Rabbi's Message

Halachically Speaking - A LICHTIGE CHANUKAH

By Rabbi Yeshaya Siff
Young Israel Synagogue of Manhattan

Chanukah is an especially ordained time in the Jewish year, eight days of Hallel V’Hodoah – Praise and Thanksgiving- when we express gratitude to Hashem for the miracles He performed on behalf of our people and the salvation He granted from our enemies. Lighting “nayros” each night and saying Hallel each day in davening are the Mitzvos by which we express our gratitude, give thanks and publicize Hashem’s miracles.

For those who will not be in their own home at the time of lighting, what is the proper procedure? The best alternative is to light after sunset and to use either large candles or oil which will burn for a half hour after the appearance of three stars. Thus one can light after 4:29 and use candles or oil which will burn until approximately 5:49. If more time is necessary, one can light after “Plag Hamincha,” from 3:32 on, again using even larger candles or oil which will burn until 5:49, similar to lighting Friday afternoon before Shabbos. One cannot light in a social or wedding hall or in someone else’s home unless he or she is sleeping there as noted later under the heading “where”. Chanukah lights must be lit in one’s “own home” in all cases.

According to halacha, a“nair” is an oil-lamp, and thus olive oil light is halachically preferred for the mitzvah of Chanukah lighting. In addition, the miracle took place with olive oil. Chanukah candles are most commonly used, but an electric menorah is not considered a “nair” and thus is not halachically acceptable for the mitzvah.

To fulfill the mitzvah, one must light Chanukah lights in his/her own home. Lighting in a place where one is a guest does not fulfill the Mitzvah. Nor is participating in the host’s lighting considered halachically acceptable. However if one is an overnight guest, the place where he or she sleeps is considered “home” for that night and lighting there would fulfill the mitzvah.

Minimally it is sufficient for an entire household to share one menorah. However, we have adopted the custom of “mehadrin min hamehadrin” observing the mitzvah in the very best way, and thus optimally each person lights his or her own candles, except for husband and wife who are considered one entity and thus share one menorah. However, if individuals do join together they have still fulfilled the mitzvah.

Ideally, all members of the household should come together when the head of the family lights the nayros. However, if other family members intend to light their own menorahs later, they must have specific intention not to fulfill their obligation during the family lighting, but wait until their own lighting.

The menorah should be placed where as many people as possible can see it. If one’s apartment is less than 40 feet above ground level (usually up to the third floor) or higher if windows from opposite apartments face each other, it is preferable to place the menorah on the window sill. If not, the menorah should be placed in a doorway opposite the mezuzah. If that is not feasible, the menorah should be placed somewhere in the apartment where it will be easily noticed.

The ideal time for lighting the Menorah is as soon as three stars appear in the sky (now about 5:19). Candles or oil lights must burn at least a half hour. If the candles were not lit at the optimal time it is permissible to light them later and recite the brochos as long as any members of the household are awake. If everyone else in the home is asleep, the candles are lit, but no brocho is said. If one lives alone, the brocho may be recited the entire evening. One should not eat a meal before lighting the candles at any time.

On Erev Shabbos remember to light the Chanukah candles before the Shabbos candles are lit. Since Chanukah lights must burn on Friday for about an hour and forty minutes, to fulfill the mitzvah special large candles or oil cups must be utilized. If one is fearful of lighting many large candles to be left burning on Shabbos, light at least one which will remain burning the full time, preferably the first one.

When Chanukah is over, the remains of the oil, wicks and wax should be burned. If that is not possible, double wrap the remains before disposing them. The fundamental goal of Chanukah is “persumai nisa” proclaiming and publicizing the miracles which Hashem enacted for us and consequently expressing our praise and appreciation. We are living today in a time of miracles. May we all merit to witness even greater miracles and wonders in these auspicious days with the coming of “Moshiach Tzidkeinu.”

Best wishes to all of our Young Israel members and friends for a freiliche and lichtige Chanukah.

On Link Rabbi Siff's biography.