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     Chanukah lights are kindled in most shuls. This has also expanded to public Chanukah lightings in many cities throughout the world. There is also a large Chanukah lighting in the White House, attended by many officials.

    In addition, people light candles at Chanukah parties in halls and at weddings. In this issue we will discuss why there is a custom to light in shul and the halachos related to that practice, and then discuss public lightings. Is there a source for it, and should a brachah be recited? 

    The Origin 

    At the time of the miracle of Chanukah, there was no widespread custom to light the menorah, even in the home. Chanukah was established as days of joy and happiness, and candles were only lit in the Beis Hamikdash in front of the public. When the Jews were exiled they enacted to light candles outside. Eventually, people lit inside because of danger. It was instituted to light in shul, which is comparable to the lighting in the Beis Hamikdash.

    Source – Chanukah Lighting in shul

    The requirement to light Chanukah candles is limited to the home. If one does not have a home there is no obligation to light. However, there is still a custom to light in shul, which is no one’s home. 

    The custom to light Chanukah lights in shul is not mentioned in the Gemara, although it is mentioned by Rishonim, and many follow this custom. This also applies to a beis midrash designated for learning.


    There are a number of reasons given as to why we light Chanukah lights in shul.

    1. It is for guests who do not have a home, just as Kiddush in shul on Friday night was enacted for guests.
    2. It is in order to publicize the miracle of Chanukah, known as pirsumei nisa. The Gra compares it to the recital of Hallel at the Pesach Seder, which serves to publicize the miracle. 
    3. The candles are lit in shul in order to exempt those who lack the knowledge or motivation to light candles on their own. Some question this reasoning; why should we light for those not motivated? Guests can contribute to the lighting of the homeowner, and those who do not have a place to stay are exempt. In addition, perhaps that is what Chanukah is all about, to bring people closer to Judaism with the lighting. 
    4. Another reason given is a remembrance for the Beis Hamikdash. A shul is like a small Beis Hamikdash, so we light Chanukah candles there as a remembrance of the lighting in the Beis Hamikdash.
    5. The Rivash maintains that we light in shul because in our homes we light indoors (outside of Eretz Yisrael), which limits the extent of publicizing the miracle. Therefore, we light in shul to make up for this lack.

    It seems that most poskim assume that the reason for the custom is to publicize the miracle.


    Others say since we light in our homes there is no need to have lights in shul. However, this is not the overwhelming custom.

    Some have the custom not recite a brachah on the lighting in shul in Eretz Yisrael. Since the custom there is to place the Chanukah menorah outside, this obviates one of the main reasons for lighting in shul.

    It is questionable if one should light in a hotel that is rented out for Chanukah and has a room reserved for davening.

    Brachah and Questions 

    Many poskim debate whether or not to recite a brachah on lighting in shul. Some question how we can make a brachah if it is not mentioned in the Gemara (see above).

    Some argue that no brachah is recited on a custom, such as the custom of aravos on Hoshana Rabbah.

    One response is that candle lighting in shul is like Hallel on Rosh Chodesh which is a custom, and the Ashkenazim still recite a brachah on it. However, the Sephardim do not recite a brachah on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh but still recite a brachah on Chanukah lighting. This is especially odd since the Shulchan Aruch himself rules that no brachah is recited on Hallel of Rosh Chodesh and a brachah is recited in shul on Chanukah.

    One answer is that lighting in shul is not a separate custom, but rather an extension of the main mitzvah. This logic also applies to the brachah on Hallel of Rosh Chodesh, since reciting Hallel is generally done for mitzvah purposes. This also explains how we say “v’tzivanu,” since we were commanded to perform the main mitzvah.

    Others argue that the custom of Chanukah lighting in shul is different since it serves to publicize the miracle, as opposed to other customs.

    As mentioned above, the Gra compares the brachah in shul to the brachah recited for Hallel in shul on the first two nights of Pesach. The same answer above regarding Hallel on Rosh Chodesh would apply to Hallel on Pesach night in shul.

    The consensus is to recite a brachah. 

    When to Light 

    The custom is to light the Chanukah menorah in shul between Minchah and Ma’ariv. This is when everyone is present, and if we would wait until after Ma’ariv people would be delayed in getting home to light. Another reason is that since the menorah in the Beis Hamikdash was lit before sunset, we light then as well. The menorah was lit in the Beis Hamikdash after the korban shel ben ha’arbayim which corresponds to Minchah. Therefore, we light after Minchah. 

    This applies even if one’s custom is to light at home after dark.

    Another reason is that the crowd is considered a tzibbur when they gather to daven in shul. However, after Ma’ariv when they are leaving they do not have a status of a tzibbur. Based on this, if people stay between Minchah and Ma’ariv the menorah should be lit then. However, if people leave after and then return later for Ma’ariv, the Chanukah menorah should be lit before Ma’ariv.

    One only lights at the first minyan and not at subsequent minyanim.

    By Day

    The practice exists to light the Chanukah lights in shul by day as well. None of the main sources mention this custom, and the reasons offered above only apply to night, not the morning. Some suggest that this is in remembrance of the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash, which was lit by day. Others argue that this publicizes the miracle, as the light does not serve any practical purpose other than the mitzvah.

    Another reason offered for lighting by day is that at night one generally does not have the candles lit for more than a half hour (see below). To make up for this, we relight candles in the morning.

    In any case the custom is that no brachah is recited in the morning.

    Erev Shabbos

    On Erev Shabbos, one should make sure to light the Chanukah menorah in shul after everyone has arrived and davened Minchah. However, the custom is that there is no need to wait for a minyan to light, since people will eventually come. Therefore, we light before Minchah, especially if it is late. There is no concern of lighting for Shabbos followed by a weekday davening, as the lighting simply serves to publicize the miracle to the masses. Nonetheless, this should be avoided if possible.

