Lighting Chanuka Candles by Soldiers and Travelers
Translated and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass
What are the laws of Chanuka candle lighting for soldiers at the front and for travellers?
"Bayit": Household or House?
Both soldiers and campers are away from home on Chanuka night. This presents a problem on Chanuka night, since our Sages have stated that (Shabbat 21b), "The mitzva of Chanuka is a candle for each man's 'bayit.'" "Bayit" can be interpreted in one of two ways:
1. Rashi explains, a person may light for all members of his FAMILY. "Bayit", then, means family or household, (as in "Ish u-veito ba'u" - "Each man came with his family," Shemot 1:1).
2. "Bayit" more literally means HOUSE, in which case one may light only in a building he can call his house.
Does one need a house in order to light Chanuka candles? The continuation of our gemara implies that the answer is yes. The gemara continues, The mitzva ideally is to place the Chanuka candle just outside one's doorway. If one lives on an upper floor, he should place it in a window facing the public thoroughfare. In case of danger one should place it on his table and that suffices." We see from here that whereas lighting at the entrance of the house is ideal, lighting it in a home is essential. The Rambam (Hilkhot Chanuka 3:3) similarly rules that a house is required, "We light candles in the evening at the entrances of the houses each of the eight nights."
A minority of poskim do not believe that a house is an essential element of the mitzva. These include Rav Binyamin Zilber, who writes to this effect in a letter published at the end of Rav Eliahu Shlezinger's "Ner Ish U-veito", p. 130. In practice, though, one should certainly not rely on this and should avoid lighting anywhere but in a house. Accordingly, the Taz (Hilkhot Chanuka 677:2) speaks out against the mistaken practice of dinner guests who light in their hosts' homes instead of their own, for "this is no different than if they had been standing in the street during candle lighting, where lighting is certainly not applicable."
Defining a "House"
Some define a house for the purpose of Chanuka candles the same way they do for the mitzvot of mezuza and ma'akeh (the parapet which must surround a roof). They infer this from Rashi's comment on Shabbat 23a (s.v. "Ha-roeh"), which implies that a passenger on a boat does not light. Accordingly, only a structure with walls, a roof, and certain minimum dimensions is acceptable.
It seems to me, though, that for the purpose of lighting Chanuka candles, any fixed dwelling place (megurei keva) constitutes a bayit. It need have no specific structure, and may even be an open place under the sky, as long as it fulfills the function of a residence. This is evident from the fact that the beraita in Sukka (3a) does not include Chanuka candle lighting among the mitzvot which require a house of at least four square cubits.
I have some doubt regarding the minimum time period necessary to define a dwelling place as fixed. A place which will be lived in for over thirty days is certainly considered fixed; under seven days is certainly not. My uncertainty relates to the period between seven and thirty days, which is akin to the doubt the poskim have regarding the prohibition of building a "permanent" structure on Shabbat. Practically, one found in this situation should light without a berakha.
Whether the soldier or tourist lights where he is staying depends on how long he will be there.
1. For soldiers stationed in a place for thirty days or more who are sleeping in their tank it is best to light as near to their tank as possible. Even if they are living without a roof over their heads, they should still light with a berakha. Lighting for themselves is preferable to relying on their family back home to include them in their lighting, as their extended absence may exclude them from being considered a member of the household. Even before thirty days have elapsed, it seems to me that their camp can be considered a fixed dwelling place if they intend to stay there at least thirty days. In this case, however, there is room for doubt.
Needless to say, one must be extremely careful about security in such a situation and must clarify that there is no danger at all in lighting outside, as our Sages said, "One must be more stringent about danger than about prohibitions."
2. Those who take up residence in a place for less than a week, as is usual for campers, cannot fulfill the mitzva of lighting candles there since it is not a bayit. Were they to light a candle, they would not thereby fulfill even the partial obligation of SEEING the Chanuka candle for in the absence of a house, it is simply not a Chanuka candle! In such a case, then, one's best option is to rely upon the lighting of one's family at home. He misses out, however, on two things: the viewing of the candles, and the mitzva of lighting for himself, which according to some is the optimum (mehadrin min ha-mehadrin). Furthermore, it is far from certain that a yeshiva student who spends most of his time away from home can be included in his family's lighting. Therefore, one should avoid such a situation.
The Traveller vs. The Boarder
It remains still to clarify why it is that an achsenai (boarder) lights in his lodging even if his stay lasts only a single night, while a soldier or a camper require a stay of at least thirty days in order to do so. First, it is likely that such a short-term achsenai must instead pay a token amount for a share of the proprietor's mitzva (hishtatfut be-priti). More importantly, the achsenai IS in a house, a fixed residence, albeit not his own. However, a camper sleeping out in the open has nothing which falls under the rubric of "bayit", unless he turns it into such by means of a stay of significant length. Indeed, if he sleeps in a recognized fixed campsite, he may light with a berakha even if his stay lasts only for that night. It is precisely this aspect of impermanence which, according to Rashi, causes the exemption of travellers on a boat, i.e., a boat used only for short trips along the shore and not long ocean voyages.
I object, therefore, to the suggestion that travellers light on a truck, since it has walls and a roof. For the purpose of Chanuka candles, it is necessary to have a fixed dwelling place, regardless of the type of structure. Even though there are poskim (Maharsham, Responsa 4:146 and Arukh Hashulchan 677:5) who required lighting with a berakha on a train or a wagon, my opinion is that this may be a berakha le-vatala (wasted blessing). It is also quite plausible that they were referring only to wagons and trains used for eating and sleeping (though, in my opinion such vehicles would also not be considered houses unless the journey lasted more than thirty days). A truck used only for transporting things for several hours at a time could certainly not be considered a house. Since, to my way of thinking, one cannot fulfill the mitzva in such a situation, it should be avoided.
[Adapted from an article in Daf Kesher 5749 #159, vol. 2, pp.168-170 (Originally appeared in "Alon Shvut" #84)]
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