Expanded Daily Vort, Edition #8 For Week Of December 2nd – Halacha’s of Chanukah, Part 1
Below Are Some Halacha’s Of Chanukah, They Are For Learning Purposes Only, If You Have A Halachic Question, Please Don’t Answer It With The Below Halacha’s But Rather Ask Your Rav, Thank You.
Some Include The Source, Look In The Footnotes
One may not fast during Chanukah. It is, however, permitted to fast and deliver eulogies on the day before and the day after [Chanukah].
Work (“melacha”) is permitted on Chanukah (1). Women, however, follow the custom of refraining from work during the time the Chanukah candles are burning at home (2). [They should continue this custom] without any leniency (3).
(The reason why women must observe greater stringency [than men] is that the [Greek's] decrees were harsher for the women. They had decreed that any Jewish virgin who is getting married, must first have relations with the Greek governor. Furthermore, a miracle [during that period] was brought about through a woman (4). [Yehudis,] the daughter of Yochanan, the High Priest, was very beautiful. The enemy ruler proposed that she cohabit with him. She told him that she would accede to his wish. [When she came to him] she fed him dishes of cheese so that he would become very thirsty, and would desire to drink much wine; [she hoped that he would] become intoxicated, and sleep soundly. Her plan worked, and [while he was asleep], she cut off his head and brought it to Jerusalem. When the leader of the Greek army saw that their ruler had been slain, [he and his army] fled. To commemorate this miracle, there are some who follow the custom of eating dairy dishes on Chanukah.)
(1) That is, activities which are prohibited on Shabbos and Yom Tov, are permitted on Chanukah.
(2) The custom is to refrain from work only for the minimum amount of time that the candles must burn, which is approximately 30 minutes. As we shall see, once this minimum time has passed, one may put out the candles or use them for one’s own benefit (Mishna Berura 670:4).
(3) In certain communities, even the men refrain from work while the candles are burning (Ibid. 670:3).
(4) See Aruch Hashulchan 270:8, who states that the incident involving Yehudis did not occur precisely at the time of the miracle of Chanukah.
All oils may be used for the Chanukah lights (1). Nevertheless, the most desirable way of performing the mitzvah (“mitzvah min ha’muvchar”) is to use olive oil, similar to the miracle [of Chanukah] in the Beis Hamikdash (Temple), which occurred through olive oil.
If olive oil is not easily available, a person should choose another oil whose light is pure and clean. Alternatively, he should use beeswax candles, which also produce a pure light.
Two wicks should not be wound together, because this would resemble a torch. Instead, a single candle should be used. One should not use beeswax from temples of idol worship, because this is considered to be repulsive (“Ma’us”).
Similarly, the wicks used for the Chanukah candles may be made from any substance. The most desirable way of performing the mitzvah (“mitzvah min ha’muvchar”), however, is to use cotton. There is no need to use new wicks each night. One may rekindle those used previously until they are burned up.
(1) There are certain inferior oils and wicks that one is not permitted to use for Shabbos candles, because they do not light well. Since the primary purpose of Shabbos candles is for illumination, the Sages feared that one may inadvertently tilt or attempt to fix the flame on Shabbos, in order to improve the light, an act which is prohibited. The Sages did not have the same concerns regarding Chanukah lights, because one is forbidden to use the Chanukah lights for personal use, and therefore, one would not be tempted to fix the Chanukah flames on Shabbos. Another reason that one is permitted to use inferior oils or wicks for the Chanukah lights, is that, as we shall see, once one has lit the Chanukah flames, one has fulfilled the mitzvah, and even if they become extinguished immediately after the lighting, one is not required to rekindle the flame (Of course, one should do one’s best to use good quality oil and wicks).
Once a person has used an earthenware lamp on one night, it [deteriorates and begins to look] old, and therefore may not be used again, because it is disgusting (“ma’us”). For this reason, it is proper to have an attractive metal menorah. One who can afford to do so, should use a silver menorah to fulfill the mitzvah in a beautiful manner (“hidur mitzvah”).It is universally accepted (“minhag pashut”) in these regions (1) [to light the Chanukah candles] according to the custom of [those who the Talmud refers to as] “mehadrin min hamehadrin” (2); that is, each person in the household lights (on his own menorah) one candle on the first night, two on the second, adding one daily, until the eighth night when he will light eight.
