There is a widespread misconception that unmarried girls should not light Shabbat candles and that doing so is merely the custom of a few communities, most notably Chabad. This is untrue. Although it is true that the Lubavitcher Rebbe strongly campaigned1 for single women to light Shabbat candles, it was quite common in many communities in pre-war Europe for young girls to light Shabbat candles along with their mothers.2 As Rav Herschel Schachter writes:3
The Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke in public about the importance of lighting candles on Shabbos eve, even for single women who live in their parents’ home, and the Hasidim made a big controversy over this. When one of the students asked [Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik] for his opinion on the subject, he responded that he does not understand what innovation there is in this matter. That was the practice in Europe, even in [Rav Soloveitchik’s] town, and that is how [Rav Soloveitchik] practiced with his daughters when they were single – they lit their own candles, with a blessing, even when his wife also lit candles with a blessing.
It might be that the custom for unmarried girls to light Shabbat candles finds its origin in the Torah itself. We are told that Sara Imeinu’s Shabbat candles would miraculously burn from one Shabbat until the next, being re-lit each week on Friday afternoon in honor of the upcoming Shabbat. We are told that the same miracle occurred with Rivka Imeinu. The verse leading to the marriage of Yitzchak and Rivka says, “And he took Rivka into the tent of his mother Sara…and she became his wife.” It is explained that Rivka lit Shabbat candles “in the tent” even before “she became his wife,” hence, a possible source for the custom for unmarried girls to light Shabbat candles.
It is suggested that unmarried girls stopped lighting Shabbat candles because it was difficult and costly to get candles during and even between the two world wars. With this disruption the custom was lost, and unfortunately not “reignited” in the New World. Since, nowadays, candles are readily available and inexpensive, mothers and fathers should definitely consider having their unmarried daughters light their own Shabbat candles. In families where even unmarried girls light Shabbat candles, most start lighting at the age of three. In other families, girls light even before they are three, and some begin at the age of twelve.
Unmarried girls who light Shabbat candles only light one candle each week, as lighting two (or more) candles is generally reserved for married women, though there are some unmarried girls who light two as well. It is best for young girls to light before their mother so that the mother can assist if needed. Furthermore, there is an opinion that once the lady of the house lights her Shabbat candles, no one else should do so, and certainly not with a blessing. It seems that mothers and daughters lighting at the same time is a good option, if appropriate.4
The Lubavitcher Rebbe recommended that girls recite the “shehecheyanu” blessing while wearing a new item of clothing the first time they light candles. Alternatively, if a girl begins lighting candles on a Yom Tov, she should have in mind the Yom Tov, and her new mitzvah, when reciting the “shehecheyanu” blessing that is a part of the Yom Tov candle lighting. It should be noted that if the lady of the house is not home for Shabbat, there must be someone over bar or bat mitzvah who lights the Shabbat candles in the home, as one does not fulfill the obligation through the lighting of a girl under bat mitzvah.5 So too, some authorities rule that if the lady of the house is not home for Shabbat, the man of the house should light Shabbat candles, even if there are girls over bat mitzvah who will be lighting as well.6
- Likutei Sichot, Vol. 15 p. 163.
- See Aruch HaShulchan, OC 263:7; Az Nidberu 6:67,68; Yechave Daat 2:32.
- Mipninei Harav p. 75.
- See for example, OC 263:8; Shulchan Aruch HaRav, OC 263:15; Aruch HaShulchan, OC 263:5,6.
- Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 43:48.
- Rivevot Ephraim 6:126:1.