before the appearance of the stars
  • The condition for kindling the Hanukkah lights at this hour is that there is sufficient oil for the lights to burn until half-hour after the appearance of the stars.
  • This is a less desirable time since people would be less likely to notice the lights during daylight, and the miracle would be less likely to be made known.[13] Nonetheless, if one kindles the lights at that hour, one should do so with the blessing[14].
  • There is an advantage to this time vis a vis the coming times, in that publicizing the miracle after the appearance of the stars is publicizing the miracle outwardly. However, if there is no making the miracle known to the world (for example, in the case where there is no window which faces a public area at height of less than 6 meters) or, alternatively, if there is no publicizing the miracle inwardly, to the members of the family (for example, in the situation where the family goes out before the time of Tzet HaKochavim), it is better to use the following option (#4).
  1. After people have ceased to walk in the marketplace and while the members of the family are still awake
  • At this hour, one publicizes the miracle only to his family, but one may kindle the lights with a blessing nonetheless[15] “So long as at least two members of the family are awake.”
  • If the members of the family are asleep, one should waken two of them[16] in order to kindle the lights with the blessing.
  1. After the family is asleep, until the appearance of the morning star:
  • One should kindle the Hanukkah lights without a blessing, but he who wishes to make the blessing has some halachic support[17].

Examples:

  1. One who leaves his home after the hour of Plag HaMincha and before the appearance of the stars:
  • If he plans to return between nine and ten pm, he should kindle the lights when he returns home (this is publicization of the miracle to the world)
  • If he plans to return after ten pm, or not to return that evening, he should kindle the Hanukkah lights at the time of Plag HaMincha (since there would be publicizing of the miracle at that time of day).
  • If he can’t publicize the miracle to the world (he has no window facing the street at the proper height):
    1. If he goes out with all his family, and no one is left at home:
  • If they plan to return between nine and ten pm, he should kindle the Hanukkah lights when they return.
  • If they plan to return after ten pm, he should kindle the lights in the home where he and his family are guests.
  • If there is no place to kindle Hanukkah lights where he will be that evening, he should kindle the lights at Plag HaMincha.
    1. If at least two members of his family remain at home until the appearance of the stars, he should kindle the Hanukkah lights at Plag HaMincha, since in that way he will be publicizing the miracle for his family at the time the stars appear.
  1. One who leaves his home before Plag HaMincha and doesn’t plan to return that evening should kindle the Hanukkah lights in the place where he is a guest.
  • It is recommended to kindle the lights in his home before going out, without a blessing (with enough oil for the lights to burn until after the stars appear), however, he is not obligated to do so.
  1. He who returns home after the appearance of the stars, between nine and ten pm
  • Lights the Hanukkah nights when he returns home
  • It is preferable, if his wife is at home immediately on the appearance of the stars, that she kindle the lights, so as to fulfill the commandment for the family at the proper time, however, as she kindles the lights, she should bear in mind that she is not doing so for her husband (and he, also, should bear that in mind.[18]), so that he should kindle the lights with the blessing (since he returns home at the time when it is possible to publicize the miracle to the world). In any case, when he returns home, his family should conduct the family ceremony of kindling the Hanukkah lights.
  1. He who returns home after the appearance of the stars and after ten pm:
  • If his wife is at home: she kindles the Hanukkah lights in order to fulfill her husband’s obligation, and that of her family at the proper time, with the intention of fulfilling that obligation (since he will return at a time when he won’t be able to publicize the miracle to the world). In any case, when he returns home, he will kindle the Hanukkah lights without a blessing, so that he can enjoy their light.  It is preferable that he hear the blessings over the kindling of the Hanukkah lights in the place where he is a guest at the time the lights are kindled.
  • If his wife is not at home: he should kindle the Hanukkah lights at the proper time, in the place where he is a guest.
  • If he has no place to kindle the Hanukkah lights he should kindle them when he returns home.

