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Coping with marital separation?

Sharon Galper Grossman and Karen Miller Jackson

Kislev 5781 | December 2020
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She'ela

My husband and I have separated, we are living in different homes. Should I light my own Hanukkah candles?

Teshuva

This question relates to a few different aspects of the mitzvah to light Hanukkah candles.

  1. The Origin of the mitzvah

The Talmud discusses how to fulfill the mitzvah to light hanukkah candles:

“The Sages taught in a baraita: The basic mitzvah of Hanukkah is each day to have one candle kindled by a person, for himself and his household “ner ish u-beito.” And the mehadrin (those who are meticulous in the performance of mitzvot) kindle a light for each and every one in the household. And the mehadrin min ha-mehadrin, (who are even more meticulous), adjust the number of lights daily.”

The Rishonim debate about how to perform the mitzvah in a way which is mehadrin min ha-mehadrin. The Tosafot (Shabbat 21b) holds it is publicizing which night of Hanukkah it is, in which case ideally one person should light the number of candles corresponding to the night of Hanukkah per household. While the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Megillat Esther and Hanukkah, 4:1-3) holds that the hiddur is increasing the light, in which case the head of household lights candles corresponding to both the night of Hanukkah as well as the number of family members in the household. In other words, if there are 10 family members and it is the 8th night of Hanukkah, the head of the family will light 80 candles. After stating the halacha, the Rambam cites a custom that in Sepharad the head of house would light one hanukkiyah for everyone (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Megillat Esther and Hanukkah, 4:3).

The Shulchan Aruch codifies the position of Tosafot into halacha and holds that the head of the household lights one hanukkiyah for everyone:

“How many lights should one kindle? On the first night, he kindles one [light]. From then on he continues to add one each night, until on the last night they are eight. And even if the household members are many, they should not kindle more.” (Shulchan Aruch, OH 671:2)

The Rema (OH 671:2) holds like Rambam that a hanukkiyah should be lit for each member of the household. The Rema states:

“And some say that every one of the household members lights (Maimonides) and such is the widespread custom. And they should take care to place their lights in a separate place, so that it will be apparent how many lights they are kindling (Abraham Kara of Prague).”

This is an unusual situation in halacha, where the Shulchan Aruch follows the position of Tosafot, while the Rema follows that of the Rambam.

The basic mitzvah of lighting Hanukkah candles, at minimum, falls upon the household. Each household must light one candle each night. The “mehadrin” level – One candle for each member of the household. There is an additional hiddur mitzvah that either: 1) one member of the household lights a hanukkiyah with the number of candles representing the number of days of Hanukkah, or 2) each member of the household lights his own hanukkiah representing the number of days of Hanukkah.

  1. Women’s obligation to light

What is the obligation of the women of the household in the mitzvah to light Hanukkah candles?

The Talmud states (Shabbat 23a) that women are obligated in lighting Hanukkah candles because – אַף הֵן הָיוּ בְּאוֹתוֹ הַנֵּס – “they too were included in the miracle.” The Talmud cites this principle with regard to women’s obligation in several mitzvot including: the 4 cups of wine on Pesach and megilla reading on Purim (Megilla 4a and Pesachim 108b). The Rishonim debate the meaning of the phrase “they too were included in the miracle.” Rashbam (on Pesachim 108b) suggests that it means a female heroine played a key role (The righteous women on Pesach, Esther on Purim and Yehudit on Hanukkah). Tosafot explains that it means that the women were also in danger (on Pesachim 108b). The Tur and Shulchan Aruch (OH 675:3) codify this position into law that women are obligated in the mitzvah.

How does the woman’s obligation in ner Hanukkah fit in with the positions of the Shulchan Aruch and Rema on the concept of “ner ish u-beito”? For the Shulchan Aruch, the head of household lights for everyone including his wife. For the Rema, each family member lights for themselves, including the woman.

The Mishna Berura (Orach Chayim 671:9) holds that the obligation on each family member to light for themselves does not include the 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).1 Hence, her mitzvah is fulfilled by her husband’s lighting.

III. When a married couple is not together on Hanukkah, who lights?

The Talmud (Shabbat 23a) teaches that when an unmarried man is in a guesthouse on Hanukkah, he may give a few coins to the innkeeper to fulfill his mitzvah of lighting candles. When he is married, he no longer needs to do so since his wife will be lighting in his home for him.

This is codified as law by the Shulchan Aruch (OH 677:1). The implication is that if a man’s wife is lighting at home, the husband is exempt from lighting Hanukkah candles as the woman has fulfilled the obligation on the part of their household.

 

Thus, if one is away from home on Hanukkah, s/he should either light or ensure that Hanukkah candles are lit where s/he is residing. For example, if a young man lives in a different home from his parents he must light his own candles in his residence. However, if a married person is travelling during Hanukkah a spouse may light Hanukkah candles at home and fulfill the mitzvah on his/her behalf under certain circumstances.

  1. When a couple is separated but not yet divorced, who should light?

Contemporary poskim specify that when the husband is away, the wife may only fulfill his obligation to light Hanukkah candles if she is lighting in their joint home and if he will return home at some point during Hanukkah. This is the opinion of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichot Shelomo Hanukkah, Chapter 13, Archot halakhah, Comment 21) and Rav Elyashiv (Pninei Hanukkah, page 118) and Rav Karlitz (Shalmei Torah Hanukkah, 18:3). However, if the husband is away for all of Hanukkah, his house is no longer considered his home and according to Rav Elyashiv (Pninei Hanukkah, page 119-20), she may not light candles on his behalf. The Shevut Yitzchack (Section 8, chapter 16, 3:1) states that even if he will return at some point during the holiday, if he sleeps in a separate home which he owns while he is away, his wife cannot light for him (Dirshu on the Mishna Berura).

If a couple are separated and already living in different homes, Hanukkah candles must be kindled in each home (due to the concept of ner ish u-beito). Hence, each should light in his/her own home.

  1. Conclusion:

A couple who is going through separation will face many challenges. The mitzvah of lighting Hanukkah 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. However, the minimum halachic requirement for lighting Hanukkah candles is that candles should be lit in each home. Moreover, halacha does address the case of a married couple who are not together in their home during Hanukkah, 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 Hanukkah in order for his wife to fulfill the mitzvah for him, when a couple is separated, the woman should light for herself. A couple who are separated and living in separate homes must each perform the mitzvah for his/her individual household.

Moreover, if the woman follows Ashkenazic custom (based on the Rema) and always lights for herself, she would continue to do so. If the woman follows Sephardic practice and (based on Shulchan Aruch) her husband always lit for her, now she should light for herself and her new home.

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

Endnotes

  1. The origin of this principle appears in Sanhedrin 28b, regarding the laws of witnesses and is codified by Rambam (Mishneh Torah, hilchot edut 13:6) and Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 33:3). The Mishna Berura applies the principle of “Ishto ke’gufo” to candle lighting on Hanukkah.

Sharon Galper Grossman and Karen Miller Jackson

Guest Responders Graduates of the Morot L’Halakha Program, Matan HaSharon