    The above discussion is based on the opinion that a minyan is not required for the lighting. Those who do require a minyan would not allow the early lighting if no minyan is present.

    Minyan Convenes Only on Shabbos

    Even if a shul is only open for Shabbos davening the candles are lit there on Friday.

    Motza’ei Shabbos

    On Motza’ei Shabbos one should make sure to have the Chanukah menorah lit before everyone leaves the shul (before Havdalah, if Havdalah is made in shul). The custom is to light it before reciting Aleinu. Some question what benefit it is 

    to light on Motza’ei Shabbos since everyone leaves after Ma’ariv. However, since people can come back to shul when they want and see the candles, it is publicizing the miracle.

    Where to Place It 

    There are differing opinions as to where to place the menorah in shul. Some maintain to place it in the south since that is where the Menorah was in the Beis Hamikdash. It can be placed on a table near the southern wall. The custom is to place the menorah to the right of the aron kodesh, and the candles are arranged from east to west.

    The one who is lighting should have his back to the south and face to the north.

    Some question why we don’t light the Chanukah candles either outside or at least inside near the window. The answer is that the custom originated from the fact that we used to light outside but then started to light inside due to some external factors. The lighting is for the people inside, and the same concept applies to the shul.

    Being Yotzei Your Lighting

    Although the custom is to light Chanukah candles in shul, one may not exempt his obligation to light at home with this lighting. One reason is that the candles in shul are lit before the correct time. Some suggest that the congregants have in mind not to fulfill the obligation of lighting candles. The one who lights in shul can recite Shehecheyanu at home as well if he lights at home to exempt his household.

    Who Lights 

    The custom is that the shliach tzibbur lights at least one light on the menorah. If an avel davens Minchah on Erev Chanukah then someone else should light since a Shehecheyanu is recited. However, an avel can light on the other nights when there is no Shehecheyanu recited.

    Some question why a guest does not light since one of the reasons for lighting in shul is for guests. In addition, since one of the reasons for lighting is as a remembrance to the Beis Hamikdash, why doesn’t a kohen light?

    Regardless, the custom seems that the shatz lights the menorah, or in some cases the rav. Some maintain that the shatz lights, since he serves in place of the kohen who offered korbanos.

    During the lighting, the congregants should stand next to the menorah.

    Oil vs. Candles

    The custom in most places is to use candles for lighting the menorah in shul.


    The poskim mention that a minyan should be present when lighting the Chanukah menorah in shul. This is usually not an issue during the week since we light between Minchah and Ma’ariv. Those present do not have to actually be davening to be counted toward the ten people.

    Women and children can count toward the minyan in relation to this. The custom seems to be that we are not concerned about lighting only with a minyan.

    How Long Does It Have to Last

    The reality is that the menorah is lit in shul between Minchah and Ma’ariv and then people leave. The question arises how long the lights should stay lit since it is not safe to leave the menorah unattended.

    The candles should last for a half hour, and if there is a safety concern then one may extinguish them after a half hour. Some base this on the reason that the candles are lit for guests who do not light; therefore, they must burn for a half hour. Some suggest that the lights stay lit until the last minyan for Ma’ariv has left, although this is not practiced.

    However, the custom is that the candles can be extinguished after Ma’ariv since the main reason for lighting in shul is to publicize the miracle for those present. In a shtiebel where the rav lives upstairs it usually is not extinguished since someone is around to check on the candles. 


    It is common for a shtiebel to have many different rooms where minyanim take place. Some opine that every room which has an aron kodesh should make sure to have Chanukah lights lit. However, the custom is that only the main shul has the Chanukah lights lit.

    Electric Lights

    One does not fulfill his obligation with electric lights. Therefore, one should use regular lights in shul (oil or wax).

    Family Parties

    Many families attend Chanukah parties in a hall. Although some have the practice to recite a brachah on this lighting, it is frowned upon since the custom to light in shul was because it is a shul. This is particularly true according to the reasons that it is a remembrance of the Beis Hamikdash, and that it is like Kiddush in shul.

    The same concern is true for weddings.

    Those who do recite a brachah at these parties follow the minority opinion that this is an act of publicizing the mitzvah as well, since many times people who come to these parties are not familiar with the mitzvah per se and this is a chance to publicize the mitzvah. Nonetheless, it is preferable to daven Ma’ariv after the lighting at the party so it has a status of a quasi shul at least. Some permit it even if one does not daven there. Some maintain that even with davening no brachah should be recited.

    Public Lightings

    It has become popular to stage public menorah lightings during Chanukah. This is mainly practiced by Chabad.

    Many question doing this with a brachah since a brachah was only customarily said in a shul setting for reasons mentioned above. Even according to the Rivash that lighting in shul publicizes the miracle, we would not recite a brachah, as the shul lighting is supposed to replace the outside lighting.

    Perhaps the reason to motivate people would be a good reason for the public lightings (but this would not suffice for making a brachah at parties).

    Those poskim who do not allow a brachah at a party would not allow it at a public lighting either.

    Some explain that one can recite a brachah while lighting in a public area where thousands are present.

    Chabad shluchim, who light in hundreds of locations, usually light with oil and then exchange it for an electric bulb with a candle to bulb converter.


    Lighting a Chanukah menorah at the Kosel with a brachah is legitimate, since it is a place where davening is held.

    Minyan at Work

    If one has a daily minyan for Minchah and Ma’ariv at work he can light candles there as well, since it has a status of a set minyan even if it is not a shul.