Rabbi Meir Blumenfeld of Newark, NJ, rules (Perach Shoshana, Responsa 54) that while he would not generally allow using electricity to fulfill the mitzvot of lighting Shabbat and Chanukah candles, we may be lenient where open flames are prohibited, such as in a hospital. No blessings, however, should be recited.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (in Yechaveh Da’at 38)) also discusses this matter at length and opts to invalidate electric lights for the purpose of lighting menorah; he emphasizes that Chanukah lights must possess both oil and wicks. He does, however, note one authority, Rabbi Mordechai Fogelman (Beit Mordechai 40), who would permit someone who passes near a synagogue displaying an electric menorah on its roof to recite the blessing of “she’asah nissim” (but not “lehadlik ner,” since he has not kindled any light) – provided the menorah is located less than 20 amot above the ground and he does not also light at home. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef disagrees and does not allow reciting “she’asah nissim” in such a case, commenting that doing so would be constitute a berachah levatalah (uttering G-d’s Name in vain).
In his summation, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef states that a person does not fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles with an electric menorah, but agrees that if someone has no other menorah he should light it without a blessing. If he comes upon a kosher menorah later on, he should kindle it and recite the blessings.
In answer to your original question, we see from the various opinions that if one has no other choice, an electric menorah may be lit but the usual blessings should not be recited. It should be noted that the blessings do not constitute the mitzvah; in other words, not reciting them does not detract from one’s fulfillment of the mitzvah (as the Gemara teaches us – see Berachot 15a and Rashi ad loc. s.v. “lo yitrom” and “beracha deRabbanan he”).
I think your own solution is ingenious. You should use the battery-powered light bulbs you showed me. Where no other possibility exists, such as on an aircraft, by all means use them to publicize the great miracle of Chanukah. Hopefully, through such actions, the miracle of our redemption will arrive that much sooner.
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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