Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Where to Light the Chanukah Candles

by Rabbi Ari Enkin

Although not too widely practiced today, the Talmud[1] clearly states that in order to properly fulfill the mitzvah of the Chanuka lighting, the menora must be lit on the outside of one's home. This is due to the requirement that the menorah must be lit in a location where it will best publicize and expose the miracle of Chanukah to as many people as possible.[2] It was only as a dispensation for those who lived in the upper floors of residential complexes that merely lighting at a window was deemed acceptable.

Nevertheless, historically Jews have often lived in countries where there was rampant anti-Semitism which made lighting outdoors extremely dangerous.[3] Indeed, the Talmud itself instructs us that in a time and place of persecution the menorah should be lit discretely in the safety of one's home.[4] It was thus dependant on the safety and security of one's individual community as to whether the menorah was to be lit outdoors, indoors, hidden from view, or as a compromise - in a window facing the main thoroughfare where passersby will be able to see one's menora.

Click here to read moreToday most Jews in western countries enjoy a relatively safe environment where religious freedom is assured. It is thanks to such an environment that we find menoras prominently displayed in residential windows as well as the public square of such countries, thereby fulfilling the mitzvah of publicizing Chanuka in its most meticulous manner.[5]

In our day in age, when most Jews live in societies where lighting outdoors would not pose any security threat or the like, why is it that the custom has still not reverted back to the way it was originally intended? It seems that there is no excuse for not lighting outdoors anymore. Nevertheless, there are a number of justifications cited in order to validate the continued practice of lighting the menorah indoors as we will see.

There exists a concept within Talmudic law[6] that once an amendment is made in the performance of a mitzva due to extenuating circumstances, the changes are to continue even when the original motive for doing so is no longer relevant.[7] For example, the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashana was originally intended to take place during the earlier shacharit service as opposed to the later Mussaf service as is the case today.[8] At one time however, much of the Jewish world lived under an oppressive non-Jewish government that used the early morning blowing of the shofar as a pretext to murder Jews claiming that it was actually a call to war. In response, the shofar blowing was deferred to the Mussaf service where it would be obvious that the shofar was merely a component of the elaborate religious services of the holiday.

There is also the constant worry for one's menora lest it be stolen[9] or vandalized.[10] This is especially true for those who have menoras that are made of gold or silver and are quite costly.

An additional legitimization for moving the lighting indoors both in our day as well as in yesteryear is the reality of the cold winter weather that is a feature of the Chanuka season.[11] Between the winds, rains, and the snow, lighting outdoors could be quite tricky. Some even suggest that the discomfort of standing outside in the cold to light the menorah is enough to warrant the move indoors.[12]

Therefore, in addition to the later ratification of lighting the menora indoors which was originally due to government persecution, we have seen some additional considerations which seem to have led to the justification of this practice in our day as well. It is also appropriate to point out that there exists a legitimate basis for the custom that when lighting the menora indoors, one is to light it at the entrance to one's home opposite the mezuzah.[13] According to this view, there is no requirement whatsoever that the indoor lighting be visible to passersby outside.

A Chassidic[14] interpretation to the still prevalent practice of lighting the menorah indoors teaches that the lights of the Chanuka are representative of the 'light' of Torah. In ancient times lighting outdoors was more appropriate when the influence of Torah was clearly felt in the world. In our generation however, where the influence and prestige of Torah has unfortunately decreased, the indoor lighting represents our hope that at least the lives of the members of our household will be inspired to follow the light of the Torah.

In conclusion, it is strongly recommended that those who live in single family homes and would be able to fulfill the mitzvah in the manner it was originally intended by lighting outdoors should definitely consider doing so.[15] Those who continue to light their menora indoors due to the considerations raised above are certainly entitled to do so as well.[16]

[1] Shabbat 21b
[2] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:7, Mishna Berura 671:20, Kaf Hachaim 671:37
[3] Rivash 111 cited in Meorot Natan 14
[4] Shabbat 21b, O.C. 671:5
[5] Igrot Moshe 4:125
[6] Tosfot Rosh Hashana 32b
[7] Minchat Yitzchak 6:66, Piskei Teshuvot 671:3n. But see Tosfot Beitza 30a
[8] Rosh Hashana 32b
[9] Darkei Moshe 671:9, cited in Piskei Teshuvot 671:3, Bach O.C. 671, see also Gittin 16b
[10] Kol Bo 44
[11] Aruch Hashulchan 671:24
[12] Ritva Hachadasha cited in Minchat Asher 1:58
[13] O.C. 671:7; Rama, Aruch Hashulchan 671:27
[14] Bnei Yissaschar cited in Piskei Teshuvot 671:3
[15] Az Nidberu 10:26, Or Zarua 323
[16] Aruch Hashulchan 671:24, Minhag Yisrael Torah 671:2

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