The Proper Time for Lighting Chanuka Candles
The Proper Time for Lighting Chanuka Candles
The Gemara (Shabbat 21b) discusses whether one must rekindle a Chanuka light which was extinguished. In addressing the view that one need not rekindle an extinguished flame (“kavta - lo zakuk la”), it asks:
“Now, if it is extinguished, does it not require attention [i.e., need to be rekindled]? But the following [berayta] contradicts it: ‘Its observance is from sunset until there is no wayfarer in the street’ (ad she-tikhleh regel min ha-shuk). Does that not mean that if it is extinguished [within that period] it must be relit?”
The Gemara answers by offering the following interpreting of the berayta:
“If one has not yet lit, he must light it; or, [it refers] to the statutory period [during which the candles must burn]…”
This Gemara raises a number of interesting practical questions. What is the earliest time that one may light Chanuka lights? Must one light at sunset, or may one light even later? How are we to understand the two answers of the Gemara – “if one has not yet lit, he must light it; or, it refers to the statutory period (shiur)…”? Are they mutually exclusive, or should we accept both? Furthermore, does the time of “until there is no wayfarer in the street” depend upon pedestrian traffic norms in each locale? If so, might this also impact upon the minimum required amount of oil? Finally, when Chanuka lights are kindled indoors (as we shall see), are these issues concerning outdoor pedestrians rendered irrelevant?
Let us begin by discussing the optimal time for lighting neirot Chanuka.
The Earliest Time for Lighting Neirot Chanuka
The Gemara teaches that “its observance is from mi-shetishka ha-chama until there is no wayfarer in the street.” The Rishonim debate the precise definition of mi-shetishka ha-chama. In part, this discussion depends upon our understanding of the significant halakhic times of nightfall (discussed here: http://vbm-torah.org/archive/tefila/23tefila.htm). A brief review of these opinions will be helpful in determining the proper times for lighting neirot Chanuka.
The Rishonim offer two different approaches to understanding the evening times, based upon two seemingly contradictory passages in the Talmud (Shabbat 34b-35a and Pesachim 94a).
Rabbeinu Tam (see Tosafot, Berakhot 2b, s.v. dilma; Shabbat 35a, s.v. terei; Pesachim 94a, s.v. Rabbi Yehuda) asserts that there are actually two phenomena called shekia (sunset). The first shekia, the astronomical sunset, begins as the sun disappears below the horizon. The second occurs much later, when the sky is completely dark except for its western extremity, which glows red from the sun beneath the horizon. This second shekia, which the Gemara describes in Masekhet Shabbat (34b), ends when the entire sky becomes completely dark (tzet ha-kokhavim), which occurs “¾ of a mil” after the second sunset (Shabbat 34b-35a), and 4 milin after the first sunset (Pesachim 94a).
A mil (plural, milin) is technically a unit of distance approximately equal to a kilometer. The Talmud often uses this term to refer to the amount of time it takes for the average person to walk a mil. The Terumat Ha-deshen (cited by Rav Yosef Karo, in Beit Yosef Y.D. 69), Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 459:2) and the Rema (O.C. 261:1), rule that it takes eighteen minutes to walk a mil.
According to Rabbeinu Tam, some halakhot – such as the laws of Shabbat, for example – depend upon the second shekia, and therefore prohibited labors may be performed on Friday until 3¼ milin after the first shekia, which, according to the calculations mentioned, occurs 72 minutes after sunset. If so, then the second shekia, which begins ¾ of a mil before tzet ha-kokhavim, would occur 13½ minutes before nightfall, or approximately an hour after the astronomical sunset.
