Is a person who is blind obligated to light Chanukah candles? May this person fulfill the mitzvah on behalf of others?
Talmud and Rishonim do not explicitly discuss the above question.[i] Neither Shulchan Aruch nor Rema mention a person who is blind when they discuss those who are not obligated to light Chanukah candles and therefore may not light on behalf of others. (OC 675:3)[ii]
One of the earliest written sources to specifically address this question is a Responsa of Maharshal (siman 76 https://www.sefaria.org/Teshuvot_Maharshal.77.2?lang=bi) from 16th century Poland:
A person who is blind asked me if he is obligated in Chanukah candles or not, for there are reasons to obligate him since we are not supposed to derive benefit from Chanukah candles and the blessing upon them is not “to see them” but “on kindling,” and we rule that the kindling is the mitzvah. But perhaps we should say that a person who is blind does not have a part in publicizing the miracle – since this person can’t see them maybe they are not obligated to publicize them to others…
Maharshal rules that a person who lives alone and is blind should light.[iii] However, he also rules that when a person who is blind lives with others who can see, it is preferable for another to light on his/her behalf. Therefore, if a person who is blind is married to a person who is sighted the latter should light on the former’s behalf no matter the gender (he brings the example of a woman lighting on behalf of herself and her husband). Similarly, if a person who is blind is in a house where someone else lights then this person should give money towards the expense of lighting and the one who lights should say the blessings.
Maharshal does not use the word obligation, but rather speaks about what is preferable and what should be done, so his answer is open to interpretation. Why does Maharshal say a person who is blind should light if they live alone but should not light if another who can see can light in their stead?
Sha’arei Teshuva brings Maharshal and adds that a person who is blind should not recite a blessing when lighting and may not fulfill the obligation on behalf of another. He seems to understand Maharshal in one of two ways:
- A person who is blind is not obligated to light but may light voluntarily.
2.There is doubt as to whether a person who is blind is obligated to light. Therefore, this person should light, as they are either obligated or may voluntarily perform the mitzvah, but this person should not recite the blessing and can’t be relied upon to fulfill the obligation on other’s behalf.
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein[iv] does not believe that option #1 is a proper understanding of Maharshal. He explains that such a reading would only make sense if Maharshal was discouraging a person who is blind from lighting in a household where everyone lights Chanukah candles, according to Rema’s understanding of mehadrin min hamehadrin (the ideal way to perform the mitzva). Yet Maharshal actually rules according to Rambam that mehadrin min hamehadrin is one person per household lighting an amount of candles corresponding to the night of Chanukah. Since only one person lights in such a household, if there is a choice between a person who is blind and one with sight, the person with sight should light. This is in line with explanation #2.
Rav Lichtenstein adds that in a household with the tradition that each family member lights their own Chanukiah a person who is blind should not lose out on the fulfillment of mehadrin min hamehadrin and should light for themselves.
Mishnah Berura brings Maharshal and Sha’arei Teshuva. Magen Avraham (4) and Ba’er Hetev rule like Maharshal. Additionally, Yalkut Yosef, who rules like Rambam that only one household member should light, rules like Maharshal – a person who lives alone and is blind should light for themselves, and if they live with others another should light for the household. He adds that a person who is blind and lights should light with a blessing as this is an established tradition in Jerusalem, and concludes that a person who is blind is obligated and can light on behalf of others.
In summary, the opinion of Maharshal has been widely accepted, albeit with different interpretations. All these interpretations agree that a person who is blind and lives alone should light for themselves. In households with a tradition that only one member lights, if there is a choice a person who can see should light. While there is some disagreement as to other circumstances, Rav Lichtenstein’s explanation is convincing, and therefore in households where all members light Chanukah candles a person who is blind should light as well.
Additionally, if a person who is blind lights Chanukah candles they should also recite a blessing. According to Ashkenazic norm one may also make a blessing on voluntary mitzvah observance, such as women who perform positive time bound commandments (mitzvot aseh she’hazman grama). While Sephardim do not normally make a blessing in such a case, the mainstream opinion seems to be that a person who is blind is obligated to light, and therefore they should make the blessing. Indeed, this is the ruling of Rav Ovadia Yosef, who usually rules that in cases of doubt one does not make a blessing on mitzvah observance. Indeed, as it is widely accepted that the mitzvah and the blessing are not about seeing the Chanukah candles, but rather about publicizing the miracle, as a member of the Jewish people a person who is blind can, should, and must take part in this mitzvah.
[i] The gemara in Bava Kama (87a) brings a dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabanan concerning a person who is blind’s obligation in mitzvot. Rishonim discuss this as pertaining to Torah and rabbinic commandments, but Chanukah candles are never specifically mentioned. As it is widely accepted by many poskim that the halacha is like rabbanan and a blind person is obligated in commandments this teshuva will not delve into this aspect of the conversation.
[ii] Shulchan Aruch states that women are obligated to light Chanukah candles and a wife may light on behalf of her husband. He then states that a person who is deaf and mute/unable to communicate (cheresh), someone who lacks mental competence (shoteh), and a minor (katan) are not obligated and may not fulfill the commandment on behalf of others. The omission of a person who is blind is a strong indication that they are obligated and may light on behalf of others.
[iii] Maharshal and subsequent authorities state that a person who is blind should light ”with another’s help.” This is not a requirement, but an allowance for one who wishes to have help, as Aruch HaShulchan (OC 675) writes “others should help if he cannot do it himself.”