Every year, I have seen the Menorah lit in various public places with the berachos said. This includes at train stations, shopping malls, schools, at charity events etc. I understood that this is forbidden as the berachos can only be said in your home or at shul. Are any leniencies being used here or should the berachos not be said and indeed, if said, amount to a bracha levatala?
This is a good question. From the simple reading of the poskim it appears that one should not recite a berachah at such Chanukah lighting ceremonies. The only reason why a berachah is recited over lighting in shul is because we make a berachah over the minhag, and this won’t apply to other candle-lighting in the public domain or in the workplace etc.
This is ruled by the Minchas Yitzchak (Vol. 6, no. 66, sec. 3), the Tzitz Eliezer (Vol. 15, no. 30), the Shevet Ha-Levi (Vol. 4, no. 65; though he notes that there are places in which this was common custom), the Teshuvos Ve-Hanhagos (1:398), and others (the halachah is also cited in the name of R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l).
Although there are several minority opinions that one can recite a berachah (see Az Nidberu 5:37; 6:75; 11:32; Yabia Omer Vol. 7, no. 57, sec. 6), the majority opinion is clearly that one should not recite a blessing in such ceremonies. However, there remains a minority opinion for those who recite a berachah to rely upon.