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Lighting Chanukah candles on the plane

Rabbanit Surale Rosen

Kislev 5580 / December 2019
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She'ela

I'm planning to travel from Israel to the US with my husband and I will be returning to Israel on Wednesday December 25th. My flight is at 1:00 pm NY time and I land in Israel at 6:00 a.m Israel time on December 26th. What do I do about lighting Chanukah candles on the 25th? Presently I have no children who live in the house and it will be empty over Chanukah. Thanks in advance!

Teshuva

The Gemarah in Shabbat 23a: Rav Ḥiyya bar Ashi said that Rav said: One who lights a Hanukkah light must recite a blessing. And Rabbi Yirmeya said: One who sees a burning Hanukkah light must recite a blessing (because the mitzvah is not only to kindle the light but to see the light as well. Therefore, there is room to recite a blessing even when seeing the light).

Rashi comments: One who sees – one that passes by the market and sees a burning Chanukah light in the yard. And I found in the name of our Rabbi Yitzchak ben Yehuda who said in the name of our Rabbi Ya’akov that this blessing is meant to be recited by one who hadn’t lit candles yet or by a passenger on a boat.

 

The Maharsham 4:146 (Rav Shalom Mordechai Schwadron 1835-1911), when asked about whether it’s permissible to light Chanukah candles on the train clarifies that going on the night train means paying for an overnight stay on the train, similar to renting a room for the night, a place to eat and sleep in. Therefore not only is it permissible but obligatory. It is true that unlike a proper house, the train keeps moving but nowhere do we find an obligation for the house we light in to be set in one place. The main point of the mitzvah is ניסא פרסומי which is fulfilled in any type of house.

The Maharsham understands Rashi to exempt passengers on a boat from lighting since the boat Rashi refers to is opened to the blowing wind on all sides, with no roof or any sign of proper accommodation. That is why the only blessing a passenger on a boat can say would be upon seeing a Chanukah light.

 

The Aruch Hashulchan Orach Chayim 677:5 (Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein 1908-1829) does not deem lighting on the train as a straight forward חיוב (obligation) – one can rely on the household members to light for him at home. However, since he is not going to actually see the Chanukah lights, he should try to light a single candle on the train’s car. This way the other passengers hopefully won’t fuss about the fire and it’s better to fulfill the main obligation of seeing the light than not lighting at all. This is especially so when we’re dealing with someone who will not get to a specific place with accommodation for sleeping on that night.

Rav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg,  the Tzitz Eliezer (15:29), understands the mitzvah of lighting to be independent of an actual house to light in. Rather, it is a mitzvah that applies to any individual, wherever he/she may be. He understands Rashi’s exempting a passenger on a boat from lighting to be due to conditions not enabling him to keep the mitzvah. This is either because passengers don’t have the actual equipment to light or because of a general prohibition to lighting any fire on a boat. It is not because a boat is not considered a home of any type. Therefore people going on a hike who sleep outside or even homeless people who sleep on the street should light Chanukah candles. Not having a particular home or even a particular place of sleeping does not mean you’re exempt from the mitzvah.

Flying on an overnight flight grants us a place to eat and sleep on the way to our destination. Similar to a train, we have the necessary facilities for eating and sleeping, even if it’s only a seat and not a proper bed. We can therefore see from all three Poskim we mentioned that you should be lighting Chanukah candles on the plane, especially since you have nobody at home in Israel to light for you. Since none of your children live presently at home, there are no household members that can light for you.

However, since it is strictly prohibited to light any fire on the plane, the only option you have is to use an electric light. Question is – does an electric light serve the purpose of the mitzvah of Chanukah candles? We know that we are supposed to light candles similar to those lit in the Menorah since it is the miracle of oil lasting for 8 days that we’re celebrating. Unlike Shabbat candles where the chief purpose is to have light in the house, Chanukah candles serve no purpose other than פרסומי ניסא  emulating the Menorah in the Temple. Another problem with an electric light is since it is burns strongly and gives out a lot of light, unlike candles, it is considered אבוקה, a torch, and not a candle. Therefore the majority of Poskim (Har Tzvi, Levushei Mordechai, Tzitz Eliezer, HaGaon Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach) conclude that one has not fulfilled the mitzvah of lighting with electric lights.

Similarily Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yabia Omer 3, Orach Chayim 35) expounds on the ספק and quotes the Ran in Tshuvat Harivash (390) instructing G-d fearing people not to place themselves in situations where they are not able to keep the mitzvah properly, but concludes that none the less if it so happens that one can’t use wicks and oil to light properly, one should use electric lights without saying a Bracha. Due to the prominent ספק in the Poskim whether you’re

יוצא ידי חובה  with electric lights, we should abide by the rule להקל ברכות ספק.

 

Rabbanit Surale Rosen

is a graduate of Hilkhata, Matan's Advanced Halakhic Institute and is a certified Meshivat Halakha. She is the Director of Shayla. In addition she is a certified To'enet Rabbanit and a graduate of Matan’s Advanced Talmud Institute. Surale has taught Midrash, Talmud and Halakha and Daf Yomi in a wide array of shuls and communities, including the Matan Beit Midrash. Surale is a graduate of Bar Ilan University and holds degrees in English Literature and Talmud. This past year she wrote the weekly Parashat HaShavua column for Chumash Shemot in the leading religious Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon and periodically writes Divrei Torah for weekly Torah publications.