Question: I am contemplating traveling to Israel. My flight will take place during Chanukah, which means that I may miss one night’s candle lighting. What are my options?
Answer: First, be assured that according to halacha you are allowed to fly during Chanukah. Second, as we shall show, if you miss lighting Chanukah candles on one of the nights, you may still light on the subsequent nights.
The Gemara (Shabbos, “Bameh Madlikin,” 21b) establishes the timeframe for lighting Chanukah candles. According to a baraisa, “Mitzvatah mi’shetishka hachama ad she’tichleh regel min hashuk – Its observance is from the time the sun sets (shekiah) until pedestrian traffic in the marketplace [e.g. the streets] has ceased.”
The Gemara asks: Does that mean that one is required to relight the candles if they became extinguished within that period of time? No, the Gemara says. The baraisa means that if it is night and one has not yet lit the candles, one can still do so until pedestrian traffic ceases; alternatively, the baraisa means to inform us that we need to prepare enough oil so that the menorah burns for this length of time of shekiah until pedestrian traffic ceases.
When does “pedestrian traffic in the marketplace” cease? Rabba b. Bar Hanna said in the name of R. Yochanan, “[When] the people from Tadmor (also called Palmyreans) have departed.” Rashi explains that Palmyreans were merchants who sold kindling branches to passersby; they were known to linger until the people had bought the lighting materials they needed.
Tosafot (sv “De’i la adlik madlik”) quote the R”I Porat (Rabbi Joseph Ben Moses of Troyes, known as Rabbi Joseph Porat, 12th century) who says that one must be careful to light Chanukah candles as soon as possible – i.e., at sunset – and not tarry more than necessary. But in the event that he did delay, perhaps due to circumstances beyond his control, he should still light out of doubt (safek). The R”I then adds that the time limit of “until pedestrian traffic in the marketplace has ceased” does not affect us anymore since we light indoors for the members of the household nowadays.
The Rambam (Hilchot Chanukah 4:5) defines the time “from sunset until pedestrian traffic in the marketplace has ceased” as “a half-hour or more.” Thereafter one should not light Chanukah candles.
The Mordechai (Shabbos ibid.) states, quoting his teacher Rav Meir, the Maharam of Rothenburg, that if someone misses one night he should not light on subsequent nights. He arrives at this conclusion based on the Gemara which states that the observance of lighting Chanukah candles is tied to a specific time frame. We will soon see that the ruling cited by the Mordechai is attributed to the Rambam as well.
The Tur (Orach Chayim 672, Hilchot Chanukah) takes issue with the Rambam, but the text he appears to be quoting is not the Rambam’s text we have today. Although our text of the Rambam does not say so explicitly, it seems that most would agree that the Rambam does in fact maintain that if one misses lighting one night, one should not light on subsequent nights.
The Tur cites the Tosafot quoted above as a basis for his own ruling that one should not light Chanukah candles on subsequent nights after missing lighting one night. But his proof is not clear cut since Tosafot do not specifically discuss the nights following a night on which one doesn’t light. The wording of Tosafot, however, must have led him to think that Tosafot hold this view.
In his commentary on the Tur (ad loc.) the Beit Yosef discusses numerous halachic sources, as well as the aforementioned Mordechai, supporting the opinion that if a person missed lighting one night, he should not light Chanukah candles on subsequent nights. He also cites a Teshuvah Ashkenazit according to which the ruling of Rav Meir of Rothenburg, as quoted by the Mordechai, can be understood to mean that if a person is late in lighting candles on one night, he has lost the opportunity of observing the mitzvah in the best possible manner on that particular night only. But as far as the other nights are concerned, he should proceed with lighting, for the miracle occurred on every one of the days of Chanukah.