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Question: The Gemara says the menorah should be placed outside the front door of one’s house but can be placed inside if one is worried about anti-Semitism. But how does placing the menorah solve this problem? Won’t the candles be seen through the window? And if the gentiles are really hostile, can’t they search our homes?




Answer: Most of us live in relatively safe countries, but even today the authorities in some parts of the world take a dim view of Jewish practice. Furthermore, even in countries with friendly governments, one might live next to people who dislike Jews.

The Gemara you cited is Shabbos 21b. Let’s review it: “Our sages taught: One must place the menorah at the door of one’s house on the outside; however, if one dwells on an upper floor, one should place it in [front of] the window [facing] the public domain. However, in time of danger, placing it on the table is sufficient.”

Rashi (ibid., s.v.mib’chutz”) writes that one must place the menorah outside because of the obligation of “pirsumei nissa – publicizing the miracle.” If one is on the second floor of a building (or higher), it’s obviously impossible to light outside, so one can light next to a window through which people will see the menorah.

The last option is to place the menorah on the table, but what pirsumei nissa is accomplished with such a lighting?

The Ri (Tosafot, ibid., s.v. u’b’sha’at hasakana”) says “the time of danger” the Gemara is talking about was the period following the arrival to Babylonia of a people known as “Chavri.” (Rashi talks of them as Persians who would persecute a Jew for lighting Chanukah candles on their Persian festival; they believed that the only lighting during this festival should be done by them in their temples.)

Tosafot asks how lighting on the table helped. Couldn’t the Chavri enter Jews’ homes to see if they were lighting menorah? Tosafot answers that they didn’t act in this fashion; they wouldn’t go so far as to enter homes in search of Chanukah menorahs.

The Ran (in his commentary on the pages of the Rif, to our Gemara) maintains that the Gemara is not talking specifically about the period in which the Chavri came to Persia. Rather, it is discussing any time there’s an edict against the performance of any mitzvah. At such a time, one should light menorah on one’s table, and if the authorities see it, they’ll assume it’s there to give light to the house (rather than to fulfill a mitzvah).

But what pirsumei nissa is accomplished when the menorah sits on a table hidden from the view of outsiders? We can suggest two answers. First, perhaps the pirsum is for the people in the house. Second, due to the danger, perhaps one is exempt from the mitzvah of lighting the menorah, and one lights it on a table only so that the mitzvah isn’t forgotten.

(If the second explanation is correct, lighting the menorah at such a time would be like fulfilling the mitzvah of sefirat ha’omer nowadays, which is only a zecher l’mikdash since we don’t have an omer sacrifice or a Beit HaMikdash [Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chayim 489: 2].)

Let’s pray that our Jewish brethren, wherever they are found, will find peace, tranquility and joy on this Chanukah. And may the lights of Chanukah usher in the light of Moshiach, speedily in our days.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.