The Geonim (See Responsa Maharam Alashkar, 96, citing Rav Sherira Gaon and Rav Hai Gaon) and the Gra (commentary to Shulchan Arukh, O.C. 261:2) disagree. They explain, based upon the Gemara (Shabbat 34b-35a), that the period from sunset to nightfall (tzet ha-kokhavim) spans ¾ of a mil, and the period in between is what Chazal called bein ha-shmashot. The Gra, aside from his textual objection to Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion, also observed that “ha-chush makchish” – empirical evidence contradicts Rabbeinu Tam’s position, as the skies are already entirely dark during the time which Rabbenu Tam still considers daytime. (The Gra acknowledges that the times mentioned in the Gemara, i.e., ¾ of a mil and 4 milin, apply only to the latitude of Israel and Babylonia, during the times of the fall and spring equinox; in other regions, however, such as Northern Europe, bein ha-shmashot and, consequently, tzet ha-kokhavim, occur much later.)
According to these calculations, tzet ha-kokhavim, as defined by the Geonim, occurs 13.5 minutes after the astronomical sunset. The season, as well as the altitude, also impact upon the visibility of the stars, and therefore the Acharonim debate when, practically, one may recite the evening shema or end Shabbat.
With this information in mind, let us now examine the various views among the Rishonim concerning the proper time for lighting neirot Chanuka.
The Rambam (4:5) writes that one should light “with the sunset, neither later nor earlier,” implying that the mitzva should be performed as the sun dips below the horizon (see Arukh Ha-Shulchan 472:4, and Bi’ur Halakha s”v lo and s”v ve-lo). The Maharam Mi-Rotenburg likewise holds this position, and notes that by lighting the Chanuka candles at sunset, when there is still some daylight, one makes it clear that he lights for the sake of publicizing the miracle, and not because he needs the light.
Some Rishonim (Rashba 21b, Ran 9a), however, imply that one should light at the second shekia, or at the beginning of bein ha-shemashot (as defined by Rabbeinu Tam), which begins about one hour after the astronomical sunset.
Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafot, Menachot 20b s”v nifsal) and the Rosh (Shabbat 2:3) maintain that one should not light until sof ha-shekia, or tzet ha-kokhavim, which, according to Rabbenu Tam, occurs no earlier than 72 minutes after the astronomical sunset.
The Shulchan Arukh (672:1) rules that one should light at the “end of the sunset,” referring to Rabbenu Tam’s tzeit ha-kokhavim, which occurs no earlier than 72 minutes after sunset. The Vilna Gaon (Bi’ur Ha-Gra s.v. sof), by contrast, ruled that one should preferably light at the astronomical sunset (in accordance which his general view regarding the evening times, as presented above). The Mishna Berura (1) seems to concur. In his Bi’ur Halakha, he writes that one should preferably light at sunset before reciting the arvit service. This was, indeed, the practice of the students of the Vilna Gaon who moved to
Most communities do not follow the position of Rabbeinu Tam regarding the beginning and conclusion of Shabbat. With regard to Chanuka candles, many people follow the custom to light neirot Chanuka at tzeit ha-kokhavim, as defined by the Geonim (approx. 15-20 minutes after sunset in
One who lights before tzeit ha-kokhavim should recite the arvit prayer only after candle lighting. When should those who light at tzeit ha-kokhavim recite arvit?
On the one hand, we might require them to light immediately at tzet ha-kokhavim, without first reciting arvit, in order that they fulfill the mitzva at the proper time, and fulfill as well the precept of “zerizin makdimin la-mitzvot” (the zealous perform mitzvot as early as possible). Furthermore, as the Peri Megadim (672:1) notes, according to one reading of the Gemara the neirot Chanuka must be lit at the point of mi-shetishka ha-chama, and reciting arvit first might therefore jeopardize one’s proper fulfillment of the mitzva. On the other hand, the arvit service includes the shema recitation, which constitutes a Biblical commandment, whose performance generally takes precedence over mitzvot enacted by Chazal. In addition, a frequent mitzva generally takes precedence over an infrequent mitzva (“tadir ve-she’eino tadir- tadir kodem”).
The Magen Avraham (5) writes that one who has not yet recited arvit should first light the Chanuka candles, as he is unlikely to forget to pray due to lighting neirot Chanuka. R. Yaakov Reischer, however, in his Shevut Yaakov (2:40), disagrees. The Chayei Adam (124:20) similarly rules that one should first recite arvit, so long as he will not miss the proper time for lighting as a result. The Arukh Ha-shulchan (4) indeed records that it is customary to light Chanuka candles only after reciting arvit.
