Chanuka Candles Lit for Less than Half an Hour

  • Rav Shlomo Levy

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash


Chanuka Candles Lit for Less than Half an Hour

By Rav Shlomo Levi

Translated and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass


May one light Chanuka candles with a blessing if he plans to extinguish them before they will have burned for half an hour? (This situation is relevant to soldiers who go out on maneuvers right after dark, or to those who must leave home right after lighting but do not want to leave behind burning candles in an empty house.)


Background Information

In order to answer our question, we will need to be familiar with two issues that come up in the Talmud.

1. Shabbat 22b: Is the mitzva LIGHTING the candles (hadlaka osa mitzva) or PLACING them in their proper location (hanacha osa mitzva)? The gemara offers a list of practical differences that arise from these two approaches, including the question of whether one may light inside and then bring the lit candles out to their proper place. The gemara (Shabbat 23a) concludes that lighting is the essential mitzva.

2. Shabbat 21a: If the candles are extinguished, does one have to relight them (kavta zakuk la)? Rav Chisda and Rav believe that one completes his obligation upon lighting the candles and need not relight them if they go out (ein zakuk la). According to Rav Huna, however, the candles must be kept lit, similar to the law of mezuza, in which one's responsibility is not only to affix it to the door but to ensure that it remains there as well. The gemara concludes, and the Rishonim rule, that if the candles go out one need NOT relight them.

The gemara presents these two issues independently; they can also be seen as logically distinct (e.g., the mitzva might be to situate the lit candles in their proper place, but if they then go out we might still not be obligated to relight them). The first dispute (lighting vs. placing) refers to our initial obligation, and the second (relighting) is about whether we must prolong this situation. Rav Yosef Karo (Shulchan Arukh OC 673:2), though, connects the two causally and says, "The mitzva is to light, and THEREFORE if the candles go out before their time one need not relight them." Apparently, "lighting" indicates to him a one-time act that can be accomplished in a moment and then left, while "placing" means creating a situation (candles lit in their proper place) that must be perpetuated.

"Light for half an hour" BUT "no need to relight"?

The time for lighting is from nightfall until travel in the marketplace finishes for the day (ad she-tichleh regel min ha-shuk, Shabbat 21b). This time is estimated to be about a half hour. According to the opinion that the candles must be relit if they go out, this makes perfect sense in that it teaches us how long they must stay lit. However, the view that the candles need not be relit now becomes difficult to understand. Doesn't the law of "until travel in the marketplace finishes" imply that if the candles were extinguished beforehand, then they must be lit again?

The gemara (Shabbat 21b) offers two answers:

1. "If one did not light until then, he must still light." If, however, it went out before the half hour is up, he need not relight.

2. "The amount." What does this mean? Doesn't the approach that there is no need to relight merely require a momentary candle lighting? The Rif and Rashi offer different explanations.

The Rif: "If it was lit until this time, he can then extinguish it or benefit from the light if he wants to."

Rashi: "There must be this amount of oil in the candle." Though the mitzva requires only the act of lighting, one must still light a candle that has the capacity to stay lit for a minimum amount of time. It is unclear whether Rashi thinks that the candles need to stay lit only until a half hour after sunset (and might, depending on when they were lit, actually burn for a fraction of that time), or whether they must stay lit for a full half an hour, even if he lit them twenty eight minutes after sunset. The Rambam (Hilkhot Chanuka 4:5) explicitly takes the first approach (see Shulchan Arukh 672:2).

Lighting in a Windy Place: The Shiltei Gibborim

One more discussion in the poskim is relevant to our question. The Rosh requires not only that the candle be supplied with a half-hour's worth of oil, but that the wick be in that amount of oil at the time the candle is lit. To fulfill the mitzva, one must perform the act of lighting upon a candle that is fit to stay lit for half an hour. The Shiltei Gibborim extends the Rosh's approach; according to him, one may not light in a windy place where the candle will definitely go out in less than half an hour. Not only must there be enough oil in the candle to stay lit for the proper amount of time, but the external conditions must be suitable for it as well. Because windiness is an external factor, Rav Shlomo Kluger (in his responsa Ha-elef Lekha Shelomo, #378) disagrees with the Shiltei Gibborim.

Our Question

What is the rule in our case, in which one INTENDS to put out the candles before half an hour has elapsed? At first glance, it appears similar to the Shiltei Gibborim's windy-place case, for here too, the candles will not stay lit for half an hour. This, then, would make our case the subject of a debate between the Shiltei Gibborim and Rav Shlomo Kluger. There is one crucial difference, though: the reason the candles here will go out is because the person lighting intends to put them out. Who says that one's thoughts affect what otherwise would be a perfectly good lighting? Remember, the Shulchan Arukh has ruled that LIGHTING is the essential mitzva.

When Do Intentions Matter?

It would make sense to say that thoughts can define one's actions only in areas where thought plays a halakhic role, such as sacrifices (e.g., the law of pigul: if one has an improper thought regarding time or place of consumption during the slaughter of a sacrifice, that sacrifice is rendered unfit) and Shabbat (melekhet machshevet: the biblical prohibition of work on Shabbat refers only to acts performed with creative intent). For Chanuka candles, though, there is no requirement to INTEND to have the candles remain lit for a certain amount of time, so why should it matter if one has the opposite intention?

The Acharonim deal with a similar issue in a dispute about the definition of a permanent knot (kesher shel kayama), which the Halakha prohibits tying on Shabbat. The Taz (OC 317:1) defines a permanent knot as one which the person who ties wishes to leave permanently. Apparently, one's thoughts are relevant even in an area which has no special laws relating to thought. (Though this is a Shabbat law, it is not connected to melekhet machshevet.) The Mishna Berura (OC 317) opposes this approach, claiming that only an objectively permanent knot -- one which the average person leaves permanently -- is considered a "kesher shel kayama." The thoughts of the individual tying the knot are irrelevant. For our parallel situation, this means that we can ignore the thoughts of the person lighting if the candles, when left to themselves, would stay lit the proper amount of time.

