From Parshat Miketz & Chanukah Vol.11 No.13
Date of issue: 30 Kislev 5762 -- December 15, 2001

 

Havdalah or Chanukah Lights - Which Comes First?
by Rabbi Jachter

Rishonim and Acharonim have debated which should be done first on Motzai Shabbat, Havdalah, or
Nerot Chanukah. This debate is recorded as early as the thirteenth century by the Meiri
(Shabbat 23). This is a situation of competing Halachic principles, and Poskim have endlessly
debated which one has priority. In this essay, we seek to present the problem and outline the
various approaches Poskim have adopted to this issue.

The Competing Principles
On one hand, one could argue that Havdalah should be performed first because of the principle
of Tadir Usheino Tadir, Tadir Kodem, the activity that is performed more often should be
performed first (Zevachim 89a). This principle has firm biblical roots, as the Torah (Bemidbar
chapter 28) teaches that the Korban Tamid (the daily communal sacrifice) should be offered
before the Korban Mussaf (special sacrificial offering for Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and Yamim
Tovim). The Torah (Bemidbar 28:23) even teaches why the Tamid sacrifice is offered before the
Mussaf, because the Korban Tamid is offered more often (see Zevachim 89a).

We may suggest a reason for this Halacha based on an approach articulated by Rav Aharon
Lichtenstein at a Sicha delivered as at a Yeshivat Har Etzion alumni Shabbaton. We tend to
cherish events that occur infrequently, because it constitutes a break from the daily routine. 
The Gemara (Megila 21b) writes that people find Megila reading and the recitation of Hallel more
"beloved" than Kriat Hatorah. We tend to be more excited about a once a year visit to a beloved
aunt or uncle than seeing our immediate family every day. However, the people and events that
are part of our daily existence are often more important than those that we encounter
infrequently. The man who spends a considerable amount of time every day with his children but
does not take them on a spectacular vacation is a far superior father than one who spends little
time with his children almost all of the year but takes them for a fancy vacation one week a
year. Similarly, the activity that we perform more often has priority over the less frequently
performed Mitzva.

There are numerous applications of the Tadir principle. Men during the week put on Tallit
before Tefillin in part because of this principle (see Bait Yosef Orach Chaim 25 s.v. Veachar). 
In Kiddush, we recite the Beracha of Borei Pri Hagafen before the Beracha of the Kedushat Hayom
in part because of this principle (Pesachim 114a). It is partly because of this principle that
we read the portion of Rosh Chodesh before the portion of Chanukah during Kriat Hatorah on Rosh
Chodesh Tevet (Tosafot Shabbat 23b s.v. Hadar). The Mishna Berura (52:5) citing the Chayei Adam
rules that if one arrives late to Shul on Shabbat morning, he should skip the added sections of
Pesukei Dezimra for Shabbat in favor of the portions of Pesukei Dezimra that we recite daily.
We should note, though, that sometimes this rule is not applied. For example, the Shulchan
Aruch (O.C. 643:1) rules that the Beracha of Leisheiv Basukkah precedes the Beracha of
Shechiyanu on Sukkot. Moreover, Tosafot (Shabbat 23b s.v. Hadar) note that the Tadir only rule
decides which Mitzva should be performed first. However, the Tadir rule does not decide which
of two Mitzvot should be performed when only one of two Mitzvot can be performed.

Afukei Yoma Meacharinan
On the other hand, there is a competing principle to the Tadir rule. This rule states Afukei
Yoma Meacharinan, we seek to prolong our observance of Shabbat. For example, when Yom Tov
occurs on Motzaei Shabbat, we recite Kiddush before Havdalah because of this principle (Pesachim
102b-103a, Rashbam 102b s.v. Rav Amar Yaknah). The Terumat Hadeshen (number 60) rules that
Sefirat Haomer should be recited before Havdalah because of this principle. The Shulchan Aruch
(O.C. 489:9) rules in accordance with the Terumat Hadeshen, and the Mishna Berura does not
record a dissenting opinion. The Rama (O.C. 693:1) rules, based on this principle (see Mishna
Berura 693:3), that we should first read Megilat Esther and only later recite Havdalah. The
Mishna Berura does not record dissenting opinions to this ruling.

Pirsumei Nissah
One might argue that Havdalah should precede Nerot Chanukah because Havdalah is a Torah level
obligation (at least according to the Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 29:1) and Nerot Chanukah is merely
a rabbinical obligation. This argument, though, might not be valid since the Gemara (Shabbat
23b) writes that Nerot Chanukah enjoy preference over Kiddush (which also is a Torah obligation
according to the Rambam, ibid.). The Gemara speaks of a poor individual who has sufficient
funds to purchase either Nerot Chanukah or wine for Kiddush. The Gemara states that he should
purchase Chanukah candles because they serve to publicize the miracle of Chanukah. On the other
hand, the Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 29:6) believes that wine for Kiddush is only a rabbinical
obligation. Nonetheless, the Gemara does indicate the elevated status of Nerot Chanukah because
of its role "to publicize the miracle." Indeed, the Rambam (Hilchot Chanukah 4:12) writes, "the
Mitzva of Nerot Chanukah is exceedingly beloved and one must exercise care about it, in order to
inform people of the miracle and contribute to the offering of praise and thanks to Hashem for
the miracles he has made on our behalf."