One who feels unsure as to how to practice may find comfort in the knowledge that he is in good company. R. Chaim Benveniste (1603-1673), in his Shiyurei Kenesset Ha-gedola, relates that during his childhood years he would light after praying arvit, in accordance with his father’s custom. At some point, however, he changed his custom and began lighting before arvit. Later, upon learning a passage in the Bach who insists that the majority of Acharonim advocate reciting arvit first, he returned to his original family custom to light after arvit.
We will soon discuss whether these times are at all relevant to those who light inside their house, or in a society in which people travel the streets even many hours after dark. First, let us address the question of whether one may, under extenuating circumstances, light Chanuka candles earlier than the prescribed time of mi-shetishka ha-chama.
The Rambam (4:5) writes that one should light “with the sunset, neither later nor earlier,” clearly disqualifying candle lighting before sundown. Similarly, the Behag, as cited by the Rashba and Ran (above), also implies that one should not light before sunset.
The Rashba (21b) and the Ran (9a), however, disagree. They comment that although the Gemara requires lighting “from sunset until there is no wayfarer in the street,” it is certainly acceptable to light earlier than sunset, just as one lights before sunset on Erev Shabbat.
Furthermore, the Orchot Chayim (cited in the Beit Yosef) cites the Mahari Abuhav as allowing “one who is busy” to light neirot Chanuka as early as pelag ha-mincha (1 1/4 halakhic hours before sundown), as long as he provides enough oil to sustain the flame until at least a half-hour after tzeit ha-kokhavim. The Mishna Berura (in accordance with the stricter opinion of the Terumat Ha-deshen) calculates pelag ha-mincha as occurring 1 1/4 hour before tzet ha-kokhavim (as opposed to before sundown).
The Shulchan Arukh codifies this ruling of the Orchot Chayim. While a minority of commentators rule that one who lights before sundown (on a weekday, as opposed to Erev Shabbat) should not recite the berakha (see Kaf Ha-Chayim 672:3), most poskim allow reciting the berakha in such a case (see, for example, Mishna Berura 3).
Later, we will address the question of whether it is preferable to light before the proper time, or appoint an agent to light on one’s behalf at the proper time.
The Duration and Latest Time for Hadlakat Neirot – in Talmudic Times
Recall that in explaining the berayta’s comment that the mitzva of ner Chanuka extends “from sunset until there is no wayfarer in the street,” the Talmud (Shabbat 21b) writes, “if one has not yet lit, he must light it; or, [it refers] to the statutory period [during which the candles must burn]…” The Rishonim take different approaches in interpreting this passage.
Tosafot (s.v. de-i), Rosh (2:3) and Rambam (4:5) understood that the Gemara offers two separate readings of the berayta.
The first reading interprets “its observance is from sunset until there is no wayfarer in the street” to mean that one may light until the point where there are no wayfarers in the street, but not afterwards. It also establishes that the candle must remain lit only until the streets are empty.
The second reading explains that theoretically, one may light the entire night, although the neirot must remain lit for the amount of time described by the Gemara, namely, approximately a half-hour.
Other Rishonim explain that the Gemara’s two answers are complementary, and not contradictory, and therefore one may light until there “are no wayfarers in the street,” but must ensure that the candle remains lit for the prescribed shiur.
Regarding lighting after the designated time, the Rambam (2:3), and the first opinion in Tosafot (cited above), rule that one may not light after this point. Others (see RI Porat cited by Tosafot) rule that since the Gemara does not explicitly rule in accordance with either of the two readings of the berayta, one may, mi-safek (out of doubt), light even after the prescribed time. Seemingly, according to this view, one would not recite a berakha upon this lighting. The Rashba (21b s.v. ve-ha), by contrast, rules that the Gemara never meant to exclude lighting after the proper time, as “any mitzva whose time is at night may be performed the entire night” (Megilla 20b); rather, one who lights later has not fulfilled the mitzva in its optimal form.
