Lighting Chanukah candles is a mitzvah of the home. In the words of the Gemara, the mitzvah is defined as ner ish uveiso—“a candle for each man and his household.” Indeed, we know that Chanukah is a family festival. It gives us the opportunity, even on regular working weekdays, to gather together and bask in the glow of the Chanukah lights.
But things are not always so simple. There are many instances in which a person cannot light at home with his family, raising questions of where he ought to light—if at all. These questions are dealt with at the basic level by a Talmudic passage addressing the mitzvah of candle-lighting, and later expanded upon by Poskim.
Where should a guest light Chanukah candles? What should a person do if he is traveling on a night of Chanukah? What should campers and soldiers do if sleeping in a tent or in the field? These questions, among others, are discussed below.
Sharing with One’s Host
The basic issue of lighting Chanukah candles by somebody away from his home is raised by the following passage of the Gemara (Shabbos 23a): “Rav Sheshes said: A lodger is obligated to light the Chanukah lights. Rav Zeira said: Initially, upon staying at the house of Rav (Yeshiva of those days) I would pay for a share in the candles. After getting married, I concluded that I certainly don’t need to light [when away from home in yeshiva], because my wife lights on my behalf at our home.”
In general, we know that household members can fulfill their mitzvah of Chanukah lights with the homeowner’s lighting. There are different customs as to whether members of the family, in addition to the homeowner, light Chanukah candles of their own in order to fulfill the mitzvah in the best manner: The Sephardi custom is that the entire household lights only one menorah, with the person lighting (generally the homeowner) acting as agent for the rest of the family. The common Ashkenazi custom is that individual boys light their own menorah, but women and girls do not usually light their own menorah (see Eliyahu Rabbah 671:3; Mishnah Berurah 671:9; Shu’t Shaar Efrayim no. 42). However, anyone who does not light, boys and girls alike, fulfills his or her mitzvah with the general household lighting.
For guests, however, the above passage teaches us that the household lighting is insufficient; a guest must light his own Chanukah lights. Rav Zeira notes two methods by which this can be achieved. One is to become a partner in the lights of the his host (by paying for part of them, or by lifting them up with intention of acquiring a part of them). Alternatively, when the guest has his own household but is away from home, he is included in his family’s lighting (whether by his wife or another family member) even though he is away from home.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 677:1) rules in accordance with this Gemara, so that a guest who has nobody lighting for him at home, and who does not have a separate entrance where he lodges—if he has a separate entrance, he must light at his personal entrance—fulfills his obligation by contributing to the expense of the oil. (It is preferable that the host should actually add some oil on his behalf; see Magen Avraham 677:1.) The Mishnah Berurah (677:4) adds that the guest should be sure to hear the berachos of his host.
Lighting One’s Own Candles
A third option for a guest to fulfill his mitzvah of Chanukah lights is to light his own menorah. This seems to be the regular custom today among Ashkenazim, as noted by the Maharil (Shut Maharil no. 145), who writes that the custom even in his day was for guests to light personally. For Sephardim the custom is to share in the cost of the oil, as the Shulchan Aruch rules.
Maharil explains that the reason for this is out of concern about suspicion: others may suspect that he is not fulfilling the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah lights. The Darkhei Moshe (677), however, implies that this is not obligatory, and that it is permitted to follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and just share the costs with the host.
The Mishna Berurah (677:7) mentions an opinion that in our days (outside Israel), since we light indoors (because of danger), the problem of suspicion will obligate a guest to light his own lights, and not to rely on sharing expenses or to rely on his wife’s lighting at home. However, he defers this opinion, and rules (citing Magen Avraham 677:3) that one need not be stringent for this opinion, except for guests who have a separate entrance.
Nonetheless, the Mishnah Berurah concludes that a person should light his own lights, in order to fulfill the Ashkenazi understanding of mehadrin min hamehadrin (see Shaar Hatziyun 10), according to which each (male) member of the household lights his own lights, rather than relying on his own household or on sharing the costs.
Who Qualifies as a Guest?
What happens when a person sleeps at home, but eats his meals with someone else? This is sometimes practical for somebody whose wife is away, or for somebody who is eating with a family but sleeping in separate quarters. Where should he light Chanukah lights?
The Tur (677), citing the Rosh, rules that a person must light in the place where he sleeps rather than the place where he eats, to avoid raising suspicion that he did not light at all. The Beis Yosef cites the Rashba (Shut HaRashba 1:542) who disagrees, and rules that somebody who eats in another’s house must share in the host’s expenses, even if he sleeps elsewhere. These Rishonim thus dispute what determines a person’s house concerning the obligation of Chanukah lights: the place he eats or the place he sleeps.
The Shulchan Aruch (677:1) rules that the place a person sleeps determines where he should light, while the Rema, citing the Rashba, writes that “some say that nowadays, when we light inside the house, a person should light in the place where he eats, and this is the custom.” The Mishnah Berurah (11) notes that according to many, even the Rosh will agree that nowadays, one should light in the place where a person eats, as the Rema rules.
