Late Lighting of Chanukah Lights by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

(2004/5765) 

Introduction
A few years ago we discussed the question of
what precisely is the optimal time to kindle Chanukah
lights. In this issue, we will discuss situations when
Halacha might tolerate lighting after the optimal time. I am
indebted to TABC’s Y9 class of 5764 for the insights they
contributed when we studied this important topic.
The Optimal Time

Although a variety of opinions exist on this matter, the
optimal time for Chanukah lighting seems to be at Tzeit
Hakochavim (Mishnah Berurah 672:1), which for this purpose
(one could say) is approximately a half-hour after sundown. The
Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 672:1 based on the Gemara,
Shabbat 21b) states that one may light Chanukah candles “until
the last people have left the marketplace.” The Shulchan Aruch
states that this is a half an hour after the optimal time for lighting.
Today there are two reasons why Chanukah lights may
be kindled even later than mentioned in the Gemara and
Shulchan Aruch. First, the Rama (O.C. 672:2, citing Tosafot
Shabbat 21b s.v. D’ee) rules that “in our times, ” we light inside
our homes and the primary “target audience” for the Chanukah
candles are our families and not the people passing outside our
homes. Thus, today we may light even later than a half an hour
past Tzeit Hakochavim. Second is that in the modern era when
the streets are illuminated with electric lights, the last people do
not leave the marketplace until significantly later in the evening.
In some places, such as Manhattan or Hong Kong, this may be
extremely late. Thus, one could suggest another reason why
today we are permitted to light Chanukah lights even later than a
half an hour past Tzeit Hakochavim (see Rav Moshe
Shternbuch’s Moadim Uzmanim 1:141 for further discussion of
this issue).
Nonetheless, the Rama (ad. loc.) writes that even in our
times one should preferably light at the optimal time for lighting
according to the standards established by Chazal. It is possible
that this ruling is an application of the general rule of Zrizim
Makdimim Limitzvot, that one should perform a Mitzvah at the
earliest possible time (see Pesachim 4a). The Aruch
Hashulchan (O.C. 692:4) adds that our Mitzvot should be
performed in a manner that is as close as possible to the original
Takanah (enactment) of Chazal. This is a very fundamental
assertion and seems to constitute an underlying theme and
motivation for numerous Halachic rulings issued in modern times
when circumstances have changed so dramatically. Despite the
many changes, we nevertheless seek whenever possible not to
deviate from the practices of earlier generations.
The Practice at the Yeshiva University Kollelim
Students at TABC have always posed the question of
why we do not end classes early on Chanukah to allow students
to arrive home and light at the optimal time. Rav Yosef Adler
(the Rosh Hayeshiva of TABC) always responds that when he
studied at the Yeshiva University Kollel Rav Hershel Schachter
would post a sign every year regarding the proper time for the
Kollel students to light Ner Chanukah. The sign stated that when
the Kollel began (in the early 1960’s) the original Rosh Kollel,
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, posed the question to Rav Yosef Dov
Halevi Soloveitchik whether the Kollel Seder (learning period)
should conclude early on Chanukah to allow the students to light
Ner Chanukah at the optimal time. The Rav stated that they
should not interrupt their studies and they should light only after
they have finished their afternoon Seder at the usual time (which
is well after Tzeit Hakochavim).
The Rav cited as a precedent the Meiri (Shabbat 21b,
first paragraph) who records the custom of Yeshiva students in
France to not interrupt their daily learning schedule in order to
fulfill the Mitzvah of Nerot Chanukah at the optimal time. Rav
Schachter posted this sign during the years that I studied in the
Kollel as well. This ruling applies to TABC as well since most of 

