Havdalah or Chanukah Lights – Which Comes First? by Rabbi Chaim 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.


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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