The Laws of Chanuka - "Lighting" Neirot Chanuka

  • Rav David Brofsky

the laws of THE FESTIVALS



In memory of Yissachar Dov Shmuel bar Yakov Yehuda Illoway

and Leah Ruth Illoway bat Natan Naso Jacobs


Shiur #08: The Laws of Chanuka

Rav David Brofsky





Last week, we studied various aspects of the mitzva to kindle the Chanuka lights, including women’s obligation to light, the number of candles required, and whether this mitzva should be viewed as a personal obligation, or an obligation upon the household.


This week, we will attempt to precisely define the term "lighting" with respect to neirot Chanuka, questioning whether the mitzva focuses on the actual kindling ("hadlaka"), or the placing ("hanacha"), of the lights. In addition, we will discuss whether one must relight a Chanuka candle which has been extinguished.


"Hadlaka Osa Mitzva"


The Gemara (Shabbat 22b) raises the fundamental question of whether one fulfills the mitzva of ner Chanuka through the hadlaka, meaning, by lighting the neirot, or through hanacha – by putting them, after they are lit, in their proper place:


"For the scholars propounded: Does the KINDLING or the PLACING constitute the precept? — Come and hear: For Raba said, If one was standing and holding the Chaunka lamp, he has done nothing: this proves that the PLACING constitutes the precept! — [No:] There, an observer may think that he is holding it for his own purposes [and the Sages therefore required putting the lamp down].  Come and hear: For Raba said: if one lights it inside and then takes it outside, he has done nothing. Now, it is well if you say that the KINDLING constitutes the precept; [for this reason] we require the kindling to be [done] in its proper place, [and] therefore he has done nothing. But if you say that the PLACING constitutes the precept, why has he done nothing? — There, too, an observer may think that he lit it for his own purposes."


The Gemara attempted to resolve this question on the basis of the halakhot relevant to one who stands holding a candle, and one who lit inside (the improper place to light) and then brought the candle outside.  But the Gemara dismisses these proofs, and then attempts another:


"Come and hear: For R. Yehoshua b. Levi said: With regard to a lantern which was burning the whole day [of Shabbat], at the conclusion of Shabbat it is extinguished and then relit. Now, it is well if you say that the KINDLING constitutes the precept; then it is correct. But if you say that the PLACING constitutes the precept, is this [merely] ‘extinguished and [re-]lit’? Surely it should [have stated], ‘It must be extinguished, lifted up, replaced and then relit’!"


The Gemara asserts that if one must merely extinguish and relight a preexisting flame in order to fulfill the mitzva, rather than also lifting it and replacing it, then evidently the obligation focuses on the hadlaka, and not the hanacha. The Gemara concludes:


"Moreover, since we recite the berakha, 'Who sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us TO KINDLE the lamp of Chanuka,' it proves that the KINDLING constitutes the precept."


The Gemara further notes that since the hadlaka constitutes the essential obligation, a "cheirish, shoteh ve-katan" (deaf-mute, mentally impaired, or minor) may not light the Chanuka candles on behalf of an adult.  Since these groups of people are exempt from the mitzva, which is fulfilled through the act of lighting, their lighting does not satisfy the obligation.


Finally, the Gemara enlists this debate to resolve the question of whether one may light one Chanuka candle from another, or if all the candles must be lit from a separate flame ("madlikin mi-ner la-ner"). The Rishonim offer numerous attempts to explain the connection between "hadlaka osa mitzva" and one's ability to light from one candle to another.


At first glance, the question of hadlaka osa mitzva or hanacha osa mitzva hinges on the extent to which the mitzva of ner Chanuka is defined by the element of pirsumei nisa (publicizing the miracle). One who is concerned solely with publicizing the miracle might suffice with a proper hanacha.  That Halakha demands performing an act of lighting might suggest that although pirsumei nisa certainly serves a role in this mitzva, it does not form its essential definition.


"Lest The Observer Say That He Lit For His Own Needs"


The straightforward reading of the Gemara indicates that if hadlaka osa mitzva, one who lights inside and then brings the lamp outside does not fulfill the obligation because he did not light the candles in the proper place. Indeed, the Rambam (4:9) explains this halakha as such. Many Rishonim, however (see Rif 9b, Rosh 2:7 and others), explain that one may not light inside and then bring the lamp outside "lest the observer say that he lit for his own needs." The Acharonim (Bach 671, Taz 671:2, Peri Chadash 671:1, etc.) question why this reason is necessary. Once the Gemara concludes that hadlaka osa mitzva, this principle itself should dictate that the lighting must take place outside, in the area suitable for the mitzva.  Why, then, did the Rishonim add the concern of onlookers who might misperceive the situation? They offer a number of suggestions.