the Limudei Kodesh (Torah studies) for the Juniors and
Seniors are in the afternoon.
Rav Moshe Feinstein (cited by Rav Aharon Felder,
Moadei Yeshurun p. 8) agrees with this ruling. He reasons
that since essentially one may light late into the evening, it
is not proper to interrupt the Yeshiva’s Seder in order to
light at the optimal time. Interestingly, though, other than
the Meiri there appears to be no source for this practice.
Indeed, the ruling of the Rav and Rav Moshe (to the best
of my knowledge) is not addressed in the Mishnah
Berurah, Aruch Hashulchan, or any other major classic
Halachic authority. Indeed, Rav Felder, who clearly
mastered the Halachic literature on Chanukah, cites no
authority who either agrees or disagrees with this ruling.
However, I recall from my years of study in the Yeshiva
University Kollel that Rav J. David Bleich (the noted
Halachic authority who serves as the Rosh Kollel of the
Yadin Yadin Kollel at YU) would leave in the middle of the
afternoon Seder to light Chanukah candles at the optimal
time. I recall hearing that Rav Bleich did not subscribe to
the approach of the Rav and Rav Moshe to this issue.
It appears that this dispute hinges on how one
interprets and applies a ruling of the Rambam. The
Rambam (Hilchot 15:2) rules that a man may postpone
marriage (and his fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Pru Urvu) in
order to further his Torah studies. The Shulchan Aruch
(Even Haezer 1:3) rules in accordance with the Rambam.
It seems that the value of Talmud Torah outweighs the
value of Zrizim Makdimim Limitzvot regarding the Mitzvah
of Pru Urvu (the earlier one marries, the earlier he
potentially fulfills the Mitzvah of Pru Urvu). The Rav and
Rav Moshe (and the Meiri) seem to extrapolate from the
Rambam that Talmud Torah always outweighs the value of
Zrizim Makdimim Limitzvot. Thus, Yeshiva students
should not interrupt their studies in order to light Chanukah
candles at the earliest time.
Rav Bleich, on the other hand, seems to believe
that one may not extrapolate a universal rule from this
ruling of the Rambam. Pru Urvu might fundamentally differ
from all other Mitzvot, as the Halacha tolerates delaying its
performance past the age of Bar Mitzvah. This differs from
all other Mitzvot which a male becomes obligated to
perform at age thirteen (see Chelkat Mechokeik 1:2, Beit
Shmuel 1:3, and Pitchei Teshuvah 1:3 for a discussion of
this issue). Thus, even though Talmud Torah is more
important than the timely fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Pru
Urvu, nevertheless, Talmud Torah might not outweigh the
timely fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Ner Chanukah.
Moreover, the Halacha tolerates in theory (though
we never practice this today; see Aruch Hashulchan E.H.
1:14) one who devotes his entire life to constant Torah
study and never marries. The Halacha, by contrast, does
not tolerate foregoing lighting Nerot Chanukah entirely in
order not to interrupt one’s Torah studies, according to all
opinions. This seems to point to the fact that the Mitzvah
of Pru Urvu is unique and thus it is open to debate as to
whether one may extrapolate from the rules that govern
Pru Urvu to other areas of Halacha.
One might ask on the Rav and Rav Moshe’s ruling
why a Kollel student does not simply resume his studies
after he lights Chanukah lights at the optimal time at home.
We may answer that although he resumes Torah study at

home, he will not return then to public study of Torah (Talmud
Torah Dirabbim). Halacha attaches greater significance to
Talmud Torah Dirabbim than Talmud Talmud conducted
privately (see Megillah 3b). Thus, a Kollel student should learn
until the usual conclusion time of the afternoon Seder in order
not to miss the time of Talmud Torah Dirabbim.
In addition, it appears that the ruling of the Rav and Rav
Moshe applies only to a situation where it is difficult for the
Talmidim to reassemble after they have returned home to kindle
Chanukah lights. Thus, when I studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion
we interrupted the afternoon Seder to kindle Chanukah lights at
the optimal time and we returned to our learning soon afterward.
This was possible because the vast majority of the Talmidim
lived on campus.
Delay for Shalom Bayit
Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky is cited (Emet Liyaakov p. 254)
as ruling that one may delay the lighting of Chanukah lights until
his wife returns from work so that the family kindles Chanukah
lights together. As a source for this ruling, he cites the Halacha
(Shulchan Aruch 678:1 based on Shabbat 23b) that if one has a
choice of either lighting only Ner Shabbat or Ner Chanukah
(such as someone who finds himself with only one candle), that
one should light Ner Shabbat. Since Shabbat candles are lit to
ensure Shalom Bayit (domestic tranquility), they enjoy priority
over Chanukah candles. Thus, if Shalom Bayit overrides
Chanukah lighting altogether, it certainly suffices to delay
Chanukah lighting.
Interestingly, Rav Yaakov’s ruling states that one
may delay lighting Chanukah lights until his wife
returns from work. Why does Rav Yaakov not also rule
that Chanukah lighting may be delayed until the
husband returns from work? An answer might be that
the husband might not be upset if the family does not wait
for him, as it is possible (as my student Yoni Safier
noted) for the family to reassemble when the
husband arrives in the house for his lighting.
However, this might not be sufficient to avoid the wife
being upset (see Bava Metzia 59a).
We should note that there might be a
problem for the husband to light long after his family has
lit, since he could potentially fulfill his basic obligation
through their lighting. See the Rama (O.C. 677:3) and
the Mishna Brura (677:16) for a discussion and ruling
concerning this issue
Late Lighting or Better Lighting
My Talmid Daniel Orlinsky posed the
following Halachic question to me during Chanukah
5764, when he lived at home with his parents in Fair
Lawn, NJ. One of the evenings of Chanukah, he
planned on leaving his home during the day and not
returning until late in the evening when no member of the
family would be awake. Daniel asked if it is
preferable for his mother to light on his behalf at the
optimal time or for him to light when he arrives at
home late at night. Although the Rama (O.C. 671:2)
rules that it is preferable (Hiddur Mitzvah) for each
family member to light his own Menorah, it might be
preferable to fulfill the Mitzvah through his family
members who light at the ideal time. 

