Question: My husband and I are Ashkenazi, yet my children go to school with Sefardim. My son came home and said that only my husband is to light the Chanukah candles. In my parent’s home, we all lit our own candles on Chanukah to celebrate the great miracle that saved our people for all future generations. Who is correct?
Answer: I will give you the proverbial answer: They are right and you are right. It is a matter of minhag. The rebbi or morah in your child’s school is probably unaware that your family is Ashkenazi and therefore did not tell your son that his minhag is different.
The Gemara in Perek Ba’meh Madlikin (Shabbos 21b) states: The mitzvah of Chanukah is ner ish u’beito (lit. one candle for each man and his household), meaning that the requirement is for only one person to kindle a single candle each night. Those who are scrupulous in beautifying (the mitzvah) have each member of the household light their own candle. Those who are even more scrupulous in beautifying (the mitzvah), according to Beit Shammai, light eight candles on the first night and thenceforth reduce that number by one each day. However, according to Beit Hillel, the first day (night) they light one candle and increase by one each day.
The Gemara cites two Amoraim, R. Yosi b. Avin and R. Yosi b. Z’vida, who each give a reason for the practice of Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. One states that Beit Shammai light in a decreasing order according to the number of future days remaining and Beit Hillel light in an increasing order according to the passing days (Rashi s.v. yamim ha’yotzin explains that we include that day and the day[s] that have already passed).
The other states that Beit Shammai light in a decreasing order corresponding to the decreasing number of sacrifices of the festival (Rashi s.v. parei hachag explains that this refers to sacrifices of the festival of Sukkot) and Beit Hillel follow the rule ma’alin ba’kodesh ve’ein moridin – while we increase in sanctity, we do not diminish. Either way, the halacha follows Beit Hillel, as we see further.
Rambam (Hilchot Chanukah 4:1-2), based on the Gemara, rules that each night every member of the household lights a candle[s] corresponding to the proper number of that night even if they are numerous. And he adds, “This is the custom in all our cities in Sefarad.”
Tosafot (Shabbos 21b, s.v. ve’hamehadrin min ha’mehadrin) cite R’I (Rabbeinu Yitzchak of Dampier), who explains that the dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel only relates to ner ish u’beito, the solitary person who lights, because if each household member lights it will not be clear that the proper number of candles are being lit. Rather, people will assume that they are lighting an amount according to the household members and the amount of mehadrin.
Now we turn to the Shulchan Aruch, where we find the following: The Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 671:2) states that the custom is to have only one person light in the house. Rema (ad loc. citing Rambam) counters that all in the household are to light.
Taz (Orach Chayyim 671:sk1) notes what is almost incredible: The Mechaber is ruling for the Sefardim according to Tosafot (the chachmei Ashkenaz), and the Rema is ruling according to the Rambam (the chacham of Sefarad). This is found nowhere else.
Indeed, today such is the minhag, as practiced by Sefardim, that only one person lights in the household. Ashkenazim, on the other hand, have everyone light. In light of the Rambam’s statement attesting to practice in Sefarad (that all household members light), this presents great perplexity for that community’s practice.
I did think of a possible solution to this riddle. Perhaps Rambam was only referring to Spain (“all our cities in Sefarad”) and not the rest of the Sefardic Diaspora. And this is probably so.
(To be continued)