The Shulchan Arukh (672:2) rules:
“One who forgot, or intentionally did not light with the sunset, may light until there are no longer wayfarers in the street, meaning, approximately a half-hour, as during that time people still roam the streets, and the miracle can still be publicized… However, this is only the optimal performance (lekhatchila); but if this time passes and one has not lit, he may light the entire night…”
The Shulchan Arukh seems to follow the Rashba’s position, though he emphasizes that preferably the mitzva should be performed immediately at sunset. Interestingly, the Gra rules that one who lights after the point of “tikhleh regel min ha-shuk” should not recite a berakha. Common practice does not follow this ruling. (However, as we will soon see, there is some question whether one should recite a berakha if he lights late at night, when no one else is present.)
For how long must the neirot burn? The Gemara, as cited above, suggests in its second answer that the phrase “its observance is from sunset until there is no wayfarer in the street” teaches us the shiur, the required duration for which the candles must burn. The
The Rosh (Shabbat 2:7) asserts that since we follow the opinion that “hadlaka osa mitzva,” one must provide this quantity of oil before he lights. One who lights and only then adds this required amount of oil does not fulfill the obligation. The Shulchan Arukh (672:2) codifies this ruling of the Rosh.
In that same halakha, the Shulchan Arukh writes that after the lights have burned for the minimum required duration (a half-hour), one may then extinguish the flame, or make personal use the light (which is ordinarily prohibited). The Magen Avraham (4), however, cites the Maharshal and Bach as forbidding personal use of the light even after the minimum required period has elapsed.
Based on what we’ve seen thus far, it appears that one must – at least preferably – light at the beginning of the evening, and ensure that the neirot burn for at least a half-hour.
However, our discussion of this halakha must take into account the different social realities that existed in Talmudic times. The Gemara’s ruling is, presumably, based upon the reality of marketplaces in
The Duration and Latest Time for Hadlakat Neirot - Nowadays
After discussing the proper place to light neirot Chanuka, the Gemara (Shabbat 21b) concludes, “In times of danger one lights inside, and that is sufficient.”
It is quite clear from the Rishonim that the common practice in the Diaspora, especially in European countries, was to light indoors, due either to the risks entailed in public religious displays, or to poor weather conditions. A number of Rishonim (Tosafot, Rashba, Rosh, Ran and others) note that one who lights inside no longer directs the pirsumei nisa outward, to the street, but rather to the members of the household. Therefore, they write, the optimal times mentioned by the Gemara may no longer be relevant to their situation.
Accordingly, the Rema (672:2) writes that “in our days, when we light indoors, we no longer have to be concerned with lighting before the wayfarers leave the market.” However, he adds, “It is good to be careful regarding this even nowadays.” The Rashba (21b) similarly rules that even nowadays one should light as early as possible, in light of the principle of “zerizin makdimin la-mitzvot” - the zealous perform mitzvot at the earliest time possible.
This ruling gives rise to the question of whether one must ensure pirsumei nisa when lighting indoors. In this situation, must one actively fulfill pirsumei nisa by lighting in front of people? Does one fulfill the obligation if he lights later at night, when one’s family members are already sleeping?
Many Rishonim imply that one who lights indoors recites a berakha even if he lights late at night, anytime until morning (alot ha-shachar). The Maharshal (responsum 85), by contrast, writes that one may recite a berakha only until midnight, because after midnight there is no longer pirsumei nisa. The Hagahot Maimoniyot (4:2) cites the ruling of R. Yitzchak that one may light only so long as his family members are awake. Similarly, the Tur cites the Sefer Ha-Teruma’s comment that it is “proper” to light while one’s family members are still awake.
