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Bright Choices: Shabbat Lamps and Chanukah Flames

Written by שי טחן, 25/12/2023


Bright Choices: Shabbat Lamps and Chanukah Flames

Rabbi Shay Tahan


The dilemma of lighting candles in a hotel room intertwines the observances of Chanukah and Shabbat. Travelers faced with being away during Chanukah or winter vacations grapple with the challenge of kindling the menorah. In hotels where candle lighting is prohibited, the only apparent solution is to use an electric menorah. While there are poskim (Jewish legal authorities) who permit the use of electric menorahs, the majority holds a more restrictive view. To understand this, let's delve into why most poskim discourage the use of electric menorahs. The menorah symbolizes the miraculous oil that burned for eight days, and the lighting is traditionally performed with oil, a wick, and a flame—elements absent in electric menorahs. Consequently, many poskim argue against the use of electric lighting for this purpose.

Still, some poskim permit the use of electric menorahs when there is no way to light regular candles, as long as it's done in a manner that clearly demonstrates the lighting is for the celebration of Chanukah.

Thus, even according to those lenient opinions, one can't light the lights in the room for that purpose since it doesn't demonstrate that it's lit for Chanukah.

When dealing with Shabbat candles, we find much broader agreement to electric light for Shabbat, as Shabbat has a different purpose than Chanukah. The Chanukah menorah is meant to publicize the miracle, while Shabbat candles serve a dual purpose in lighting the house. One is to honor the Shabbat (רמב״ם הלכות שבת פרק ל ה״ה), and the other is to make the Shabbat more pleasurable. The Aruch Hashulchan (סימן רסג ס״ב) writes that there is Kavod Shabbat (honoring the Shabbat) when lighting at the table where the family eats their Shabbat seudah, which honors the Shabbat, and Oneg Shabbat (pleasuring the Shabbat) when lighting in other rooms around the house (with exceptions for places meant for sleeping).

Chazal said that the candles should serve to light the place so that the people in the house would not bump into the walls. Those purposes of Kavod and Oneg Shabbat can also be achieved with the lighting of electric lights that illuminate the surroundings.

Chacham Ovadia (חזו״ע שבת ח״א עמוד ריא) permits the use of electric lights for lighting Shabbat candles. He supports his view with the well-known story of the daughter of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, who felt sorrowful on Erev Shabbat due to mixing vinegar with oil for the Shabbat candles. The Rabbi comforted her, stating that just as Hashem makes oil burn, He can also make vinegar burn. Therefore, she should light vinegar instead.

If lighting with oil had been an obligation, using vinegar wouldn't have been a suitable solution. This illustrates that the essential factor is illumination, emphasizing that the type of substance used is not the primary concern.

The Ohr Letsion (ח״ב עמוד קע-קעא) argues against the notion that lighting Shabbat candles requires an actual flame, challenging the interpretation based on the name of the Mitzvah: Shabbat candles (נר שבת). He clarifies that this belief is mistaken, as "candle" in this context refers to the utensil holding the oil, not necessarily requiring a flame. He supports this with sources in the Gemara, and contends that a flame is not essential, and theoretically, one could use electricity for lighting.

However, the Ohr Letsion raises a concern with electricity due to its continuous flow. He emphasizes that lighting with electricity presents a unique challenge because new electricity flows every second. While the initial second might be considered the person's lighting, subsequent seconds introduce new light that is not directly associated with the individual. This creates an issue as, according to his perspective, the ongoing flow of electricity makes it impossible to maintain a consistent connection between the person and the light after the initial moment of lighting.

Therefore, he proposes the solution of lighting electric candles using a battery. By doing so, the entire energy needed for the light is contained within the battery, as opposed to drawing power from the grid or power house continuously. This approach ensures that the energy used for the electric candles remains localized, addressing the concern raised about the constant influx of new electricity and maintaining a more direct connection between the person lighting the candles and the energy source.

Indeed, he applies the same rationale to the electric Chanukah menorah. He asserts that it is permissible to use an electric Chanukah menorah when regular candles are not feasible. However, he cautions about the identical concern related to continuous electricity flow. To address this, he advises using a battery-operated menorah. This ensures that the entire energy required for the menorah is contained within the battery.




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