The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 675), following the aforementioned Rishonim, codifies the principle of hadlaka osa mitzva and mentions the concern that at times one may be perceived as if he is lighting for his own needs:


"… If [the lamps] were placed in their place NOT for the intention of the mitzva of Chanuka, one should light them, and he does not need to remove them and then place them there [again] for the sake of the mitzva of Chanuka. Therefore, a lantern that was burning the entire day, which was lit before Shabbat for the mitzva of Chanuka, should be extinguished and relit for the sake of the mitzva after Shabbat. However, one should light them in the place where they will remain, and one who lights inside and then takes them outside has not fulfilled his obligation, AS AN OBSERVER MIGHT SAY THAT HE LIT [INSIDE] FOR HIS OWN NEEDS. Similarly, one who lights and holds [the flame] in his hand has NOT fulfilled the mitzva, AS AN OBSERVER MAY SAY THAT HE IS HOLDING [THE LAMP] FOR HIS OWN NEEDS…"


The Mishna Berura (5) adds that even one who lights outside should not bring the lights inside. Seemingly, this would apply only if one brings the lights inside within the first half-hour, during which they must burn (as we shall discuss); after this half-hour period, however, it would appear that one may bring them inside.


At first glance, there should be no objection to moving the lights from one location to another inside the same house, as there should be no qualitative difference between lighting in one corner of the house or another. However, the Mishna in Masekhet Sofrim (20:3; Masekhet Sofrim is a compilation of laws most likely published sometime during or after the eighth century) records that one should not move the lights from one place to another, and it appears that this halakha applies even after the minimum required period has passed.  This Mishna is cited by R. Meir b. R. Yekutiel HaKohen of Rothenburg (a student of Maharam of Rothenburg, 13th century), in his comments on the Rambam known as the Hagahot Maimoniyot (Hilkhot Megilla Ve-Chanuka 4:1).  Interestingly enough, R. Yosef b. Moshe (student and biographer of his teacher R. Yisrael b. Petachya Isserlein – the Terumat Ha-deshen), in his Leket Yosher (O.C., p. 151), records that his teacher at first found no reason to forbid moving the Chanuka lights, until he encountered this passage in the Hagahot Maimoniyot.  Nevertheless, the Terumat Ha-deshen ruled that [be-di’avad] one whose lights were moved has still fulfilled his obligation. The Darkhei Moshe cites this ruling, as well.


The Acharonim (see, for example, Magen Avraham 672:2 and Eliya Rabba 672:2) write that one should preferably not move the lights within the first half-hour after lighting. The Sha'ar Ha-Tziyun (the Chafetz Chayim’s notes to his Mishna Berura), however, comments (672:12) that one should not move the candles anytime while they burn, even after a half-hour has passed.


Apparently, the concern that "the observer may say…" applies even within one area.  


The Gemara also teaches that that one who lights while holding the candle does not fulfill his obligation, as "the observer might think that he lit for his own needs".


The Rishonim debate whether one may light the Chanuka candle while holding it, and then quickly place it in its proper place. The Ritva (Shabbat 22b) insists that in this case one must relight the lamp in its proper place, whereas the Rosh (Shabbat 2:7; see also opinion cited and rejected by Ritva, ibid.) disagrees.  The Rosh implies that the fear of mistaken impression is eliminated once the light is placed in its proper location, and therefore it need not be rekindled.


Rashi, as noted by the Taz (3), explains the Gemara as referring to one who holds the candle “from the moment it was lit UNTIL IT WAS EXTINGUISHED," implying that if the candle is put down at some point before it is extinguished one fulfills his obligation. Accordingly, the Taz rules that one who lights the candle while holding it may simply put it in its place; this is also the view of the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (675:1). The Mishna Berura (7), however, cites Acharonim who rule stringently in this regard.


This debate likely hinges upon the following question: why doesn't one who lights a candle while holding it fulfill his obligation. On the one hand, the sole concern may be that one might mistakenly believe that he lit for his own needs. This can be easily resolved if he puts the candle in its proper place.  On the other hand, one might suggest that this lighting is fundamentally invalid, since the potential to misinterpret his intentions undermines the attempt to publicize the miracle. The lighting itself is inferior, and therefore correcting it afterwards, especially assuming that "hadlaka ose mitzva," does not help.


Must one who kindled and held the Chanuka lights, in a manner deemed uncorrectable, as discussed above, recite a berakha upon relighting the candles?


Recall that the Gemara said regarding one who holds the Chanuka lights that he “HAS NOT DONE ANYTHING,” as this gives the impression that he lit the candles for his personal use.  This formulation certainly suggests that one has not fulfilled the mitzva at all in this case, and would thus recite a new berakha when he rekindles the lights.  Now as we saw, the Shulchan Arukh points to this concern of a mistaken impression as the reason underlying the halakha that one should not move the candles after they are lit.  Perhaps, then, we may conclude that in this instance, too, one “has not done anything” and would therefore have to relight the candles with a new berakha.


