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One should be especially meticulous with the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah menorah.1 We are taught that those who are careful in this area will merit having children who are Torah scholars.2 One is required to light a Chanukah menorah even if he is forced to beg or even sell his garment in order to do so.3 Although universal custom is to increase the number of candles that are lit on each night of Chanukah (i.e., one candle on the first night, two on the second night, and so on),4 one is only truly required to light a single candle each night.5 So too, in some communities every member of the household lights his own menorah even though only one menorah per home is all that is truly required.6

Women are equally obligated to light the menorah, as they too were a part of the miracles of Chanukah.7 Indeed, although common custom is for the man of the house to light the menorah on behalf of his wife and family, a woman is technically able to do so as well.8 One who is blind and married should have his wife light for him. This is because it is a matter of dispute whether a blind person who lights a menorah is permitted to recite the accompanying blessing over his lighting.9

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A person should try to acquire for himself a beautiful Chanukah menorah made of metal,10 copper,11 or silver.12 There is an opinion that the Chanukah candles must be placed in some type of holder or vessel in order to properly fulfill the mitzvah. According to this approach, one who merely lights freestanding candles will not have fulfilled the mitzvah.13 The candles should be placed in a straight line and not in a circular or zigzag formation.14 One should ensure that the candles are placed far enough apart from each other so that the heat of one candle does not melt the candle next to it.15

It is commendable to remain in the presence of one’s menorah for at least half an hour after lighting and to use the time to contemplate the miracles of Chanukah.16 One may not make any use of the Chanukah lights whatsoever. They are only to be looked upon in order to arouse praise and thanksgiving to G-d for the miracles that He performed for us. One may not even study Torah by their light.17 In an emergency, some authorities allow one to recite the Havdala blessing over fire upon the Chanukah candles on the Motzaei Shabbat of Chanukah.18 Many women have the custom not to perform any work while the candles are burning in order to recall the role that Yehudit played in the military victory.19 Some women only keep this custom on the first and last nights of Chanukah.20

It is preferable to use olive oil to light the menorah21 in order to recall the miracle of the oil22 and to recall that oil was used to light the menorah in the Beit HaMikdash.23 It is also said that olive oil provides the cleanest and purest flame.24 One should endeavor to use olive oil even if doing so is more expensive.25 The lights of the menorah must be from either oil or candles; one may not use both on the same menorah.26 However, there is no requirement to use the same substance on each night and one may light with candles on one night and oil on another.27 While it is considered ideal to light the menorah outdoors,28 common custom is to light the menorah indoors at a window that faces the street so that it can be seen by passersby.29

There are a number of different opinions as to when the menorah should be lit each evening. The Talmud states that the menorah should be lit at sunset but there are a number of interpretations as to exactly what this means.30 According to the Shulchan Aruch, it means at the end of the sunset “period,” which is when it is almost completely dark outside.31 There are also more than seven other opinions as to when the menorah should be lit. The Aruch HaShulchan, however, dismisses all these views and rules that one should only light after dark.32 All authorities agree, however, that no matter when one lights the menorah, one must ensure that there is enough oil or candles for the menorah to burn for at least thirty minutes after nightfall.33

 

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    1. OC 671:1.2 .Shabbat 23b; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 2:340.
    2. OC 671:1.OC 671:2.
    3. Shabbat 21b.
    4. Rema, OC 671:2.
    5. Shabbat 23a; Rivevot Ephraim 2:182:11, 4:157.
    6. Magen Avraham 675:4; Taz, OC 675:4.
    7. Shu”t Maharshal 77; Sha’arei Teshuva 675:3; Rivevot Ephraim 3:460:22, 4:163:7.
    8. OC 673:3.
    9. Mahari Bruna 39.
    10. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:5.
    11. Avnei Nezer 2:500; Rivevot Ephraim 1:434:2.
    12. Rema, OC 671:4; Magen Avraham 671:3; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:9.
    13. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:9.
    14. Shav Yaakov 22.
    15. OC 673:1.
    16. Yabia Omer 4:24:5; Rivevot Ephraim 6:370.
    17. OC 670:1; Rema, OC 670:1; Magen Avraham 670:1; Rivevot Ephraim 5:434:1.
    18. Kol Bo; Maharil.
    19. OC 671:3.
    20. Mahari Bruna 39.
    21. Kaf Hachaim, OC 673:12. See Rivevot Ephraim 6:360 at length.
    22. Shabbat 23a.
    23. Elya Rabba 673:1.
    24. Sha’ar Ephraim 39.
    25. Elya Rabba 673:2.
    26. OC 671:5.
    27. Rema, OC 671:7; Mishna Berura 671:38; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:8.
    28. Shabbat 21b.
    29. OC 672:1.
    30. OC 672:4.
    31. OC 672:2.
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Rabbi Ari Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He teaches halacha, including semicha, one-on-one to people all over the world, online. He is also the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (9 volumes), the rabbinic director of United with Israel, and a rebbe at a number of yeshivot and seminaries. Questions and feedback are welcomed: rabbiari@hotmail.com.