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    Chanukah Q&A With Rabbi Moshe Elefant

    When is the optimal time to light Chanukah candles?

    The Talmud (Shabbos 21a) relates that Chanukah candles should be lit when the sun disappears from view, and should remain lit for half an hour. This is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (OC 672:1). However, it is unclear what the sun disappearing from view means.

    1) According to some Poskim, it is when nightfall commences, tzeis hakochavim, i.e., the sky is almost completely dark and three stars can be discerned (Magen Avraham ibid. 1; Bach OC 662; Mordechai). 2) According to others, it is when the sky is relatively dark, i.e. about fifteen minutes before nightfall (Ran, Rashba, Meiri). 3) According to the Vilna Gaon (Beiur HaGra OC 672:2), the proper time to light is at sunset. Beiur Halachah (672, s.v. velo makdimim) notes that this follows Rambam’s opinion (ibid.) as well.

    I did not return home until after midnight. In my neighborhood, at that hour of the night, the streets are deserted. May I still light Chanukah candles with a bracha?

    Mishnah Berurah (672:11) writes that in order to recite a bracha when lighting candles late at night, at least one other member of the household must be awake to see the candles. Mishnah Berurah writes that if everyone is sleeping, it is appropriate to wake one of the family members so that you will not lose out on the bracha. Aruch HaShulchan (OC 672:7) rules that the household member may be a woman or even a small child so long as they are old enough to understand the significance of the candles. It does not matter that this family member already lit candles and fulfilled their obligation. The Mishnah Berurah (Shaar Hatziyun 672:17) presents a dissenting opinion that permits reciting a bracha late at night even if no family member is present, but concludes “safek berachos l’haker” (in cases of doubt we refrain from reciting a bracha), but we need not stop one who wishes to follow this practice. R’ Moshe Feinstein, however, held that even if one lights late at night, and one’s family members are sleeping, a bracha is recited (Igros Moshe O.C. IV 105:7)

    I will be traveling to New York from my home in New Jersey for a Chanukah party at my parents’ house and won’t be returning home until late at night. I have the following options: I can light at home at 4:00 PM (which is before sunset); I can appoint an agent (shliach) to light in my house for me at the proper time; I can light at my parents’ house; or I can light upon returning home late at night when there are no longer any passersby. What should I do?

    The Mechaber rules that if one will not be able to light the Chanukah candles at the prescribed time, he may light them any time after Plag HaMincha (Shulchan Aruch OC 672:1). Plag Ha Mincha in the winter is approximately an hour before sunset. However, if one must leave immediately thereafter, it may not be advisable to leave candles unattended. The possibility of using an agent is questionable, since Mishnah Berurah (675:9) rules that when an agent lights for him, the person must stand next to the agent and hear him recite the brachos, obviously, this is not feasible in this case. The third possibility, lighting at one’s parents’ home, is not acceptable. One must light where he lives (i.e. the place where he eats and sleeps on a regular basis). Since he does not live in his parent’s home but is merely eating a meal there, he may not light there. One should follow the fourth option and light upon returning home since nowadays,the menorah is lit primarily for one’s family, and not to publicize the miracle to the public. Therefore, one may light even if it is late and there will be no passersby to see the menorah.

    My wife works in the city and comes home late. Should I light the Chanukah candles at the prescribed time, or should I wait until she comes home? Although lighting Chanukah candles is a mitzvah which is exceedingly beloved (Rambam Hil. Chanukah 4:12), nonetheless, it does not come at the expense of family harmony and good will in the home. If one only has one candle on Friday, and cannot procure another, it should be used for Shabbos candles and not for Chanukah candles, because Shabbos candles were instituted to foster shalom bayis, i.e. peace and harmony in the home. Without light people would be unable to see, and shalom bayis would be negatively impacted (Shulchan Aruch OC 678:1 from Gemara Shabbos 23b). In our case as well, lighting candles without waiting for one’s wife to arrive will potentially have a negative impact on shalom bayis, and one should therefore wait until his wife comes home (Emes le Yaakov OC 670 fn. 586; Kovetz MiBeis Levi 10, p.3; Ner Tzion 6:11).

    Indeed, the Chafetz Chaim related that his Rebbi, R’ Nochum of Horodna, was always exceedingly careful to light Chanukah candles at the proper time but when his wife was late in coming home, he delayed lighting Chanukah candles until she arrived. R’ Chaim Kanievsky related a similar story regarding R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld. Both R’ Nochum and R’ Yosef Chaim explained their rationale as we explained above: shalom bayis takes precedence over Chanukah candles (see Tuvcha Yaabiu, Lech Lecha, pg. 74-75; Ner Chanukah 2 fn. 8).

    I work in the city and return home late. My children wait for me to light the Chanukah candles. Should they light at the prescribed time, or should they wait for me so that we can light Chanukah candles as a family? In a previous Halacha Yomis we learned that the optimal time to light candles is when the sun disappears from view. This is because the miracle will be publicized (pirsuma nisa) for the people who pass by and see the candles. The Rama (OC 672:2) writes that this was true when candles were lit outside the house. Nowadays, candles are generally lit indoors and the main pirsuma nisa is for the members of the family, and candles may be lit any time at night. Nonetheless, the Rama writes that even so, it is preferable to light early in the evening, so that passersby will see the candles in the window. As such, one can light the Menorah when returning home from work late in the evening. However, there is no reason for the children who are home to refrain from lighting on time. The children should light at the optimal time, and the father should light later when he comes home (Emes L’Yaakov OC 682.1, footnote #586).

    Can I fulfill my obligation of lighting Chanukah candles if I ask the one who is lighting in shul to be motzi me (have me in mind)? Chanukah candles must be lit in the place where he lives (i.e. the place where he eats and sleeps on a regular basis). Since the person does not reside in the shul, he cannot be yotzei the mitzvah with the lighting that is done there. That person must light for himself at home.