The Opinions - Rishonim and the Shulchan Aruch with its Commentaries
The Meiri (Shabbat 23) records the debate among Rishonim whether Nerot Chanukah should be lit
before or after Havdalah. The Meiri writes that the custom is his locale is to light Nerot
Chanukah first. His explanation is that on Motzai Shabbat, we light Nerot Chanukah after the
optimal time (see last week's essay). The Meiri explains that we wish to light Chanukah lights
as early as we can, to minimize the amount of time that we must light Nerot Chanukah after its
ideal time. On the other hand, the Terumat Hadeshen (number 60) and other Rishonim rule that
in the synagogue one should light Nerot Chanukah first because of the rule of Afukei Yoma
Meacharinan. Another reason offered is the priority accorded to Ner Chanukah because of its
role to publicize the miracle.

On the other hand, the Raavad (Temim Deim 174) and a number of other Rishonim rule that
Havdalah should be recited first. Among the reasons these Rishonim offer is the principle of
Tadir Usheino Tadir Tadir Kodem and that it is inappropriate to light the Chanukah light before
reciting the blessing on light within the framework of Havdalah.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 681:2) rules that Chanukah lights should be kindled in Shul
before Havdalah. The Rama (ibid.) adds that one should also light Nerot Chanukah before
reciting Havdalah at home. The Taz (O.C. 681:1) argues vigorously and at great length, that
one should first say Havdalah when lighting at home. The Taz emphasizes the importance of the
rule of Tadir Usheino Tadir, Tadir Kodem, noting that this rule is of biblical origin.

The Taz seeks to prove from various passages in the Gemara that the Tadir rule enjoys
precedence over the principle of Afukei Yoma Meacharinan. Moreover, the Taz argues that one
does not extend Shabbat by lighting Chanukah candles first, because kindling Nerot Chanukah is
forbidden on Shabbat. The reason for Afukei Yoma is that we do not want to treat Shabbat as a
burden that we are eager to shed. However, when one lights Ner Chanukah he has, by definition,
completed Shabbat. Thus, one does not accomplish Afukei Yoma Meacharinan by lighting Nerot
Chanukah before Havdalah. This, explains the Taz, is what distinguishes Nerot Chanukah from
Sefirat Haomer and Megila reading. The latter two activities are not forbidden to perform on
Shabbat and thus one legitimately delays the termination of Shabbat by performing these Mitzvot
first.

Acharonim and Later Codes
The accepted practice for Shul is to light Chanukah lights and subsequently perform Havdalah
(Biur Halacha 681 s.v. Madlikin and Ben Ish Chai Parshat Vayeshev 21). In Shul, only one person
kindles the Chanukah candles. Thus, when we light Chanukah candles first in Shul, Shabbat is
prolonged for everyone except for the one who lit the Chanukah lights. Moreover, the Aruch
Hashulchan (O.C. 681:2) explains that since great "publicity of the Chanukah miracle" occurs
when lighting Chanukah lights in Shul, there is more reason to light Nerot Chanukah first in
Shul than there is at home. Thus, the consensus accepts that Shul Chanukah lighting enjoys
priority over Havdalah. The debate, however, about what to do at home continued to rage during
the period of the Acharonim. The Vilna Gaon, Eliyahu Rabba, Chamad Moshe, Bait Meir, and Chayei
Adam rule in accordance with the Rama. The Maharal of Prague, Pri Chadash, and Tosafot Yom Tov
side with the Taz.

The later Acharonim encountered difficulty in resolving this debate. The Mishna Berura (681:3)
concludes that this dispute remains unresolved and therefore one may follow either opinion. 
Sefardic authorities (Ben Ish Chai, Parshat Vayeshev 21 and Rav Ovadia Yosef, Teshuvot Yechave
Daat 1:75) rule that at home one recite Havdalah and subsequently kindle Chanukah lights. 
Various communities had accepted practices regarding how to resolve this debate. Rav David Zvi
Hoffman (Teshuvot Melamed Lehoil 1:122) records that the Minhag in Germany was to follow the Taz
and perform Havdalah first. The Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 681:2) writes that the practice in
Lithuania was to perform Havdalah first, unless he heard Havdalah in Shul.

Conclusion
The debate whether lighting Chanukah candles or reciting Havdalah comes first has been
partially resolved. The accepted practice for Shul is to light Chanukah candles first. The
question regarding what to do at home has not been resolved (accept for Sefardim who recite
Havdalah first). One should consult with his Rav for guidance. One should also consult with
parents or family elders to see if there is a specific tradition regarding this issue in his
family.

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