Care must be taken that each person place his candles in a separate place, so that it will be obvious how many candles each person lit. Furthermore, the candles should not be lit in a place where candles are placed throughout the year, so that it will be obvious they are being lit for the sake of Chanukah.
(1) The area around Hungary in the late 19th century.
(2) The word “mehadrin” comes from the word “hidur” which means “beauty,” and refers to those who make their mitzvos beautiful (See Rambam, Laws of Chanukah 4:1: “Mehader es ha’mitzvos”). We are encouraged to purchase beautiful mitzvah objects, such as a beautiful lulav, a beautiful shofar and beautiful tzitziz, based on the verse in Exodus 15:2: “This is my G-d, and I will make Him beautiful.”
Regarding Chanukah, the Talmud states that there are three levels of fulfilling the mitzvah of lighting candles:
a) One can fulfill the mitzvah by lighting one candle per household per night.
b) Those who are “mehadrin” have each member of the family light one candle on each night of Chanukah.
c) Those who are “mehadrin” beyond mere “mehadrin” (“mehadrin min hamehadrin”) light one candle on the first night, and add one extra candle on each subsequent night, ending with eight candles on the final night. The custom of the Ashkenazim is for each member of the family to light his own menorah, whereas the Sefardim light one menorah per household.
It is a mitzvah to light the Chanukah candles [outside] in an entrance that opens to the street (“reshus ha’rabim”) in order to publicize the miracle. This was the practice in the era of the Mishnah and the Gemara (1). At present, when we live among the Gentiles, one should light the candles inside one’s home (2). If one has a window that overlooks the street, one should light them there. If not, one should light them in the doorway [inside the home]. It is a mitzvah to place the candles within a handbreadth (“tefach”) (3) of the entrance on the left side, so that the mezuzah will be on the right, and Chanukah candles on the left, and thus, one will be surrounded by mitzvos. Preferably, one should place [the menorah] in the doorway itself (that is, in line with the two door posts, but towards the left (4).
(1) It is still the custom in Israel today to light the Chanukah candles outside in a glass box, next to the entrance that opens to street.
(2) Many say that the custom to light inside developed as a result of the cold, snowy and windy weather that often occurs during Chanukah time in Europe and North America. Also, at certain points throughout Jewish History, it was dangerous to light outside due to anti-semitism, and some authorities mention that theft was a problem at times.
(3) Opinions among the authorities as to the exact length of a ‘tefach’ (‘handbreadth’) range between 8 and 10cm ( 3 to 4 inches).
(4) See Mishna Berura 671:36.
It is a mitzvah to place the Chanukah candles between three and ten handbreadths (“tefachim”(1)) above the ground (2). Should one place them above ten handbreadths (or below three), one has still fulfilled one’s obligation. Nevertheless, if a person places them more than twenty “amos” (“cubits”) above the ground (3), he does not fulfill his obligation, because something placed higher than twenty cubits is not in the normal range of vision, [and thus, will not be noticed] (4).
When a person lives on the second story of a building, he may place [the Chanukah lights] in a window even though it is more than ten handbreadths high (that is, above the apartment floor). If, however, the window is more than twenty cubits above street level, it will not be noticed by the passersby in the public thoroughfare. In that case, it is preferable to light them next to a doorway [within the home].
(1) Opinions among the authorities as to the exact length of a ‘tefach’ (‘handbreadth’) range between 8 and 10cm ( 3 to 4 inches).
(2) Anything placed below three handbreadths is considered as if it were on the ground, and it is thus not obvious that the owner placed it there intentionally. The reason that it should be placed below ten handbreadths is that lights used for illumination are usually placed above that height, and therefore it will be obvious that the menorah has been lit for the mitzvah of Chanukah (See Mishna Berura 671:27)
(3) Opinions among the authorities as to the exact length of an “Amah” (“cubit”) range between 48 and 60cm (20 to 24 inches).
(4) And hence, the candles would not serve to publicize the miracle, which is the main purpose of the mitzvah.