This question appears to be conceptually identical
to a theoretical question that was reportedly raised by the
Brisker Rav (Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, the Rav’s
uncle). He asked which of the following scenarios is the
preferable way to fulfill the Mitzvah of taking the Etrog –
taking an ordinary Etrog at the optimal (earliest, Zrizim
Makdimim Limitzvot) time (sunrise) or taking an
extraordinarily beautiful Etrog that one will have access to
only later on in the day. The question is which Halachic
value is a priority, Zrizim Makdimim Limitzvot or Hiddur
Mitzvah (performing the Mitzvah in a beautiful and
preferable manner). Daniel also was faced with the
dilemma whether the value of Zrizim Makdimim Limitzvot
outweighs the value of Hiddur Mitzvah or vice versa.
This quandary seems to lie at the heart of the
dispute regarding the earliest time to recite Kiddush
Levanah. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 426:4) rules that one
should not recite Kiddush Levanah until seven days from
the Molad (birth of the new moon) have passed. The
Mishnah Berurah (426:20), though, writes that the majority
of Acharonim disagree with the Shulchan Aruch and permit
reciting Kiddush Levanah after three days from the Molad
have passed. Sephardic Jews (see Teshuvot Yechave
Daat 2:24) and Chassidim follow the opinion of the
Shulchan Aruch, while non-Chassidic Ashkenazic Jews
recite Kiddush Levanah after three days from the Molad
have passed.
It seems to me that this dispute hinges on the
dispute whether the value of Zrizim Makdimim Limitzvot
outweighs the value of Hiddur Mitzvah. Non-Chassidic
Ashkenazic Jews would seem to acknowledge that reciting
Kiddush Levanah on a “fuller” moon is a more Mehuddar
way to perform the Mitzvah (as the moon is more beautiful
when it is has “reached” half of its size). The Gemara
(Shabbat 133b) states that it is preferable to use a more
beautiful pair of Tzitzit, Shofar, Lulav, Sukkah, and Sefer
Torah. Similarly, it seems preferable to recite Kiddush
Levanah on a more beautiful moon (provided that it is
recited before the latest time permitted by Halacha for
Kiddush Levanah).

Thus, the non-Chassidic Ashkenazic tradition
values Zrizim Makdimim Limitzvot over Hiddur Mitzvah.
The Sephardic and Chassidic tradition, on the other hand,

seems to value Hiddur Mitzvah over Zrizim Makdimim Limitzvot.
Based on this logic, since Daniel is a non-Chassidic Ashkenazic
Jew, I told him that he should ask his mother to kindle Chanukah
lights for him, since for him Zrizim Makdimim Limitzvot outweighs
the value of Hiddur Mitzvah.
There are additional Halachic benefits to this approach.
First, it is questionable whether Daniel is permitted to recite a
Bracha when he lights Ner Chanukah at a very late hour when
hardly anyone is walking outside and no family members are
awake. The Chafetz Chaim (Shaar Hatziyun 672:17) cites
various opinions about this matter and does not issue a clear-cut
ruling. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe 4:105:7)
rules that one should recite the Bracha. Furthermore, Daniel
avoids the problem of eating before performing a Mitzvah (see,
for example, Shabbat 9b). Most important, he avoids the risk of
forgetting to light Ner Chanukah when he arrives at home late at
night exceptionally tired. Thus, it appears that for many reasons
it is better for Daniel to have his mother light for him at the
optimal time rather than light himself late at night.
Conclusion
One should make every effort to light Ner Chanukah at the
optimal time. There are, however, circumstances where the
Halacha tolerates or even encourages delaying the fulfillment of this
Mitzvah.

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