Late Lighting of Chanukah Lights by Rabbi Chaim Jachter



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.


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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