The Chanukah candles should be in a single row of equal height; one should not be lower or higher than another. There should be a space between the candles (1) so that the flame of one does not approach the other thereby giving the appearance of a torch (“medurah”) (2). When using beeswax candles, they should also be separated so that they will not cause each other to heat up, melt, and thus become ruined.
[The following rules apply] should one fill a dish with oil and place wicks around it: If one covers the wicks with a [perforated] cover (that is, a cover which has a separate hole for each wick), each wick is considered to be a single candle (3). If one does not place a [perforated] cover over them, [the wicks in the bowl] are not even considered to be a single light (4), because they resemble a torch. A lamp that has two or more openings should not be used by two people, even on the first night, because it is not obvious how many candles [each person] is lighting (5).
(1) The space should be at least the width of a thumb. Opinions as to the exact width range from 2.24 cm (.885 inches) to 2.48cm (.98 inches).
(2) A “medurah” consists of two or more combined flames, and is invalid for the mitzvah of Chanukah.
(3) Although they are drawing from the same fuel source, since the wicks appear separate, they are considered separate candles in terms of the mitzvah of Chanukah. This is true only when the cover was in place before the wicks were lit, however, if they were lit first and then covered, they must be extinguished, covered and then relit (Mishna Berura 671:13).
(4) That is, one cannot fulfill one’s obligation with it even on the first night, when only one candle is lit.
(5) This is true when there is only room for two lights on the menorah. However, since our menorahs have room for eight lights, it can be used simultaneously by two people, each lighting at opposite ends (Ibid. 671:12).
The time to kindle [the Chanukah lights] is immediately after the appearance of three stars and not later (1). It is forbidden to engage in any activity, even Torah study, before kindling them (that is, once the time for lighting has arrived). If, however, one has not recited the evening service [before the appearance of three stars], one should pray first and then light them (2).
Before kindling the lights, one should gather all the members of one’s family so that they become aware of the kindling (“pirsumei milsah”). Enough oil should be placed [in the menorah] so that the lights will burn for at least half an hour (3).
After the fact, if one did not light immediately (at the correct time), one may light with a blessing [throughout the entire night (4)] as long as the members of one’s household are awake. If, however, the members of one’s household have already gone to sleep, there is no opportunity to “publicize the miracle” (“pirsumei nisah”). Therefore, one should light without reciting a blessing (5).
A person who will not have the opportunity to kindle [the Chanukah lights] at night, may do so beforehand, kindling them any time after “plag haminchoh”, that is, an hour and fifteen minutes before the appearance of the stars. (This time period is measured according to the concept of “sho’os zemanios” (“seasonal hours”), which are calculated according to the length of daylight (6) (see Chapter 69, Law 2). During Chanukah, when the days are short, if the daylight lasts ten sixty-minute hours on the clock, “plag haminchoh” begins an hour and two-and-a-half minutes before the appearance of the stars).
[When kindling the Chanukah lights before nightfall,] one must be careful to place enough oil [in the menorah] for them to burn until a half hour after the appearance of the stars. If they [are not fit to] burn that long, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah (7).
(1) The Talmud states that the mitzvah is to light “with sunset” and there is a dispute among the “rishonim” (early authorities) as to what precisely this means. Some say it means the beginning of sunset (that is, when the sun firsts disappears under the horizon), while others say that it means the end of sunset, that is, the appearance of three stars (See Mishna Berura 671:1).
(2) The more frequently occurring mitzvah (“todir”) usually comes first. Furthermore, we recite the “Shema,” which is a Torah obligation, during Maariv (evening service), whereas lighting the Chanukah candles is rabbinic in origin. Those who usually pray Maariv after the appearance of three stars, should preferably light the Chanukah candles before Maariv (that is, before the appearance of the stars) (Ibid.)
(3) Those who light at the beginning of sunset (see note (1)), should be careful to have enough oil to burn for at least half an hour after the appearance of three stars.
(4) Lighting after daybreak is not a fulfillment of the mitzvah.