The issue is subject to a debate among the Acharonim. The Peri Chadash (671:1) rules that one should NOT recite a new berakha in this case, arguing that the rabbis did not institute a berakha over an act performed merely to avoid a mistaken impression. He draws proof from the Ran’s ruling that one does not recite a berakha when lighting Chanuka candles by his second doorway, which Halakha requires to avoid suspicion. R. Akiva Eiger (Teshuvot, Tinyana 125) disagrees, insisting that one who lights while holding the flame has not fulfilled the mitzva because lighting in such a manner will not properly publicize the miracle, and he should therefore light again, WITH a berakha.


Seemingly, they debate the very question we raised above, whether "lest the observer…" is a simple problem may even be resolved, or a fundamental problem in the very lighting of the candles.


Practically, it would seem that one should refrain from reciting a berakha in such a situation, based upon the principle "safek berakhot le-hakel" (see Hitorerut Teshuva 3:466).


Rekindling an Extinguished Flame - "Kavta Zakuk/Lo Zakuk La"


The Talmud (Shabbat 21a) addresses the disqualification of certain oils and wicks for use as Shabbat lights, due to the inferior quality of the flame they produce.  Amidst this discussion, the Gemara cites a debate as to whether such wicks and oils may be used for Chanuka candles.  According to R. Huna, the wicks and oils which are disqualified as Shabbat candles are similarly invalid for use as Chanuka lights. R. Chisda and Rav, by contrast, maintained that they may be used for Chanuka lights.


The Gemara explains:


"What is R. Huna's reason? He holds that if it [the Chanuka lamp] is extinguished, one must attend thereto (i.e. rekindle it) … R. Chisda maintained: … If it is extinguished, it does not require attention… R. Yirmiyahu said: What is Rav's reason? He holds that if it is extinguished, it does not require attention…"


Meaning, the debate regarding the qualification of these wicks and oils stems from a debate as to whether one must relight a Chanuka candle that is extinguished.  If an extinguished light must be rekindled, then Halakha requires using only high quality wicks and oils, to lower the chances that the flame will be extinguished.  If, however, one is not required to rekindle an extinguished flame, then we will accept the use of inferior wicks and oils.


The Gemara concludes that extinguished lights do not require rekindling.


The Rishonim and Acharonim raise the question of whether one should preferably rekindle the light, or if this is entirely unnecessary (though all agree it is permissible). The Or Zarua (322) concludes that it is certainly meritorious to rekindle the lights, while the Leket Yosher (see above) records that it is customary to rekindle the lights, since in any event one may not derive benefit from the leftover oil.  Inherently, the Leket Yosher implies, there is no value in relighting the candles.


The Rema (673:3) writes that one who wishes to act stringently and rekindle the light should not recite a new berakha. The Taz (10) cites the Maharshal as commenting that "one who wishes to fulfill the entire mitzva" should rekindle the light, going so far as to equate this rekindling with the standard of "mehadrin min ha-mehadrin"! The Maharshal apparently reasoned that if one should preferably kindle additional lights in order to "beautify" the mitzva, then certainly one should relight an extinguished flame in order to ensure "pirsumei nisa."  


We might consider associating this question with our previous discussion of whether or not the mitzva focuses specifically on the act of lighting. One might suggest that since "hadlaka osa mitzva," the mitzva is fulfilled even if the light is subsequently extinguished (Rashba, Teshuvot 1:539). If, however, the focus of the mitzva lies in its "placement," then it stands to reason that one must ensure that the candles achieve the objective of "pirsumei nisa" throughout the designated time-frame.


Indeed, the Shulchan Arukh (673:3) writes, "The mitzva is fulfilled through the lighting; THEREFORE, if the light is extinguished [even] before its time has passed, one need not rekindle it." This passage certainly indicates a direct correlation between the two issues.


The Taz (8), commenting on this ruling, remarks:


"I don’t understand how these two laws are connected… Why didn't the Gemara bring as proof [that 'hadlaka osa mitzva'] that we rule that if the light is extinguished it need not be rekindled!? "


He therefore concludes that the Shulchan Arukh should not be read literally; rather, the Shulchan Arukh meant that since one fulfills the mitzva immediately upon lighting, it is unnecessary to rekindle the flame if it is extinguished.


According to the Taz, we must understand the two sugyot as addressing different questions. First, the Gemara questioned whether the hadlaka constitutes a mere preparation for the ma'aseh mitzva (mitzva act) of hanacha, at which point the lights are potentially poised to publicize the miracle, or whether the potential to publicize the miracle must also be incorporated into the lighting (hadlaka) itself.


Rav Huna and Rav Chisda, however, question whether performing the ma'aseh mitzva suffices, or whether the aspect of "pirsumei nisa" must also be fully realized, by ensuring that the candles remain lit throughout the designated time-frame.


While in practice we rule that "kavta- lo zakuk la," the Gemara does teach that the potential to successfully publicize the miracle contributes to the definition of the hadlaka, and therefore the lights must be lit at a certain time, and must also be able to remain lit for a specific amount of time. Next week, we will study this issue in greater depth, and discuss the question of where the neirot Chanuka should be lit.