by Rabbi Ari Enkin
Although there are a number of different customs as to when the Shabbat candles are to be lit Friday afternoons, no doubt that the custom for women to light 18 minutes before Sunset is the most widespread. Regardless of when the candles are lit, a woman must formally 'accept' Shabbat when she lights no matter how much time actually remains before sunset and the official arrival of Shabbat. Nevertheless, one is not permitted to light the Shabbat candles or otherwise accept Shabbat earlier than Pelag Hamincha, which is one and a quarter halachic hours before sunset. When one lights the Shabbat candles it should be evident that one is doing so in honor of Shabbat and not for other conveniences. In a case of a mitzva or great need, a woman can light the candles without accepting Shabbat if she explicitly declares this intention when lighting.
Click here to read moreIt is not completely clear where the common custom of lighting approximately 18 minutes before sunset actually originates from. It is reported that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik suggested that the custom originates in a practice which was common long ago. The Gemara teaches that there used to be a custom of announcing the arrival of Shabbat with a series of six shofar blasts. The last of these six blasts took place "the amount of time it takes to roast a small fish" before Shabbat, after which time Shabbat would begin. This amount of time is said to have been 18 minutes.
Another view suggests that the custom of lighting 18 minutes before sunset emerged in deference to an obscure halachic opinion which holds that a Jewish calendar day actually ends 18 or so minutes before sunset. According to this view, lighting candles or by extension performing any of the prohibited Shabbat labours, would be forbidden from that time onwards. Although this view is not accepted as the halacha, it may just be that the 18 minute custom was initiated in an effort to comply where possible with this eminent halachic authority. It is interesting to note that all calendars in the UK list the time for Shabbat candle lighting as 15 minutes before sunset.
Although the predominant custom is to light Shabbat candles 18 minutes before sundown, there are other customs as well. For example, there is the well known custom in Jerusalem to light Shabbat candles 40 minutes before sunset. This custom is derived from a view which requires one to add half of a "halachic hour" to one's Shabbat. This amount of time maximizes to be 40 minutes at the height of summer. In order to avoid confusion and ensure consistency, this 40 minute period is adhered to all year long even when half a halachic hour would be less than that.
It is interesting to note that the custom in the city of Petach Tikva is also to light Shabbat candles 40 minutes before sunset just as is done in Jerusalem. This is because the city of Petach Tikva was founded by Jerusalemites, who when organizing themselves, established that the custom of their former home be adopted in their new one as well. There is a misconception that lighting 40 minutes before sunset in other places is to be viewed as a pious or meritorious practice which is not the case. Even in Jerusalem there are many communities that officially light the Shabbat candles 18-20 minutes before sunset like most other places in the world. Although certainly a hallowed practice, the "40 minute" custom is ultimately without basis in halacha. Indeed, most of the "minhag Yerushalayim" practices are not practices which are automatically binding upon anyone who lives in Jerusalem. Rather, they were established by and for followers of the Vilna Gaon. None of the minhag Yerushalayim practices are followed in absolutely all communities.
Related to the subject of when one should light the Shabbat candles is that of "Tosfot Shabbat" – adding from one's weekday onto Shabbat. This mitzva requires us to add from one's weekday to Shabbat by accepting upon oneself Shabbat earlier than the last possible second, which is of course, sunset. Some authorities suggest that adding to Shabbat is actually a mitzva from the Torah. There is no single ruling as to how long before Shabbat one must actually accept Shabbat in order to fulfill this mitzva, even 2 seconds would suffice for this purpose. There are however a number of cited suggestions which include adding: 2 minutes, 4 minutes, 5 minutes, 12 minutes, or 15 minutesto one's Shabbat observance
There does not seem to be any clear evidence in halachic literature to suggest that the various customs as to when one should light the Shabbat candles is directly related to the concept of Tosfot Shabbat. Indeed, the Previous Zvhil-Mezbuz Rebbe of Boston, Rabbi Jacob I. Korff, encouraged women whose custom was to light candles at 18 or 20 minutes before sunset to actually light an additional 2 minutes earlier in order for them to satisfy Tosfot Shabbat. Similarly, this can be seen by the phenomenon on Yom Tov where many women choose to light the Yom Tov candles well after Yom Tov has begun. Women who have this custom should nevertheless make every effort to fulfill the mitzva of Tosfot Shabbat by accepting Yom Tov at one of the recommend earlier times as mentioned above even though they will light later on in the evening. It is interesting to note however that whenever a woman lights her Shabbat candles she is concurrently fulfilling the mitzva of Tosfot Shabbat as well. Men can choose their Tosfot Shabbat practice based on other considerations regardless of when one's wife lights the candles. While one should make every effort to light the Shabbat candles consistently at the same time every week and according to one's established family custom, ultimately the mitzvah of Shabbat candles is discharged as long as the candles are lit anytime before sunset.
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 O.C. 263:4, Mishna Berura 261:25
 See Aruch Hashulchan 263:19 who allows accepting Shabbat before Plag Hamincha
 O.C. 263:4
 Magen Avraham O.C. 263:20, Tzitz Eliezer 10:19
 Shabbat 35b
 Sefer Yereim 274
 There are additional approaches on how to understand the Yereim as well. One view contends that the Yereim holds that the day ends 13 minutes before Sunset, and then 1.5 minutes is to be added for "Tosfot Shabbat" which would put candle lighting time 15 minutes before sunset. There is another approach to the Yereim that would put candle lighting time at 20 minutes before sunset. See Minhag Yisrael Torah 261:1
 Shita Mekubetzet Beitza 30a
 Although a siren goes off in Ramat Beit Shemesh 40 minutes before sunset there is no need or source to light Shabbat candles at that time. In fact, well placed rabbinical sources have told me that the "40 minute" RBS siren is simply "another distasteful attempt in religious intimidation by a few individuals who would like to force their ways on everyone else". The official custom of Beit Shemesh is to light 18-20 minutes before sunset. Of course, those who choose to light 40 minutes before sunset due to their love of Shabbat and hiddur in Tosfot Shabbat – tavo aleihem bracha.
 Kaf Hachaim 261:23
 Yabia Omer 5:21
 Biur Halacha 261:2
 Igrot Moshe O.C. 1:96, Eretz Hatzvi 60
 Avnei Nezer 4:98
 Minchat Elazar 1:23
 Siddur Yaavetz
 Mishna Berura 261:22
 Mate Efraim 625:33, Be'er Heitev 503:4
 Mishna Berura 261:63
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
by Rabbi Ari Enkin