This question is debated by the Acharonim, as well. Some authorities write that if one lights after the time of tikhleh regel min ha-shek and there are no longer family members awake, he should light without a berakha (Magen Avraham, Mishna Berura 6, Arukh Ha-shulchan 7, and others). The Mishna Berura (6) advises that in this situation one should awaken his family members so that he can recite the berakha. The Magen Avraham (6) requires the presence of at least two other people (besides the person lighting), while the Arukh Ha-shulchan (7) writes that even the presence of one other person, even a child, warrants lighting with a berakha. Others adopt the position of the Maharshal and rule that after midnight one lights without a berakha. A number of other poskim (see Sha’ar Ha-Tziyun 17), however, including R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe 4 105:7), R.
One might question whether pirsumei nisa to non-Jews may also justify lighting with a blessing. In explaining the phrase, “until there is no wayfarer in the street” (see above), the Gemara identifies these “wayfarers” as “the Tarmodians.” Rashi explains that the Tarmodians were a group of people assigned the job of collecting firewood. They would stay in the market until all the merchants have returned home and lit fires, in order to sell firewood to those who needed. It is unclear whether we are concerned with publicizing the miracle to the non-Jewish Tarmodians, or to the Jews who would return to the market to purchase wood. The
R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe O.C. 4, 105:7) writes that publicizing the miracle to non-Jews does not fulfill pirsumei nisa. By contrast,
In many communities in
Similarly, one might ask whether today’s circumstances will affect the duration of time for which the candles must burn. In general, some Rishonim mention that it is meritorious to provide enough oil to sustain the flame until late at night. The Leket Yosher, for example, recounts that his teacher, the Terumat Ha-deshen, would instruct his students to light successively, rather than simultaneously, so that the miracle will be publicized throughout the night.
More specifically, some authorities suggest that if people roam the streets until late at night, the ner Chanuka must likewise burn until late. The Ritva (Shabbat 21b), for example, writes that the required duration may fluctuate depending upon where someone lives. Indeed, the Brisker Rav and R.
One Who Cannot Light at the Proper Time
It often happens during Chanuka that one finds himself unable to light the Chanuka candles at the proper time. For example, one may need to leave home before dark, planning to return only much later. Or, circumstances may demand lighting at an earlier hour, due to work-related responsibilities or family obligations, or simply in order to include the entire family in the fulfillment of the mitzva.
Theoretically, three options present themselves in this situation. One may light later at night, light before sundown, or assign a shaliach (agent), such as a spouse or other family member, to light on one’s behalf at the proper time.
The possibility of assigning a shaliach emerges from the Gemara (Shabbat 23a) which tells that R. Zeira would rely on his wife’s lighting at home when he would travel on Chanuka. One might question, though, why this mitzva, as opposed to other mitzvot, such as lulav, tefillin and tzitzit, may be fulfilled through an agent. Furthermore, as we will soon see, it is questionable whether R. Zeira’s situation is really one of shelichut at all.
The Ramban (Pesachim 7a), amidst his discussion of the various formulas of birkot ha-mitzva, suggests that when one performs a mitzva which can be performed le-khatechila through an agent, such as bi’ur chametz, berit mila and shechita, he recites the berakha of “al…” (e.g. “al ha-mila). However, over mitzvot which cannot be fulfilled through an agent, such as tefillin, tzizit and sitting in a sukka, one recites the berakha, “le-” (le-haniach tefillin, le-shev ba-sukka). He then proceeds to question why we recite “le-hadlik ner shel chanuka” over the kindling of Chanuka lights, despite the possibility of fulfilling the mitzva through an agent.
The Ramban offers two somewhat cryptic answers. First, he notes the complexity of ner Chanuka, as it entails both lighting and witnessing. (One who sees neirot Chanuka burning, under certain circumstances, recites the berakha of she-asa nissim.) While the element of lighting may be fulfilled through a shaliach, the other component of the mitzva, viewing the lights, must be fulfilled by the individual himself, and therefore the appropriate blessing is le-hadlik.