Kindling Hanukkah Lights For a Guest [19]

  • A guest must kindle the Hanukkah lights with a blessing, using his own candles or oil, or should become a partner with his host,[20] and his host can make a gift of that partnership).
  • The halachot of a guest apply only to someone who meets the following criteria:
  • He doesn’t pay his host
  • His host is at home at the time the guest kindles the lights
  • No one is kindling the lights at home with him in mind, and he won’t be returning home at a time when he would be able to kindle the Hanukkah lights. Therefore, this halacha doesn’t apply for a person who is at his parents’ home when they are not there, or a person who is in a hotel.  This halacha doesn’t apply to him, and even if his wife kindles the lights for him at his home, he is still obligated to perform the mitzvah himself.
  • The Sephardic method: He should kindle the Hanukkah lights at the entrance to his room (or in a window) which faces the street.
  • The Ashkenazi method[21]: He should kindle the Hanukkah lights in the place where he eats.
  • If there is a place where it is clear that there will be a greater publicizing of the miracle (for example, in a hotel dining room), it is preferable to kindle the Hanukkah lights there in any case.
  • If his wife kindles the lights for him, he has fulfilled his obligation, but it is desirable that he kindle Hanukkah lights without a blessing, or that he should participate with his host in the cost of the lights .
  • Yeshiva and Midrasha students have not performed their obligation[22] if their families have kindled Hanukkah lights on their behalf at their homes, because this rule applies only for husband and wife, since the husband’s depending on his wife’s actions is rooted in her being an extension of his person. Therefore, they should kindle Hanukkah lights at the yeshiva in their rooms.[23]

Shabbat Hanukkah

  • Mincha on Erev Shabbat– It is preferable to pray Mincha on Friday afternoon before lighting the Hanukkah lights.  There are two reasons for this:
  • Erev Shabbat, one kindles the Hanukkah lights one and one-quarter hours before the appearance of the stars (plag hamincha), because we depend on the opinion that this hour is considered nighttime, so that when we pray Mincha after the kindling of the Hanukkah lights it means that we consider plag hamincha to be daytime, which constitutes the condition of tartei d’sitrei[24] (where one opinion contradicts another). According to this reasoning, there are those who determine that it is even preferable to daven by oneself before kindling the Hanukkah lights, and afterwards to go to the shul to hear Kaddish and Kedusha[25].
  • The mincha service comes in lieu of the Tamid sacrifices of the Temple which took place at twilight, and the kindling of the Hanukkah lights comes in lieu of the kindling of the Menorah of the Temple, which was done after the performing of the Tamid sacrifice[26].

Kindling the Hanukkah Lights in a Synagogue and at Parties

  • The custom[27] was to kindle the Hanukkah lights in the synagogue with a blessing in order to publicize the miracle before many people[28], because there are those who have no home[29] and because there are those who don’t know how to make the blessings[30]. There are those who hold that one needs ten men to be in the synagogue at the time of kindling the Hanukkah lights, or at least after all the lights have been kindled, while the Mishna Brura is lenient on this point, and allows it to be done with fewer than ten men.
  • It would seem that the reason of publicizing the miracle would also explain the acceptability of kindling Hanukkah lights at a party, but it is desirable to be stringent on this point , and to kindle the lights without a blessing . However, one who wants to make the blessing has halachic opinions to support him[31], and one should not protest his making the blessing, especially if there are those present who do not kindle Hanukkah lights in their homes.
  • If the party takes place in the shul, or if there is a party in which there is a minyan who pray the evening service together, one may make the blessings before kindling the Hanukkah lights[32].
  • One does not perform his obligation with this blessing[33], so that even the one making the blessing must make all the blessings over again at his home with the exception of the Shehechiyanu blessing on the first evening, unless he fulfills his family’s obligation by saying that blessing.
  • On Friday evening, one kindles the Hanukkah lights before the Mincha
  • On Motzaei Shabbat in the shul, one kindles the Hanukkah lights before making Havdalah on the wine (and of course, after having said the atta khonantanu addition to the evening prayers).
  • Mourners during their twelve months after their parents’ death are permitted to kindle the Hanukkah lights in the synagogue except for on the first night, when one says the Shehechiyanu

Hanukkah Customs

  • Hanukkah meals: there is no mitzvah for holding a special Hanukkah meal[34] such as there is for Purim. Still, there is a reason[35] for having mitzvah meals with the singing of zmirot and the presentation of words of Torah, since at that season the altar of the Temple was dedicated.[36]
  • There are those whose custom[37] it is to eat cheese on Hanukkah, since the miracle was in the milk which Judith fed the enemy.
  • It was the custom for women not to work during the first half hour after the kindling of the Hanukkah lights. One may make an exception for work related to the holiday, such as frying latkes or sufganiyot.[38]
  • One should wear festive clothes in order to stress the importance of the holiday.[39]

 

Clarifications of Halachot of Hanukkah – Rabbi Ronnen Neuwirth

Question:  If a guest is at a hotel, when his wife and children are at home, has he fulfilled his obligation if his wife has made the blessings over the Hanukkah lights?

