Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Laws of Hanukkah
To dedicate this lesson

Chanukah Candles and Domestic Peace

In the past, people gathered at home just before nightfall. At sunset, then, the streets were full of people returning home. The sages therefore ruled that the time for lighting Chanukah candles is "from sundown until the marketplace has emptied out."


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Our sages have ruled that the Chanukah candles must be lit at that hour which allows for maximum publicity of the Chanukah miracle. In the past, there were no street lamps and people would begin gathering in their homes just before nightfall. At sunset, then, the streets were full of people returning home. Therefore, the sages ruled that the time for lighting Chanukah candles is "from sundown until the marketplace has emptied out" (Shabbat 21b).
Even though today we have electric lighting and most people return home hours after darkness, the best time for lighting Chanukah candles is still the time chosen by the sages.

Lighting Late
Is it permissible, when necessary, to light the candles later than this time? If it is difficult for a person to return home at nightfall (e.g., where one must work until seven o'clock), he may light candles and recite the accompanying blessings when he gets home from work. It is true that according to the Rambam the time for lighting Chanukah candles is specifically during the half hour after sunset. However, according to most opinions, when the sages said that candles must be lit after sundown, they meant ideally, but it is possible to light candles after this time as well if necessary.
Furthermore, even those authorities who hold that in the past the candles had to be lit precisely during the half hour after nightfall explain that this was because everybody returned home from work at that time and lit Chanukah candles in the entrances of their homes. In those days the miracle could only be publicized at that hour. However, since the period of the Rishonim (early Torah authorities, tenth-fifteenth centuries, C.E.) when danger caused many to begin lighting candles inside their homes, the real publicizing of the miracle takes place in the presence of the family members, and it no longer matters if one lights at nightfall or later.
In addition, in recent generations people have begun to return home from work later, and as a result we find people walking around outside for a few hours after nightfall. Therefore, even if a person lights Chanukah candles at seven o'clock, passerbys will be able to see. As a result, when necessary, it is possible to light Chanukah candles later than the time originally laid down by the sages.

However, great effort should be made not to delay the lighting of Chanukah candles beyond nine o'clock, for very few people return home from work after this time. One who lights candles late must be careful not to eat a meal (achilat keva) until lighting the candles.

A Delayed Spouse
In many families the question arises, what should be done when one of the spouses cannot return home from work at nightfall? Should the other spouse light candles at nightfall (about 5:00 p.m.) or wait for his or her partner to return?
According to the letter of the law, the spouse at home should light candles at nightfall and discharge his or her partner of this obligation. However, in practice, it is usually best to wait for the tardy spouse to return. In general, any one of the following three reasons justifies postponing candle lighting until the spouse has returned:
1. Where the absent spouse will be unable to hear the candle lighting blessings in a synagogue or elsewhere it is best to wait for him or her to return home. According to the Rambam and Rashi, when lighting candles at home one discharges all family members, even those not present, of their obligation to light candles, but one who does not hear the "She-Asah Nisim" blessing has not fulfilled his or her obligation to thank God for His miracles. Therefore, if the tardy spouse will not be able to hear the candle lighting blessings at all, it is best to wait for him or her.
2. If a tardy spouse is liable to be offended or hurt if the candles are lit without him, it is best to wait. Maintaining domestic tranquility is more important than lighting Chanukah candles at the choicest time.
3. Where there is reason to believe that if the spouse at home does not wait for his or her partner, the absent partner's attachment to the commandments will be weakened, it is best to wait. This consideration exists when a partner returns home late daily, for if he or she misses the candle lighting every day or almost every day, his or her connection to this religious obligation is liable to be weakened.
In sum, then, only where the tardy partner can hear the candle lighting blessings elsewhere, and his or her absence is a one time occurrence, is it preferable for the spouse at home to light candles at the choicest hour, nightfall.
Under other circumstances, though, it is best to wait for the partner to return. At any rate, when waiting for the partner, the candle lighting should not be put off until later than 9:00 p.m., and family members must refrain from eating a meal ("achilat keva") from half an hour before nightfall until after the Chanukah candles have been lit.

According to Ashkenazi custom, the spouse at home may light candles at nightfall and intend not to discharge the absent partner of his or her obligation, so that upon returning the partner can light the candles and recite the blessings on is or her own. However, it is not necessary to do this, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with waiting for the partner to return (for one or more of the reasons mentioned above).

Tardy Children
Should the lighting be delayed for tardy children? The Sephardi custom is that one family member lights for all of the others. Therefore, for one of the three reasons mentioned above, it is necessary to wait for any family member above bar- or bat-mitzvah age who is unable to reach home at nightfall. According to the Ashkenazi custom, though, the candles should be lit at nightfall, and when the tardy son or daughter arrives, he or she lights the candles and recites the blessings on his or her own.

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