(5) Although it is preferable to have two or three family members awake during the time of lighting, if one adult male or female, or even a child with some understanding, is awake, one may light with a blessing. The blessing is recited only when the mitzvah is being performed in the way it was intended by the Sages. Since the entire purpose of the mitzvah to light Chanukah candles is to publicize the miracle that occurred, if one is not lighting outside or at a window where the public can see it, or inside the house at a time when the household members will see it, then one is not fulfilling the mitzvah completely in the way it was intended, and therefore one should not recite the blessing over the mitzvah.
(6) The length of each “seasonal hour” is calculated by totaling the number of minutes from dawn (“alos ha’shachar”) until the appearance of 3 stars (“tzeis ha’kochavim”), and then dividing it by twelve (some say from sunrise to sunset).
(7) In that case, one must light again without a blessing.
This is our custom regarding the order of lighting the candles. On the first night, one should light the candle on the far right. On the second night, one should add another candle to the left [of the previous night's candle]. Similarly, each night, one should add a candle on the left side. [Each night,] one should begin by lighting the candle one has added, and then continue lighting towards the right.
On the first night, before kindling [the menorah], one should recite three blessings:
a) “L’hadlik [ner (shel Chanukah),]” (“[He gave us the mitzvah] to light the Chanukah candles”).
b) “She’osoh nissim la’avoseinu…” (“He performed miracles for our forefathers”).
c) “Shehecheyonu.” On the subsequent nights, one does not recite “Shehecheyonu.”
After reciting the blessings, one should light the first candle. Then, one should recite the passage “Haneiros hallolu” while one is lighting the other candles (1).
The following rules pertain to] an “onen” (one who has lost close relative who has not yet been buried, see Chapter 196). If there is another person present, the other person should kindle the Chanukah lights with the blessings, and [the "onen"] should respond “Amen.” If there is no one else present, he should kindle the Chanukah lights himself without reciting the blessings.
(1) In his Piskei Siddur, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi mentions that the custom is to recite this passage after kindling all the lights. The Mishnah Berurah 676:8 cites both opinions.
(2) From the statements of the Mishnah Berurah 675:14, it appears that, at the outset, a convert should say “she’osoh nissim la’avoseinu.”
We follow the principle that it is the act of kindling that fulfills the mitzvah (“Hadlakah oseh mitzvah”) (1). Therefore, at the time [the Chanukah candles] are being kindled, they must be in their correct location (2) and contain sufficient oil [to burn for the requisite time]. In contrast, if the candles were lit below three handbreadths (“tefachim” (3)) from the ground or twenty cubits (“amos” (4)) above the ground, and then moved to their correct location while they were burning, they are not valid (“pesulim”).
Similarly, if, at the time of kindling there was not enough oil [in the menorah to burn] for the required time, it does not help (“lo mehane”) to add more after [they are lit]. Based on the same principle, if one positioned the Chanukah lights in a windy place, where it is likely that they will be extinguished, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah and is required to light again. One should not, however, recite a blessing when lighting the second time.
Conversely, if one put the candles in their correct place (that is, where they are not likely to be extinguished by the wind), and unexpectedly they were extinguished, one is considered to have fulfilled the mitzvah (5). Nevertheless, it is customary that one light them again.
It is customary not to light one Chanukah candle with another, but rather to use the “shamash” (6) or another ordinary candle.
(1) As opposed to those in the Talmud who rule that it is the act of placing the already lit menorah in its correct location that fulfills the mitzvah (“hanacha oseh mitzvah”).
(2) For example, next to a window overlooking the street.
(3) Opinions among the authorities as to the exact length of a ‘tefach’ (‘handbreadth’) range between 8 and 10cm ( 3 to 4 inches).
(4) Opinions among the authorities as to the exact length of an “Amah” (“cubit”) range between 48 and 60cm (20 to 24 inches).
(5) In other words, if one lit them according to all the halachic criteria, and they were extinguished before the requisite half hour, one is not obligated to relight them (although the custom is to do so). There are authorities who rule that even when the menorah was lit in the correct location, it should not be moved even to another valid location until after the candles had burned at least a half hour. Others are more stringent, maintaining that the menorah should not be moved at all while it is burning (See Mishna Berura 675:6 and Sha’ar Hatziyun 672:12).
(6) People generally set aside an extra candle called the “shamash” with which to light the other candles.
Have A Great Shabbos, Next Week We Will Publish More Halacha’s (Part 2)..
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