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A Summary of Chanukah Laws


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Therefore, the OTHER opinion is that Chanuka candles go first and then havdala. Remember: Shabbat must be over – both with time and havdala words – before one may light Chanuka candles. And this procedure comes with the additional reminder not to use the Chanuka candles for havdala (or even to light the havdala candle from one of the Chanuka candle), since one may not benefit from the Chanuka lights, and the bracha in havdala is specifically upon using the light (hence the examining of fingernails, etc.). Chanuka candles first is the opinion of the Vilna Gaon and many others, and is Minhag Yerushalayim. (Remember that not everyone in Yerushalayim follows the practices known as Minhag Yerushalayim and some people elsewhere do.)

So which is it? This dispute is one of the few in halacha that is resolved: “Whichever opinion you follow, you have performed correctly”. Either procedure may be followed. Family and community custom should play a deciding role in this issue. Again, a Rav should be consulted, especially if one is considering a change of his/her practice.

Some add that those who light outdoors should follow the custom of lighting before havdala. Those who light indoors can take their pick. Remember: Shabbat is paramount. In case of doubt as to whether Shabbat is being encroached upon, one should NOT light Chanuka candles yet. It must be DEFINITELY after Shabbat before lighting. But one should not unnecessarily delay the fulfillment of the mitzva of Chanuka candles. A note for Rabeinu Tam people: Those who end Shabbat throughout the year 72 minutes after sunset and consider it to be the correct halachic time, must keep it on Motza’ei Shabbat Chanuka, even though it means losing “prime time” for Chanuka candles. Those who hold Rabeinu Tam as a CHUMRA (a strict measure, but consider the earlier time as halachic), may end Shabbat earlier on Motza’Sh Chanuka, in order to fulfill the mitzva of Chanuka candles at their better time.

In shul, by the way, it is the universal practice to light Chanuka candles before saying havdala, this to maximize Pirsumei Nisa in a situation where everyone present will be leaving for home shortly. At home, people will still be there for the Chanuka candles, so there is no need to light before havdala (according to those who follow the first opinion).

A nice touch!

Those who say havdala first can light the Shamash for the Chanuka candles with the havdala candle before extinguishing it, thus dovetailing the two mitzvot.Those who follow the second opinion can light the havdala candle from the Shamash (not one of the Chanuka candles), thereby dovetailing one mitzva into another.

On Motza’ei Shabbat, when we light after Stars-Out, it is sufficient for the candles to burn for half an hour. Still, it is preferable that they last longer. This has to do with the fact that in our time, people are out in the streets later than in times past and Pirsumei Nisa (publicizing the miracle) applies later than the original “half-hour after stars-out”.

More on timing…

If, because of one’s work or travel schedule, one has to choose between lighting early or late, or between lighting early or appointing someone to light for you at the proper time, or between lighting late and appointing someone to light for you at the proper time – one should consult a Rav for a p’sak based on how early and how late, and any other relevant factors.

Sometimes a less-than-perfect performance of a mitzva is a fine, acceptable “second best”. Sometimes, not. Lighting Chanuka candles early or late is a poor second, at best (except when Shabbat insists on early or late, depending upon which end of Shabbat is at issue). Lighting early lacks an element of Pirsumei Nisa at the time of lighting – which is when the mitzva is performed – because a candle flame is not eye-catching during full daylight. Lighting late is not so good because of the time-period for Pirsumei Nisa from the days of the Gemara remains the optimum time (and some say the ONLY time) for the fulfillment of the mitzva. Although we follow other opinions, and basically allow lighting any time of the night, it is far less than ideal to light late. A “good” excuse makes it okay, but not great.

One should consult a Rav especially for recurring situations, such as coming home late from work or school, and the like. Remember that having someone light for you is a valid alternative to your lighting for yourself, and sometimes it is even the preferred alternative. Ask your Rav.

Other matters…

Many shuls sing L’CHA DODI to the tune of MA’OZ TZUR on Leil Shabbat Chanuka. And, of course, at the table, there are many Chanuka songs to add to your usual Friday night repertoire of Z’mirot and songs. Remember, although Chanuka does not require a SEUDAT MITZVA, any meal (especially, but not only, on Shabbat) with songs, stories, and relevant Divrei Torah becomes a special Chanuka Seuda.

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The following general overview of Chanukah laws – Chag Sameach!

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