Secondly, the Ramban suggests that “the lighting is the mitzva - which achieves the mitzva…” In other words, one does not fulfill the mitzva through the act of lighting; rather, the mitzva is fulfilled as a result of the fact that the candles burn. Ostensibly, the Ramban is suggesting that unlike most other mitzvot, the focus of the neirot Chanuka obligation is not the act of lighting, but rather the result of having a ner Chanuka burning in one’s house. This raises the question of whether the mitzva is defined as a chovat ha-gavra (an individual mitzva) or a chovat bayit (a mitzva upon the home): see http://vbm-torah.org/archive/moadim69/07-69moed.htm.
In light of the Ramban’s comments, we might reevaluate the situation of assigning a shaliach to light Chanuka candles on one’s behalf. The agent’s lighting might not constitute classic shelichut, whereby one’s agent’s action is attributed to him. Rather, one perhaps fulfills the mitzva by the very fact that a candle is lit in his house, regardless of who lit it.
In any event, once we’ve established that one may assign somebody else to light on one’s behalf, the question arises as to whether it is preferable to light through an agent at the optimal time, or to light personally earlier or later.
1) Lighting with a shaliach versus lighting early:
In a case where one must choose between lighting before sundown and appointing a shaliach to light after sundown (and he will be unable to light personally even later at night), R. Shmuel Wosner (a contemporary Israeli posek) rules that one should preferably appoint an agent to light after sundown (Shevet Ha-levi 4:64). Lighting before shekia, he writes, while acceptable under extenuating circumstances, is still a questionable practice. Even if one is to return later at night, R. Wosner writes, it is preferable to light at that point than to rely upon those who permit lighting after pelag ha-mincha.
2) Lighting with a shaliach versus lighting late:
When one must choose between appointing a shaliach to light on time and lighting personally later at night, one faces the more complex question of whether the punctual fulfillment of the mitzva through a shaliach is preferable to personal fulfillment. Essentially, one must chose between the values of zerizin makdimin le-mitzvot – performing mitzvot as early as possible – and mitzva bo yoter mi-beshelucho – the preference of personal performance over assigning a shaliach. In addition, lighting immediately after shekia may be preferable not merely because of “zerizin makdimin,” but also because that is intrinsically the ideal time for performing the mitzva.
Some authorities, including R. Ovadya Yosef (Yechaveh Daat 3:51), R. Binyamin Zilber (Az Nidberu 3 30:3) and R. Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik (Uvdot Ve-hanhagot Le-beit Brisk), recommend appointing a shaliach, such as a friend, spouse or other family member, to light at the proper time. Others (Shevet Ha-levi 4:66), however, prefer that one light personally, even later in the evening.
Presumably, those who believe that one who lights after there is no longer any pirsumei nisa should not recite a berakha (see above) would prefer appointing a shaliach over lighting personally late at night.
There are, however, other factors worth considering. Is it, for example, preferable for one who must consistently work late to ALWAYS fulfill the mitzva through an agent, and NEVER fulfill the mitzva himself? Furthermore, at times, lighting through a shaliach, or not waiting for other family members to return home, may adversely affect shalom bayit (domestic harmony). The Gemara (Shabbat 23b) itself teaches that if one must choose between neir Chanuka and neir beito (the Shabbat lights), one should choose the neir beito in the interest of shalom bayit.
Is learning Torah a sufficient reason to delay lighting neirot Chanuka? The Maharshal (Teshuvot 85) writes that one should not eat or even learn before lighting neirot Chanuka (see below). On the other hand, R. Herschel Schachter (Mi-peninei Ha-Rav, p. 188) records that when the afternoon kollel was first established in
Nevertheless, it is customary in most yeshivot and kollelim in
Eating before Hadlakat Neirot
Finally, may one eat or drink before fulfilling the mitzva of hadlakat neirot?
The Maharshal, in his summary of the laws of Chanuka (Teshuvot Ha-Maharshal 85 – Kitzur Dinei Chanuka), writes that once the time for performing the mitzva arrives, one should refrain from eating and even Torah learning. Some (see Sha’ar Ha-tziyun 14) suggest that one should refrain from eating already a half-hour before the time for lighting.
The Acharonim (see R. Joseph Yospa Hahn, in his collection of laws and customs of the