Question: Does one fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles with an electric menorah? Can one recite the blessings before lighting it?
Answer: We assume you’re referring to a situation where lighting a traditional menorah is impossible for some reason. The Talmud (Shabbos 21) states: “R. Zeira said in the name of R. Mattena – others say R. Zeira said it in the name of Rav – ‘The wicks and oils that our sages said cannot be used for Shabbos may not be used for Chanukah.’”
But this ruling is disputed, and the Rambam later writes, “All oils and wicks are fit for use as Chanukah lights even if the oil is not drawn up by the wick and even if the flame does not burn well on it” (Hilchot Chanukah 4:6). The Mechaber (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 673:1) rules similarly.
The Rema, in his glosses, states, based on the Gemara, that “olive oil is the preferred means of performing the mitzvah.” If olive oil is not available, “the mitzvah should be performed with oil that burns pure and clean.” He adds, “It is our custom in these lands [of Europe] to light with wax candles because the flame produced is clear, like olive oil.”
Ateret Zekenim (Orach Chayim 673, margins) quotes the Maharal, who writes that we should perform the mitzvah with oil since the miracle of Chanukah involved oil.
The Maharal regarded the flame of a candle as a torch, not a “light.” A light is centered on a wick, drawing its sustenance through it. A torch, in contrast, spreads over a surface and quickly consumes all the fuel beneath it. The wick of a candle, therefore, should be considered a torch. It consumes the fuel around the wick; it does not draw the fuel through it.
We do, however, use wax candles for Chanukah in accordance with the Rema’s ruling. Can we also use electric lights, though?
Rabbi Chayyim Ozer Grodzinski (Achiezer, Orach Chayim 6) equates electricity with a flame. He permits using electric lights for Shabbos candles and reciting a berachah beforehand. He writes, though: “But regarding Chanukah, the mitzvah is best fulfilled with olive oil.”
Rabbi Grodzinski, it seems, would allow one to use electric lights to fulfill the mitzvah of nerot Chanukah. Based on his discussion, though, it would appear that one should do so with a blessing.
Rabbi Meir Blumenfeld of Newark, New Jersey, writes (Perach Shoshana 54) that while a person should generally not use electric lights to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos or Chanukah candles, he may do so if he has no choice, such as in a hospital where lighting candles is prohibited. He should not, however, say a blessing.
(To be continued)