The Mishnah Beururah (12, citing Magen Avraham) qualifies this halacha, explaining that it applies only to somebody who eats on a regular basis outside his home. Somebody who receives a one-time invitation to eat with a friend and is only there for a visit, must light in his own home.
According to many poskim (including Rav S.Z. Auerbach), one who goes away for Shabbos should light at his host’s house on Friday night. Rav Eliashiv zatsal disagreed and maintained that he should have an agent light on his behalf in his home.
For Motzaei Shabbos there is a discussion among Poskim. If he can get home quickly, most maintain that it is best to light at home. If, however, he lives far away and will arrive after people already go to sleep, he should light in his host’s house, and eat the melaveh malka meal before leaving (see YemeiHallelVehoda’a, p. 274, citing Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l; ChovasHadar, Chap. 1, note 65). The Chazon Ish ruled that he must sleep there as well.
Somebody Whose Wife is at Home
If somebody’s wife, or other family member, is lighting back home, can a guest still light for himself in his host’s house?
The Terumas Hadeshen (no. 101) cites two opinions concerning this question (of lighting with a beracha as a guest when one’s wife lights at home). According to one opinion, which is noted by the Maharil (145), it is permitted for a guest to light on his own, even with a beracha, since he presumably has in mind not to fulfill his obligation with his wife’s lighting. However, the Beis Yosef (677) objects since the one who lights is making a superfluous beracha.
The Rema (677:3) disagrees with the BeisYosef and rules that a traveler whose family lights on his behalf back home may still light his own lights and recite the berachos, and his ruling is cited by many authorities (see Levush 1; Taz 1; Magen Avraham 1). The Peri Chadash, however, rules that under such circumstances one should not light with a beracha.
The Mishnah Berurah (677:7) rules that even if one’s wife lights at home, it is preferable to light in the home of one’s host. Aside from the consideration of fulfilling the mehadrin min hamehadrin custom (see Eliya Rabba 677:4, citing from Shaar Efraim, who suggests the difference of opinion above is contingent on the Sephardi/Ashkenazi divide in custom), he adds that when a person’s is away from home yet his family lights on his behalf, a doubt arises concerning the beracha of she’asa nissim. This is another reason he should light on his own.
However, under such circumstances it is best to light the Chanukah lights before his wife (or other family member) lights at home because if his wife has already lit Chanukah lights in his home, he may have already fulfilled his obligation, and perhaps cannot recite a beracha on his kindling.
Note that if a person is in a different time zone from his home, a question arises as to whether he can fulfill the mitzvah with his family’s lighting, if at his own location the mitzvah does not apply (if it is too early or too late). According to many, an Israeli resident visiting the United States will not fulfill the mitzvah through his family’s kindling and vice versa (Shut Minchas Yitzchak 7:46; however, see Halichos Shelomo Vol. 2, p. 261, who disagrees). If the different time zones do not create such an issue, and the time of lighting at home is also a valid lighting time in one’s location, one can fulfill the mitzvah with one’s home lighting as explained above.
Travelers and Soldiers
The basic obligation of Chanukah lights is, as noted above, related to a person’s house. Every house, in the wording of the Rambam (Chanukah 4:1), must light. But what if somebody has no house—he is traveling, and does not have any family members at home to light on his behalf? Can he light Chanukah candles where he is—on a boat, in the public domain, or in his car window?
Rashi (Shabbos 23a) addresses the case of someone traveling by boat and unable to light a menorah, and explains that such a person should recite the berachos of she’asah nissim and shehechiyanu (on the first night of Chanukah) when he sees a kindled menorah, even though he is not kindling himself. This implies that a boat is not considered a house, and one cannot light on a boat. Tosafos (Sukkah 46b) also write that she’asah nissim was enacted so that those who do not have houses, and are unable to fulfill the basic mitzvah, can still participate in it.
The Taz (677:2) clearly implies that one cannot light in the street, and notes that a random guest cannot light at his host’s house, for this is “no different to lighting on the street.” Apparently, he understood that one cannot light Chanukah candles without a house. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Yoreh De’ah Vol. 3, 14:5) and Halichos Shlomo(Chanukah p. 257) rule in accordance with this basic assumption.
It is possible, however, that even a temporary residence can be considered a house for purposes of candle lighting. Thus, we find in Shut Maharsham (4:146) that one can light while on a train, if he paid for a full night’s journey, since this is considered as though he rented a house to eat and sleep in—a ruling concurred with by the Aruch Hashulchan (677:5). A boat in the time of the Gemara, apparently, was not considered a temporary house, perhaps because it does not provide adequate shelter. This might change on today’s luxury liners.
This raises the question of what soldiers should do on Chanukah. Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Mikra’eiKodesh, Chanukah Chap. 8, note 3) writes that if sleeping in tents, they should light Chanukah lights, but if sleeping in open fields they should not light. Rav Ovadya Yosef (Chazon Ovadya, p. 156) rules that soldiers sleeping even outside should light without reciting the berachos.