The Proper Time to Kindle Chanukah Lights by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


In this essay, we will focus on the dispute over the ideal time for kindling the Chanukah light.  We shall focus on when one may delay lighting and how a family should conduct itself when a member will arrive later than the optimal time for lighting.

The Ideal Time for Lighting

The Gemara (Shabbat 21b) writes that the proper time for lighting the Chanukah light is “from the setting of the sun.”  The Rishonim disagree about how to interpret this somewhat ambiguous phrase.  The Rambam (Hilchot Chanukah 4:5) rules that it refers to the beginning of sunset (Shkiah).  The Tur (Orach Chaim 672) and Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 672:1) rule that the Gemara refers to the end of the process of the sun setting (Tzeit Hakochovim).  This dispute has not been resolved.  The Aruch Hashulchan (O.C.672:4) writes that the generally accepted practice is to light at Tzeit Hakochavim, but he notes that some light at Shkiah.

The dispute over the precise time of Tzeit Hakochavim further complicates the question.  This important dispute between Rabbeinu Tam, the Vilna Gaon, and the Yereim is summarized by the Biur Halacha (261:2 s.v. Mitchilat Hashkiah).  No consensus regarding the exact time to light Chanukah candles has emerged because of these unresolved disputes. 

There is a considerable range of opinions regarding the precise ideal time for lighting.  When I served as an assistant to Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, he lit very long candles at Shkiah so that the candles should last at least a half an hour after Tzeit Hakochavim.  I have heard that this was Rav Soloveitchik’s consistent practice throughout his life.  The objective of this approach is to satisfy both of the aforementioned opinions of the Rishonim.  Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef 5:208) rules that in Israel the proper time to light is fifteen minutes after sunset.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (cited in Rabbi Shimon Eider’s Halachot of Chanukah p.20), when living in New York lit thirteen to eighteen minutes after sunset.  Rabbi Aaron Felder (Moadei Yeshurun p.7), though, cites Rav Moshe as ruling that the preferable time to light is ten minutes after sunset.  Rav Aharon Kotler (cited in Rabbi Eider, ibid.) when living in the New York area lit twenty-five to thirty minutes after sunset.  Rav Yaakov Kaminetzsky (cited in Emet Leyaakov p.251) believes that Chanukah lights in the New York area ideally should be kindled approximately twenty minutes after sunset.  One should consult with his Rav regarding which opinion to follow.

An interesting question arises regarding one who is traveling in a time zone farther west than his residence.  Poskim (see Rav Efraim Greenblatt, Teshuvot Rivevot Efraim 2:184) debate whether the traveler fulfills the Mitzva of Chanukah lights with his spouse’s lighting at home, if at the time of the spouse’s lighting it is nighttime at the place of residence and daytime in the place where he is traveling.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (cited by Rabbi Aharon Felder, Moadei Yeshurun p.4) rules that the spouse’s lighting does not fulfill the traveler’s Mitzva in such a circumstance.

The Latest Time to Light

The Gemara (ibid.) writes that the latest time to light is “when the people have left the market.”  The Rambam (ibid.) rules that this is approximately a half an hour after the ideal time to light.  Tosafot (Shabbat 21b s.v. Dee Lo) write that nowadays, since we light inside the house, the lighting is focused on the members of the household.  Thus, we may light even after people have left the market.  The Rama (O.C.672:2) rules in accordance with Tosafot, but writes that we should nevertheless strive to light at the original ideal time.  The Aruch Hashulchan (ibid.) explains that, in general, we strive to fulfill rabbinical Mitzvot in the way that most resembles the manner that the Mitzva was fulfilled when Chazal established it.  Since at the time of Chazal, Nerot Chanukah had to be lit at Shkiah or Tzeit we still try to light at that time even though the reason for doing so no longer applies.  With the introduction of electric lighting, people travel in the streets long after nightfall.  This constitutes yet another reason why it is acceptable (Bedieved) to light later than the ideal time specified in the Gemara.

The Mishna Berura (672:11) cites the Magen Avraham who rules that one may light with a Beracha only if there are others who are awake and see the Chanukah lights.  However, the Chamad Moshe (cited in the Shaar Hatziyun 672:17) rules that one may recite the Beracha until dawn even if he is the only one awake in the home.  The Chafetz Chaim (author of both the Mishna Berura and the Shaar Hatziyun) rules that since the dispute has not been resolved, one should refrain from reciting a Beracha in such a situation.  However, he writes that one should not rebuke one who follows the Chamad Moshe.  Indeed, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe O.C. 4:105:7) rules in accordance with the Chamad Moshe.  This dispute hinges on whether one fulfills the Mitzva of Chanukah lighting when one “publicizes” the Mitzva only to himself.