The Chelkat Yoav infers the Beit Yosef's position on this topic. The Beit Yosef (OC 675) cites the Maharia's decision about one who lit Chanuka candles in a synagogue in a certain place, intending to move them to the place the candles are lit all year. (According to the Nimukei Yosef, the place the candles are normally kept during the year is improper for Chanuka candles.) The Maharia rules that since he lit in the correct place, he has fulfilled his obligation, even though he later moved the candelabra. This is because the candles do not need to be relit if they go out (kavta ein zakuk la). The Chelkat Yoav observes that the intention of the person lighting to move the candles to an improper place does not render the lighting invalid according to the Maharia. He extrapolates that likewise in our case the lighting is acce.

Making a Blessing: The Case Against

In order to consider lighting with the intention of extinguishing before the required time an invalid lighting (upon which one could not pronounce a blessing), one must take the following positions:

1. Candles must burn for a certain amount of time, even though we rule that the LIGHTING is the mitzva ("hadlaka osa mitzva") and that one need NOT relight if the candles go out ("kaveta ein zakuk la").

2. At the time of the lighting, the candles must be fit to stay lit for the required time. This is along the lines of the Rosh, who requires that the wick be immersed in the proper amount of oil at the time of lighting, and the Shiltei Gibborim, who extends this to invalidate lighting in a windy place where the candles will definitely go out.

3. Even one's INTENTION to put the candles out early is enough to invalidate the lighting. This is analogous to the Taz's position with regard to a permanent knot on Shabbat. (One would have to reject either the Maharia's opinion quoted in the Beit Yosef, or the Chelkat Yoav's inference from it.)

In addition, according to the Peri Megadim and other Acharonim, even though we rule that if the candles went out by themselves there is no need to relight them, still, if they were put out intentionally they must be relit. However, this might mean that the original lighting was valid, thus requiring a blessing, but there is now an added requirement for the intentional extinguisher to relight. Furthermore, one who was forced to put out his candles might not even be required to relight them.

Making a Blessing: The Case For

The factors indicating that lighting candles with the intention of extinguishing them early is considered proper far outweigh those that point in the opposite direction.

1. The whole assumption that the candles must stay lit for a minimum amount of time is based on the second answer of the gemara (reconciling "from sunset until the end of marketplace traffic" with "no need to relight"): "the amount." However, the Hagahot Maimoniot (4:2) cites the Raavia quoting Rabbeinu Tam, who says that we should be lenient about each answer, and the Ri, who believes that we follow the first answer.

2. Even the second answer is open to the Rif's explanation, that one can extinguish the candles or use the oil after the half hour is up. (Rashi and the Rambam require a certain amount of oil.)

3. According to the Rambam - who states that the candles need to stay lit only until the marketplace traffic subsides - perhaps we can say that just as a fifteen-minute lighting suffices for one who lights at the end of the half-hour period, it also suffices for one who lights at sundown and is pressed for time. A half-hour lighting may be only an ideal ("lekhatchila"), even if one lights at sunset. The Shulchan Arukh (OC 672:2) explicitly writes, "If one was either negligent or even purposely lit after sundown..."

4. The Rashba, in his novellae on the Talmud, views the first answer ("If he did not light until now, he still should") only as a higher level of the mitzva and not as a requirement ("le-mitzva, ve-lo le-ikuva"). Based on this, he permits one to light all night. Perhaps he views the second answer in a similar light.

5. Even if one followed Rashi's approach to the second answer, one could, as Rav Shlomo Kluger did, still object to the Shiltei Gibborim's extension of the Rosh's ruling. The Rosh ruled that there must be a half-hour's amount of oil at the time of the lighting, and the Shiltei Gibborim extends it to invalidate lighting in a windy place.

6. One could also accept the Chelkat Yoav's reasoning that intention to extinguish early does not invalidate a technically adequate lighting.


Based on the above - the Chelkat Yoav, Rav Shlomo Kluger, the Rashba, Rambam (and Shulchan Arukh), Rif, and the Tosafot - one who knows he will be forced to extinguish his candles early can light with a blessing, as long as he puts in enough oil for the candle to stay lit for half an hour.

Postscript on "She'at Ha-sakana" (Dangerous Times)

We have written without relating to lighting during dangerous times, about which the gemara (Shabbat 21a) says, "In times of danger it is enough to leave the candles on the table." According to the Tosafot and the Smag, lighting from sundown until the marketplace traffic subsides is no longer applicable in this case. The Peri Megadim understands that the Rif and Rambam require a half-hour lighting even in times of danger. [In my humble opinion this is not necessarily so, because they do not refer to times of danger.] The Magen Avraham (OC 672) also rules that the half hour is required in times of danger.

Apparently, according to the Magen Avraham, in dangerous times the Sages preserved all possible laws of lighting, even though they were no longer conceptually applicable. (The lenient opinion requiring only a portion of the half-hour is ironically no longer an option.) Based on this, the Peri Megadim, Mishna Berura and others rule that in dangerous times one does not make a blessing over the lighting unless he has the complete amount of oil. (Even though there is a dispute among the Acharonim on this issue, where there is doubt about blessings we are lenient - "safek berakhot le-hakel.")

Nowadays, thank God, we no longer find ourselves in danger. Though there are those who claim that the law of times of danger still applies, they clearly mean only that there is halakhic significance to the lighting even if one publicizes the miracle only for his own household. They certainly agree that the mitzva can and should be kept in the normal way; the laws of the mitzva in its natural state, with the leniencies that follow, still apply.



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