The Maharil writes that a woman who forgot to light Shabbos candles “must be careful all of her days to add an extra candle, one more than the amount she had been accustomed to light” (Shabbos 1).
The Darchei Moshe (Orach Chaim 263) mentions this halacha, and notes that it is a great stringency, and that there is a reason to refrain from adding to the two candles, since they are meant to symbolize the double instruction of Zachor and Shamor. Yet, he concludes, the custom of women is to act like the Maharil. Thus, the Rema (263:1) rules that a woman who forgot to light Shabbos candles must add an extra candle for the rest of her days.
This halacha, as noted by the Poskim (see Mishnah Berurah 263:7), is a fine, “in order that she should be careful with the honor of Shabbos.” If a woman forgets twice, she needs to add two candles (Magen Avraham 3; Mishnah Berurah 7).
As we will see below, this halacha raises questions. Does the halacha apply to Yom Tov candles too? What is the halacha when a woman forgets to light some of her candles, but lights at least one? And what falls into the category of “forgetting to light” that the fine applies to?
These questions, among others, are discussed below.
The Number of Candles
The principal obligation to light Shabbos candles refers to lighting a single candle. This is implied by the wording of the Mishnah, which mentions the obligation of “lighting a candle” (Shabbos 2:6), and by Chazal in many places when they refer to ner Shabbos in the singular (see for instance Shabbos 23b, 25b). Later Poskim, such as the Rambam, also refer to the obligation to light a candle on Shabbos (Shabbos 5:1).
However, the Midrash states that all matters of Shabbos are doubled, and based on that Midrash, the Kol Bo writes that the custom is to light two candles, one corresponding to the instruction of Zachor, and another corresponding to Shamor (cited by the Beis Yosef 263). This custom is noted by the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 263:1). The Magen Avraham (2) adds (from the Shelah) that some light seven candles, and some ten candles.
Another custom, which has become fairly widespread in recent times, is to add a candle for each child in the family. This custom is mentioned in Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa (Chap. 43, notes 10, 51), and though there is no apparent source for the custom, it has been suggested that since women in past generations often failed to light candles after giving birth, it became customary to add a candle for each child. This explanation is quite strained because the custom of adding a candle for a missed lighting does not apply to cases of oness (Shut Mishnah Halachos 7:35). Furthermore, the husband generally lights in place of his wife. Moreover, today it is often possible to light even in the hospital. Shut Teshuvos Vehanhagos (2:157) suggests the reason for the custom is as with Chanukah candles, where the mehadrin custom is to light a candle for each member of the household.
Once a woman begins to light a greater number of candles, this becomes the norm for her, and she must not diminish the number of candles she lights (Minchas Shabbos 75:14) unless she is matir neder.
Note that the Maamar Mordechai (263:2) writes that even where extra candles are added, it is preferable that two candles should stand out to represent Zachor and Shamor, and extra candles should be lit near them.
Forgot Some of the Candles
What happens if a woman forgets to light some Shabbos candles, but not all of them?
The Peri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 263:2) writes that under these circumstances, where one candle was lit instead of two or two instead of four, she needs to add an extra candle, since the fine for diminishing the honor of Shabbos still applies.
However, the Mishnah Berurah (Biur Halacha 263:1) disagrees and writes that there is no need to add candles, since the entire halacha of adding candles for somebody who forgets to light is a custom, and there is therefore no need to add stringencies to the matter. As noted above, the principle halacha is to light a single candle, and it stands to reason that somebody who fulfilled the principal obligation is not subject to the fine.
Forgot to Light Yom Tov Candles
What is the halacha for a woman who forgot to light Yom Tov candles? Does the fine apply?
Shut Kinyan Torah writes that for Yom Tov candles the fine does not apply: The fine was intended, as noted above, to ensure that women should be careful to honor the Shabbos with lighting candles. However, the special urgency in this matter applies specifically to Shabbos, where even a slight lateness can lead to missing lighting due to the entry of Shabbos. This does not apply to Yom Tov, since candles can be lit even after Yom Tov has entered. It is thus unusual for a woman (and the household) to forget to light candles for the entire Yom Tov night (at least for the duration of the meal, which is the principal time for candles), and because this is unusual, no fine applies.
