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Separated

Dr. Sharon Galper Grossman, Karen Miller Jackson

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Written by the Morot L’Halakha
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Question: My husband and I are separated, do I need to light Chanukah candles separately?

Answer: If they are separated, she needs to light in her own home.

Background

This question touches on three different aspects of the mitzvah to light Chanukah candles cited in the Shulchan Aruch.

1.Who lights?

The Shulchan Aruch says that the ideal way to light Chanukah candles is as follows:

כמה נרות מדליק? בלילה הראשון מדליק אחד, מכאן ואילך מוסיף והולך אחד בכל לילה,’ עד שבליל אחרון יהיו שמונה. ואפילו אם רבים בני הבית, לא ידליקו יותר

According to the Shulchan Aruch, the head of the household lights one set of candles for the entire household. The Rema, however, holds that each member of the household lights his/her own Chanukah candles.

הגה: ויש אומרים דכל אחד מבני הבית ידליק (רמב”ם), וכן המנהג פשוט. ויזהרו ליתן כל א’ וא’ נרותיו במקום מיוחד, כדי שיהיה היכר כמה נרות מדליקין [מהר”א מפראג]:

This debate may be an outgrowth of a larger question regarding whether the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles is a mitzvah that falls upon the household (bayit), as a single unit, or on each individual (gavra). If the mitzva falls upon the individual then, like the Rema holds, each person should light for themselves. If the mitzvah falls upon the house, then one family member lights and fulfills the mitzvah for all family members, whether they are present or absent.

It is important to note that there are poskim who hold that the obligation for each family member to light for themselves does not include a wife, because of the halahic principle of ishto ke-gufo (a wife is part of a unit with her husband for the sake of performing certain mitzvot). The Mishna Berura comments on the Rema:

וי”א דכל אחד וכו’ – לבד מאשתו דהיא כגופו

2. Women’s obligation to light

Interestingly, even though the Shulchan Aruch in siman תרע״א holds that the head of household lights for everyone, in siman תרע״ה, the mechaber obligates a woman to light Chanukah candles since she too was included in the miracle of Chanukah:

אשה מדלקת נר חנוכה, שאף היא חייבת בה

The Rema re-affirms his position that everyone in the house should light for themselves:

ולדידן, דכל אחד מבני הבית מדליק בפני עצמו, קטן שהגיע לחינוך צריך להדליק גם כן

On this, the Mishna Berura states that a woman can fulfill her obligation through her husband’s lighting on her behalf. However, if she wishes to light candles, she may.

3. When a married couple is not together on Chanukah.

The Shulchan Aruch also discussed a case when a married couple are not together to light Chanukah candles (because husband is travelling, in miluim, etc). The Shulchan Aruch states:

אכסנאי שאין מדליקין עליו בביתו צריך לתת פרוטה לבעל הבית להשתתף עמו בשמן של נר חנוכה

The implication is that if a man’s wife is lighting at home, the husband is exempt from lighting Chanukah candles as the woman has fulfilled the obligation on the part of the household. This is based on the gemara, which states explicitly that when a man is away, his wife can fulfill the obligation on behalf of the household. The Shulchan Aruch adds that the man is only exempt if he sees Chanukah candles burning wherever he may be.

This sugya relates to the underlying question of whether the mitzvah to light Chanukah candles falls on the household or upon the individual. These sources suggest that the mitzvah falls on the household unit.

Contemporary poskim specify that when the husband is away, the wife may only fulfill his obligation to light Chanukah candles if she is lighting in their joint home and if he will return home at some point during Chanukah.

Conclusion

A couple who is going through separation will face many challenges. The mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles, which places so much emphasis on the unity of the household may be particularly challenging during a separation. A couple may be at various stages of the separation process, with varying intentions, and these need to be taken into consideration.

Halachic sources largely do not directly address the status of a couple who are separated. Halacha does address the case of a married couple who are not together in their home during Chanukah, and one can extrapolate from this regarding a woman’s obligation when she is living separately from her husband. Given that a man must be present at home at some point during Chanukah in order for his wife to fulfill the mitzvah for him, when a couple is separated, the woman must light for herself.

Moreover, if the woman followed Ashkenazic custom (based on the Rema) and always lit for herself, she would continue to do so. If the woman followed Sephardic practice and (based on Shulchan Aruch) her husband always lit for her, based on the concept of ner ish u’beito, now she will need to light for herself and her new home.

May this process be as painless as possible and wishing you brachot for the future.

Dr. Sharon Galper Grossman

Dr. Sharon Galper Grossman

a radiation oncologist and former faculty member of Harvard Medical School where she also obtained a Masters in Public Health. Her current interests are in Women’s Health and Halakha, specifically issues related to preventing women’s cancers. She has recently published “The Angelina Jolie Effect in Jewish Law: Prophylactic Mastectomy and Oophorectomy in BRCA Carriers” in the Rambam Medical Journal. “Resolving the Debate Over Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Vaccination for Cancer Prevention in the Religious World” has been accepted for publication in Tradition.

Karen Miller Jackson

Karen Miller Jackson

is a Jewish educator and writer, who studies and teaches at Matan HaSharon and recently completed Matan HaSharon’s Morot l’Halakha program. She has an MA in Talmud and Midrash from NYU.