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Chanuka – When to Light

From “Guidelines to Tefilla” by Rabbi Elozor Barclay and Rabbi Yitzchok Jaeger

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When to Light

  • When is the correct time to light the menorah?

There are two main customs:

  1. At sunset. This is the opinion of the Vilna Gaon and is widely accepted in Eretz Yisroel.
  2. At nightfall. This is the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch and is widely accepted in chutz la’aretz.

Some opinions suggest a compromise between these two times and recommend lighting ten to twenty minutes after sunset.

  • If a person lights at nightfall, should he daven ma’ariv first?

The main custom of those who light at nightfall is to daven immediately at nightfall and light after ma’ariv. He should prepare the menorah beforehand and return home after ma’ariv without delay, in order to light as soon as possible.

  • What if a person intends to daven ma’ariv later in the evening?

One should make an effort to daven ma’ariv immediately at nightfall during Chanukah, in order to light the menorah at the ideal time. If this is not possible:

  1. According to some opinions, he should light the menorah immediately at nightfall, although he has not yet davened ma’ariv.
  2. According to other opinions, he should delay lighting the menorah until after davening ma’ariv.
  • What if a person is unable to light at the correct time?

He should light the menorah as soon as possible after the correct time, making every effort to light within half-an-hour after nightfall. If unavoidable, he may light at any time during the evening.

  • What is the latest time for lighting?

Halachic dawn.

  • May the brachos be recited when lighting late?

The main custom is to recite brachos even if no one else will see the lights. According to some opinions, one may only recite the brachos if someone is awake to see the lighting.

  • What if the entire night passed without lighting?

The mitzvah has been lost and cannot be rectified. On the next night he should light the same number as everyone else, even though he missed a night.

  • Is one permitted to light before sunset?

In extenuating circumstances when one will not be able to light later, one may light the menorah from plag hamincha. Care must be taken to ensure that the candles or oil are capable of burning until half-an-hour after nightfall. The brachos should be recited as usual.

Note: It is better to light later in the evening than before sunset.

  • What if the wife is at home but her husband will arrive only later in the evening?

There are two options:

  1. The wife can wait for her husband to light the menorah when he arrives.
  2. The wife can light the menorah at the correct time and the husband is thereby exempt from lighting when he arrives. If possible, he should try to hear the brachos being recited by someone else who is lighting.

To avoid any misunderstanding, the couple should discuss the situation beforehand and come to a mutually acceptable arrangement.

  • What if the husband is at home but his wife will arrive only later in the evening?

If the wife agrees, the husband should light on time, thus fulfilling the obligation for himself and his wife. She should try to hear the brachos being recited by someone else who is lighting. If the husband senses that his wife may be upset to miss the lighting of the menorah, he should wait until she arrives.

  • What if a person is at work at the time of lighting?

In order to prevent people from lighting late, the Sages did not permit one to begin working from half-an-hour before lighting time. Even if he began working earlier, he should stop at the time of lighting. It is advisable for a person to leave his place of work sufficiently early to allow him to arrive home and light at the ideal time.

  • Why are some people lenient about this?

Several reasons have been suggested to justify this practice:

  1. According to most opinions, the ideal time to light nowadays extends beyond the first half-an-hour, since people are still in the street until late at night.
  2. For people who light indoors, the publicity of the miracle is for family members and this can be achieved even later in the evening. This applies mainly in chutz la’aretz.
  3. Leaving work early could cause a financial strain and possibly even a loss of one’s job.

Nevertheless, a person who overcomes difficulties in order to fulfill the mitzvah properly will earn great reward. According to the Sages, whoever is punctilious with the mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights will be blessed with sons who are Torah scholars.

  • Does the work restriction apply to a person who is at home?

Yes. When a person is involved in various activities he may not notice the passage of time and the ideal lighting time may be missed. Therefore, one should not begin work half-an-hour before sunset or nightfall (according to one’s custom).

  • Which type of activity is forbidden?

Any activity that tends to continue for a considerable length of time or which is difficult to break off in the middle. In extenuating circumstances, one may begin an activity that tends to continue if it is not difficult to break off in the middle. Once the time to light has arrived, one must not engage in any activities whatsoever, and the menorah should be lit immediately.

  • Is Torah study also forbidden?

Torah study is permitted during the half-hour before lighting time and forbidden only when the actual time of lighting arrives.

  • May one eat or drink before lighting?

From half-an-hour before the time of lighting, one may not eat more than a kebeitza of bread or cake. There is no restriction on other foods or drinks during this period.

  • May one sleep before lighting?

This is certainly forbidden, since there is a strong possibility that one may oversleep.

  • When would a person be permitted to work, eat, or sleep before lighting?

If he appoints another person to remind him to light the menorah, he is permitted to work, eat, or sleep. Similarly, one may set an electronic alarm that gives an appropriate message.

  • Do all these restrictions apply to women?

These restrictions apply to any person who lights a menorah. Therefore, a woman who lights a menorah, such as when she lives alone or her husband is away, must keep all the above restrictions. A woman who does not intend to light, but fulfills her obligation with a man’s lighting, is not restricted.

  • For how long must the lights burn?
  1. If one lights at nightfall or later they must be able to burn for at least half-an-hour.
  2. If one lights before nightfall, they must be able to burn until half-an-hour after nightfall.

The lights do not have to actually burn for this length of time, but they must be capable of doing so.

  • Is it better for the lights to burn longer?

During the time of the Sages it was unusual for people to be on the street late at night. Therefore, there was little point in allowing the lights to burn for more than half-an-hour, since no one would see them. Today, when people are still in the street late at night, it is praiseworthy for the lights to burn longer, according to some opinions. Using longer candles is in any case praiseworthy, since this beautifies the mitzvah.

  • May one extinguish the lights after half-an-hour?

The widespread custom is to leave the lights to burn themselves out, especially in view of the opinions mentioned in the previous question. However, if it is necessary to extinguish the menorah (e.g. everyone is leaving and there could be a risk of fire,ח”ו ) one may do so. It is preferable to stipulate beforehand that he wishes to extinguish the lights.

  • May one extinguish the lights within half-an-hour?

No. Therefore, it is forbidden to kindle lights with the intention of extinguishing them within half-an-hour. In extenuating circumstances, when there is no other option, one should kindle the lights without a b’racha.

  • What if the lights went out by themselves within half-an-hour?

If sufficient oil was in the menorah when the lights were kindled, the mitzvah has been fulfilled, even if the lights went out within the required time. Although one is not obligated to rekindle the lights, it is correct to do so, especially if this occurs on erev Shabbos. The brachos should not be repeated when relighting the menorah.

  • What if insufficient oil was put in the menorah?

If the menorah did not contain sufficient oil when it was lit, one must extinguish the lights, add more oil and relight them. The brachos should not be repeated.

  • What if there was sufficient oil but the wind blew out the lights?
  1. If one lights outside or near an open door or window, he must ensure that the wind cannot blow out the lights. In this situation, it is advisable to use a glass box. If the wind blew out the lights despite the precautions, he is not obligated to relight them, but it is correct to do so.
  2. If he did not take sufficient precautions, and the wind blew out the lights, the menorah must be relit after taking suitable precautions. The brachos should not be repeated.
  • What if the wicks did not catch fire properly?

If the wicks did not catch fire from the outset, he has not fulfilled the mitzvah. The wicks should be adjusted or replaced and the menorah lit immediately. He should not talk while making efforts to relight the menorah. The brachos should only be repeated if he was distracted from the mitzvah.

  • What if he tries to fix the wick while it is burning but he accidentally extinguishes it?

He is not required to relight it, but it is correct to do so.

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