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Question: The Gemara in Shabbos, in discussing the laws of Chanukah lights, teaches the menorah’s placement. We learn that the proper placement is by the side of the outside door, but if there is danger one may place them on his table inside the house. If the danger is that hostile gentiles might persecute him, isn’t there the same worry if the menorah is placed indoors? After all, the candles likely will be seen through the window, and even if not, if the gentiles are hostile we fear they will search every Jewish home. How would one light in such a circumstance?

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Answer: Though most of our readership resides in locales where there is relative calm and tranquility that enables the practice of our mitzvot, there still are places in the world, even today, where the authorities take a dim view of Jewish practice. In addition, there are lands where the government guarantees freedom of expression, but those living in close proximity to the Jews are hostile. Open practice of our religion may still be a concern. From your longer letter, this is what I gather to be your concern.

The Gemara that you have cited is Shabbos 21b. The danger to which you have correctly referred in regard to the Chanukah lights is from hostile gentiles, or hostile elements of the local populace. Let us review the Gemara: “Our Sages taught: It is incumbent to place the Chanukah lamp at the door of one’s house on the outside; however, if one dwells on an upper floor, one places it in the window that is closest [facing] the public domain. However, in time of danger, it suffices that he place it on his table.”

Rashi (ibid. s.v.mib’chutz – on the outside”) explains the need to place the lights outside, in order to facilitate “Pirsumei Nissa – publicizing the miracle.” Thus, if one is on the second floor or higher, where it is obviously impossible to place the lights outside, the Gemara informs us that placing the menorah at the window compensates because it still will be seen by those in the street. The last option, to light on the table, is problematic because to do so means that the candles will not be seen outside.

This actually partially resolves your question. When the Gemara offers this last option to light on the table, the assumption is that it will not be seen outside (either since a curtain is drawn or it is lit in an interior room with no windows). Nevertheless, this placement is considered valid. Though this resolves your dilemma, one must wonder if the only option is to light it on the hidden table, what pirsumei nissa has one accomplished?

R’I (the Tosafist – Rabbenu Isaac Dampiere, Tosafot ibid., s.v. u’b’sha’at hasakana”) explains our Gemara as relating to a people known as “Chavri” who came to Babylonia. (Rashi refers to them as Persians who would persecute a Jew for lighting Chanukah candles on their Persian festival, when only they themselves would light in their temples.) He cites the Gemara’s question (infra 45a): “Is one allowed to move the Chanukah lights on the Sabbath, on account of the Chavri?” The answer was in the affirmative. Tosafot ask what solution is there in lighting on the table, for perhaps the Chavri will enter the house and remove it? Tosafot answer that such was not their routine and they would not go as far as entering homes in search of Chanukah candles.

Ran (in his commentary on the pages of the Rif, to our Gemara) offers that the case of our Gemara is not talking about Chavri, but rather anywhere there was an edict against the performance of any mitzvot. In that case, one would light at his table; thus if the authorities see it on the table they will assume it was placed there not for the purpose of the mitzvah [of Chanukah], but rather simply to serve as a light.

According to Ran, since the Gemara does not say “in such case let him not light,” we can understand the reason that we still light on the table – because in doing so he will not come to any danger.

Now insofar as pirsumei nissa, publicizing the miracle, how is this done when it is inside the house and not at all visible to the outside? We might give either of two answers: First, perhaps the pirsum is for those in the house. Second, due to the danger, one is exempt entirely from that mitzvah, but in order that the mitzvah not be forgotten the Sages require that the candles still be lit on the table. While this does not actually fulfill the pirsum aspect of the mitzvah, the lighting itself is being accomplished.

[According to this latter reason, even though the menorah lighting is not being done in its optimal manner, we still perform it. We might compare it to the mitzvah of sefirat ha’omer – which is only a zecher l’mikdash in our time since we have neither the omer sacrifice nor the Temple to which it is brought. Thus, most authorities rule that the mitzvah of sefirat ha’omer is not biblical in our time but rather rabbinical as a zecher l’mikdash (Aruch HaShulchan, O.C. 489: 2).]

Let us pray that this Chanukah our Jewish brethren, wherever they are found, will find peace, tranquility and joy. 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.