Answer:  Since the guest has paid for his stay at the hotel, the hotel becomes his home, and he must kindle Hanukkah lights even if his family has intended to fulfill his obligation when they kindle the lights at home.

 

Question:  Have yeshiva students or Bnei Akiva youngsters on a trip fulfilled their obligation when their families kindle Hanukkah lights at home?

Answer:  No.  Only a wife may fulfill her husband’s obligation.

 

Question: Where should yeshiva students kindle their Hanukkah lights?

Answer: The best place is outside their room, and they should have a meal in order to have fulfilled their obligation according to all the opinions on the matter.


[1] רמ”א תרע”ג א’

[2] רמ”א תרע”ב ב’

[3] שו”ת אז נדברו ח”ה ל”ט, וע”ע פסלק תשובות תרע”א ד’-ה’

[4] שבת כ”ג א’

[5] משנ”ב תרע”ה ט’

[6] נפש הרב רכ”ו סק”דת מקראי קודש בהערות

[7] ביאור הלכה תרע”ז “ולהדליק”

[8] משנ”ב תרע”ז ב’

[9] Rabbi Mordecai Tendler, citing his grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein

[10] שו”ע תרע”ב א’

[11] ביאור הלכה תרע”ב ד”ה אין מאחרים, the shulchan aruch suggests two main reasons for kindling the lights before sunset, according to the Vilna Gaon: 1) because of the Ma’ariv service, and the precedence given to the usual practice, as opposed to the unusual. 2) According to Maimonides, one should kindle the Hanukkah lights at the actual moment of sunset (first sunset), so that he who kindles the lights when the stars first shine has not performed the mitzvah, according to Maimonides.  This is because the first starshine comes more than one-half hour after sunset.  This is appropriate for Europe, but  not for Israel, where the gap between sunset and starshine is about 20 minutes.  Thus, he who regularly prays the Ma’ariv service with a particular minyan after starshine, should kindle the Hanukkah lights immediately with starshine, according to the method of the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (according to their method, one should not kindle Hanukkah lights before the shining of the stars).

[12] פסקי תשובה תרע”בת מקראי קודש בשם הגר”ש ישראליזצ”ל, והגר”מ אליהו יבדל”א.

[13] ביאור הלכה תרע”ב ד”ה ולא

[14] שעה”צ תרע”ב ד’ בשם הברכ”י שמ there are those who disagree, and are of the opinion that one shouldn’t make the blessing at this hour.

[15] רמ”א תרע”ב א’

[16] משנ”ב תרע”ב י”א

[17] שער הציון תרע”ב י”ז

[18] According to the Sephardic method, it is to no avail to intend not to be included in the wife’s blessing, so that he is considered to have performed his obligation, and a Sephardic Jew does not make the blessings on the Hanukkah lights when he returns home if someone else has kindled the lights with him in mind.

[19] שו”ע ורמ”א תרע”ז א’

[20] שו”ע תרע”ז א’

[21] רמ”א שם

[22] שו”ת אז נדברו ח”ג נ”ג

[23] אגרות משה יו”ד ח”ג יו”דand there are those who disagree, and are of the opinion that they should kindle the Hanukkah lights in the dining room (Hazon Ish).

[24] משנ”ב בשער הציון תרע”בת בשם הפמ”ג

[25]הגר”מ אליהו, הגר”ש ישראלי, זצ”ל

[26] שערי תשובה תרע”ט א’ בשם מהר”י אבוהב

[27] שו”ע תרע”א ז’

[28] ריב”ש

[29] ב”י תרע”א

[30] כלבו

[31] שו”ת יביע אומר ח”ז סימן נ”ז

[32] שם

[33] רמ”א תער”א ז’ת משנ”ב מ”ח

[34] שו”ע תר”ע ב’

[35]  רמ”א תר”ע ב’

[36] שם, בשם המהר”א מפראג

[37] שם

[38] הגר”מ אליהו

[39] Rabbbi Mordecai Tendler, citing his grandfather, the Gaon, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein

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