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The Proper Time To Light Chanukah Candles

11/28/2013 04:33:40 PM


One of the more confusing areas of hilchos Chanukah is the question of exactly  when should candles be lit. On face value the question is somewhat straightforward. After all the Gemara informs us that the proper time for lighting is from shekia (sundown) 'ad shetichle regel min hashuk' until people stop coming back from the marketplace. While there is a debate what is meant by the word shekia- sundown, most Rishonim interpret this statement to mean that candles should be lit starting from the end of sundown i.e tzeis hakochavim (from when the stars emerge). According to the shulchan aruch (672:1) one is allowed to light candles for roughly a half an hour after tzeis, and after that it is tough luck, known in halachik parlance as 'you snooze you lose'. The reason for this stringency is that the purpose of lighting is to publicize the miracle and after this period of time demarcated in the gemara there are no longer people on the street who will see and be inspired by the neiros. 

That being said, Tosfos and other Rishonim say that nowadays the real pirsumei nissa takes place for the members of the house and therefore we are not as strict anymore to make sure that we light at precisely when the stars come out. After all, if the purpose is for the people in the home then one in theory should light at a time that maximizes when the greatest number of people will be in the house and that in fact is usually later than tzeis. With that said, the Ramo felt that we should still be stringent to light at the time which the gemara proscribed, namely at tzeis hakochavim - when the stars come out (which this week is roughly at 5:00). 

This position- namely that we should light at the right zman but one can really light at anytime- causes a certain amount of confusion. For instance, what does a family do if the husband or wife will be coming home well past the proper zman? What does a yeshiva student or college student do who has class until 6:30/7:00 P.M?

While there is not enough room in this e-mail to cover every circumstance. Let me just mention two relevant cases. 

The mishna berurah said that one should ideally light nowadays when people are gathered in the house. That being said because the real zman is at tzeis one is not allowed to eat or do work until he/she has lit candles. The mishna berurah (672:10) felt that even if the person has started eating already they should stop until they light because the real time for lighting begins when the stars emerge. 

Another relevant case deals with a circumstance in which people are guests in someone else's home for dinner and then will be returning back to their home to sleep. The Mishna Berurah (677:12) seems to say that one should either light or join in the lighting (by contributing a small sum financially to the host) at his hosts home so that he can light at the appropriate time. That being said, because lighting of the candles is an obligation defined by 'ner ish u'beiso' namely that it revolves around the home and also nowadays there is no exact time to light, he should also make sure that at some point candles are lit at home as well. 

These are just two of the many questions that come up in regards to this issue. If at any point one has a question about this, or any other halachik point please do not hesitate to ask. 

Chag sameach to all. 

Rabbi Blass

Thu, May 30 2024 22 Iyyar 5784