Lighting Chanukah Candles Late at Night
Rabbanit Batya Krauss
She'elaThis year, for the first time in the three years I've been married, I will not be home when my husband lights Chanukah candles. He normally lights at sunset, and I usually rely on his lighting and do not light myself. But this year I will arrive home from work around 8 pm. Should I ask him to wait for me? If not, what should I do when I arrive at home?
This is an excellent question: should your husband wait for you to come home instead of lighting candles at sunset? This question is dependent on our understanding of the timing concerning lighting Chanukah candles.
The Gemara (Shabbat 21b) rules that the mitzvah of Chanukah candles is from sunset until people no longer roam the marketplace. There are a few ways to understand this statement. According to the Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla ve-Chanukah 4:5) the candles should burn from sunset until the marketplace empties out, a length of approximately 30 minutes. The Rambam also writes that candles should not be lit before or after this time: “Chanukah candles should not be lit before sunset, but while the sun is setting, no later, and no earlier. If he forgot, or deliberately avoided lighting at sunset, he can light continuously until the marketplace empties. And how long is this? Approximately half an hour, or longer.”
Conversely, according to Tosfot (Shabbat 21b, s.v. de-i) if one did not light in this timeframe – s/he should light at a later time, especially since Tosfot reflects a time in which people would light inside the house, and the publicity of the miracle was intended for the family.
The Tur (Orah Haim 672) cites both positions: “the obligation is from the end of sunset until half an hour of the night, which is when people walk by, and see it, and there is a publicity of the miracle… but regardless, the appropriate time is all night long… and Tosfot wrote that that there was no need to be stringent about the time stated by the Rabbis, who intended their ruling for a time when people would light outdoors, and after this time, people do not frequent the streets. But since we light at home, and the difference is only significant to the household residents, there is no need to be concerned with the time.”
The Rashba (on Shabbat 21b, s.v. de-I lo adlik madlik) adds that the timeframe discussed in the Gemara does not nullify the obligation to light candles after the marketplace empties out; rather, if one fails to light in this timeframe, this is not the proper performance of the mitzvah, since it lacks the element of publicizing the miracle. But regardless, one is obligated to light the menorah even after this point, since “any obligation that takes place in the night can be performed all night long.” Nonetheless, one should try to light as soon as the sun sets.
The Ritva (on Shabbat 21b, s.v. de-I lo adlik madlik) explains that the timeframe of the marketplace emptying out changes based on location: “This differs from place to place, and the common custom is to consider the timeframe in which stores that sell oil and such remain open.”
The Shulhan Arukh (Orah Haim, Hilkhot Chanukah 672:1-2) rules like the Rambam, and also cites the Tur: “Chanukah candles should not be lit before sunset, but only toward the end of sunset, no later and no earlier… if one forgot or deliberately avoided lighting at sunset, he may light continuously until the marketplace empties, which is approximately half an hour … but if this time has passed and he did not light, he may light continuously all night long.”
Your husband’s custom to light at sunset follows the ruling of the Rambam and Shulhan Arukh. However, according to the Ritva’s ruling, the time defined as the marketplace emptying out is somewhat subjective and dependent on location; presumably today this time would be far later, since stores are often open until 8 or 9 pm. According to the Tur and the Rashba above, one may light Chanukah candles all night long.
In fact, according to most Rishonim, who lived in a time when people primarily lit inside the house, one may light as long as people are awake in the house (Kolbo 44 s.v. u-mitzvat ner; Rosh 2:3; Agur, Hilkhot Chanukah 1:34).
The Rema (Orah Haim 672:2) follows Tosfot and writes that one should ideally strive to light at sunset, but Chanukah candles can be lit all night long, since the parameters based on the marketplace are irrelevant when people light inside their homes: “some say that today, since we light indoors, we do not have to be careful about lighting before the marketplace empties. Regardless, it is better to be careful to do so even today.”
The Magen Avraham remarks there, that one who lights at night should do so with family gathered around, indicating that the publicity of the miracle according to the Rema was turned inwards toward members of the household.
Based on all the sources above, there is room for leniency about lighting Chanukah candles later. The Meshane Halakhot (VI 672) who discusses whether a father should wait for his daughter who works late, explains that despite the halakhic preference to light on time, it is equally preferable to light among the people of the household, especially since Ashkenazi custom follows the Rema’s ruling about lighting inside the house, which makes the marketplace timing less significant.
In light of this ruling, you can certainly ask your husband to wait for you to come home for candle lighting, as long as you are arriving home at a reasonable hour, when people are still walking the streets.
If you cannot light with your husband, there are other possibilities:
- According to the Mishnah Berurah (671:109), “one’s wife is like his own self,” so a man and his wife can light one menorah. According to this position, if your husband already lit, you are exempt from lighting again (and conversely, if you lit for your husband while he was away, he would not be obligated to light).
- The Rema cites the custom to light even as a guest in someone else’s house, instead of relying on the lighting of the host. The Mishnah Berurah clarifies that in this case the guest should stipulate that he is not exempt by his wife lighting candles in his own house, and may then make a bracha on lighting his own candles.
According to this logic, if you stipulate that you do not wish to be exempt by your husband’s lighting, you may light yourself with a bracha when you return home.