Shut Mishnah Halachos (7:37), however, disagrees and writes that even somebody who forgot to light on Yom Tov must add an extra candle. This only applies if she did not light the entire night. Although there is some doubt concerning lighting after the meal is completed, for the fine of lighting an extra candle there is no need for stringency.
Based on the rationale mentioned in Shut Kinyan Torah, Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa (Chap. 43, note 35) assumes that a woman who forgot to light on Shabbos need not add an extra candle for her Yom Tov lighting; he writes that this might be true even according to the Mishnah Halachos. Moreover, even according to the Mishnah Halachos, Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa suggests that somebody who forgot to light on Yom Tov would not need to add to her Shabbos candles, but only to her Yom Tov candles.
Forgot to Light in a Lit Room
What is the halacha if somebody forgot to light Shabbos candles in a lit room? True, the Shabbos candles were not lit, but the room was nonetheless well lit, and therefore the honor of Shabbos was not violated—at least not to the same degree. Does the fine of adding an extra candle still apply?
In Shut Avnei Yashfei (Orach Chaim 1:55) the author cites Rav Yisrael Yaakov Fischer zt”l that if the woman of the household switches on the electric lights in the dining room, this fulfills the basic obligation of lighting Shabbos candles, even if she did not intend to fulfill the mitzvah by turning on the lights. Based on this assumption, he writes that if the electric lights were turned on by the woman of the house, the fine will not apply even if candles were not lit, since the basic obligation was fulfilled.
He notes in the name of Rav Elyashiv zt”l that even if she did not turn on the lights herself, but the room was well lit, the fine will not apply. Although she failed to perform the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles, the room was not left in the dark and the honor of the Shabbos was not (severely) hurt. Similarly, the Melameid Lehoeil (Orach Chaim 46) is lenient.
This ruling is disputed by Shut Tzitz Eliezer (21:11). Although he rules that a person can fulfill his obligation to light Shabbos candles by means of electric lights, he explains that lights which are always on do not honor the Shabbos (since they are regularly on during the week, too), so that failure to light Shabbos candles certainly depreciates the honor of Shabbos, and the fine will apply to somebody who forgot to light candles even if the lights are on.
Cases of Forgetting
Where a woman is unable to light Shabbos candles, it is clear that the fine of lighting an extra candle does not apply (Magen Avraham 263:3; Mishnah Berurah 263:7); the fine only applies to somebody who was able to light but failed to do so out of negligence.
The Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa (note 36) gives an example of a woman who was caring for a family member in the hospital (in which case she is osek bemitzvah and presumably exempt from lighting), and therefore failed to light candles, or to somebody who lit Shabbos candles on time, but the candles went out. He is doubtful about cases in which a woman failed to light because of an innocent mistake, such as somebody who was unaware of the time or of a relevant halacha.
Sometimes, careful judgment is required to determine whether the case is a case of negligence that the fine applies to, or not. For examples, Shut Shevet Hakehasi (5:51) relates to case where a woman went to sleep on Friday afternoon and overslept so that she could not light candles. He writes that oversleeping is not necessarily a case of negligence, such as if she set an alarm clock that didn’t work, or in cases of illness.
Shut Kinyan Torah (5:20) relates to a case in which a woman was late for lighting, yet lit the Shabbos candles anyway during bein hashmashos, when it was forbidden for her to light. Although she acted wrongly, and needs to repent the deed, he rules that the fine of lighting extra candles does not apply, since the candle was ultimately lit for Shabbos.
Note that the halacha of adding extra candles applies only to women, to whom the principal obligation of candle lighting applies. It may not apply to men who forgot to light (see Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa note 35; Peri Megadim, Eshel Avraham 263:7). Furthermore, if a woman forgot to light, but her husband or somebody else lit on her behalf, the fine will certainly not apply.