Delaying the Lighting

Many people are unable to light with their families at the ideal time due to work and other obligations.  Rav Yaakov Kaminetzsky (cited in Emet Leyaakov p. 251 and 254) believes that theoretically the Halacha requires the spouse who is home at the ideal time for lighting to light on behalf of the entire family and not wait for the latecomer.  Nevertheless, Rav Yaakov rules that because of the great value of Shalom Bayit, it is proper for the family to postpone lighting until the latecomer arrives.  Common practice appears to accord with this ruling.  Rav Yaakov cites the Gemara (Shabbat 23b) as precedent for this ruling.  The Gemara states that if a poor individual can afford to purchase either Chanukah candles or Shabbat candles but not both, he should purchase Shabbat candles.  The Gemara explains that since Shabbat Candles promote Shalom Bayit they enjoy priority over Chanukah lights.  Rav Yaakov reasons that since Shalom Bayit enjoys priority over Chanukah candles, one delay kindling Chanukah lights due to Shalom Bayit considerations.      

Yeshiva Students

Every year Rav Hershel Schachter hangs a notice in the Bait Midrash of the Yeshiva University Kollel during Chanukah.  The notice relates that when the YU Kollel was established in the early 1960’s, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (the original Rosh Kollel) asked Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik whether the Kollel students should interrupt their studies to return home to kindle Chanukah lights at the optimal time or remain in the Bait Midrash until the conclusion of their scheduled study period.  The Rav responded that the students should continue their studies until the conclusion of the usual study time, even though the ideal time to light Chanukah candles will pass.  The Rav cited as a precedent the Meiri to Shabbat 21b who noted the practice of Yeshiva students of his area not to interrupt their studies in order to kindle Chanukah lights at its ideal time.  (The story is cited in Rav Schachter’s recently published Sefer, Peninei Harav).

Rav Moshe Feinstein (cited in Rabbi Aaron Felder, Ohalei Yeshurun p.8) agrees with this ruling.  He reasons that communal Torah study enjoys priority over lighting Chanukah candles at its optimal time.  However, when I studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion, the Yeshiva interrupted its studies in order to fulfill the Mitzva of Hadlakat Nerot Chanukah at its optimal time.  In addition, Rav J. David Bleich left the Yeshiva University Yadin Yadin Kollel early on Chanukah afternoons, because he did not subscribe to the rulings of Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Feinstein.

Defense of the Ruling of Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Feinstein

The Rambam (Hilchot Ishut 15:2) appears to serve as a sound basis for the rulings of the Rav and Rav Moshe.  The Rambam rules that one may postpone marriage in order to spend extra time studying Torah.  The Shulchan Aruch (Even Haezer 1:3) codifies the Rambam’s ruling as normative.  The Rambam bases his ruling on the Talmudic principle of “one who is involved in one Mitzva is excused from performing another.”  The problem with the Rambam’s ruling is that the Gemara (Moed Katan 9a) and the Rambam (Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:4) rule that Talmud Torah excuses one from performing only a Mitzva that others are able to accomplish in his place.  The Mitzva to marry and have children is an obligation that devolves upon the individual and cannot be accomplished by others.

Many Acharonim have grappled with this problem and have offered a variety of answers.  Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s article on this topic that appears in the Yeshiva University publication Kovod Harav summarizes the classic approaches to this problem and offers a novel solution.  The Aruch Hashulchan (Even Haezer 1:13) and Rav Elchanan Wasserman (Kovetz Hearot, Yevamot addendum 1) answer that Talmud Torah does not excuse one from performing a Mitzva, but it permits one to delay performing the Mitzva.  The Rambam uses the principle of “one who is involved in a Mitzva is excused from performing another” in the context of Talmud Torah to mean that he is excused from performing the Mitzva expediently. 

According to this approach, we have a strong basis for the ruling of the Rav and Rav Moshe.  Talmud Torah does not excuse a Yeshiva student entirely from lighting Chanukah lights.  It does permit him, however, to delay fulfillment of the Mitzva.  We should note that this ruling does not apply to women who study Torah, since they are obligated to light Nerot Chanukah but excused from studying Torah.  Voluntary fulfillment of a Mitzva does not excuse one from optimal fulfillment of the Mitzvot he is obligated to observe.


One should try to light Nerot Chanukah at the optimal time.  However, defining the precise time has been an elusive task.  It appears that common practice is simply to light when the men return from Maariv.  Shalom Bayit and male communal Torah study might permit one to light after the optimal time.       

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