Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Public Menora Lightings

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The phenomenon of public Chanuka menora lighting ceremonies are a well known feature of Chabad-Lubavitch outreach activities. However, it is not completely clear that holding such ceremonies, which include the recitation of the blessings over the menora, are halachically sanctioned. It appears from normative halachic texts that it is not permitted to light the Chanuka menora, at least not with the accompanying blessings, in any place besides the home and in the synagogue.[1] Indeed, it has been noted that while the Lubavitcher Rebbe certainly encouraged public Chanuka menora lightings, he actually never discussed whether or not the accompanying blessings should be recited as well.

Click here to read moreEven the practice of lighting the menora in the synagogue each night, along with the accompanying blessings, is not mentioned anywhere in the Talmud or early halachic codes. Indeed, there are a number of halachic authorities who actually oppose the entire institution of the synagogue menora lighting and insist that if it must be done then the accompanying blessings should not be recited.[2] Even in more recent times there were a number of great rabbis, including the Chatam Sofer, who would decline the appointment of lighting the menora in the synagogue for this reason.[3] Nevertheless, this approach was never accepted as normative halacha and the menora continues to be lit in all synagogues each night of Chanuka along with its accompanying blessings.

The motivation and justification for a menora lighting ceremony in the synagogue was that it was seen as an opportunity to contribute to pirsumei nisa – the requirement to publicize the miracles of Chanuka.[4] There is also a view that the menora lighting in the synagogue is performed in order that it serve to discharge the mitzva for those who would otherwise not light a menora themselves.[5] While the practice of lighting the menora in the synagogue, complete with the accompanying blessings has prevailed, a number of authorities are quick to assert that the dispensation to recite the blessings in the synagogue does not extend to any other venue whatsoever.[6] It seems, therefore, that it is difficult to justify the worldwide Chabad public menora campaigns, at least from mainstream halachic sources.

Nevertheless, there may be grounds to permit or justify these public menora lightings (along with the recitation of the accompanying blessings) based on other considerations. There are some precedents within halachic literature which had allowed for study groups which gathered nightly during Chanuka to light the menora along with the accompanying blessings.[7] It is also noted that the original establishment of the menorah lighting at home was that it take place outdoors – a practice which is uncommon in most of the world today. As such, it can be suggested that these public menora lightings are warranted as they recall the original enactment of the sages which was that the menora be lit outdoors.[8] The case for these public menora lighting ceremonies is further strengthened if the event includes mincha and/or maariv prayers as well.[9]


[1]Rema O.C. 671:7
[2] Shibolei Haleket 185, Tanya Ranati 35
[3] Maharam Shik Y.D. 374, Mishnat Sachir O.C. 2:202
[4] Beit Yosef O.C. 671, Meiri;Shabbat 23a, Shut Rivash 111
[5] Beit Yosef O.C. 671, Orchot Chaim Chanuka 17, Kol Bol 44
[6] Tzitz Eliezer 15:30, Minchat Yitzchak 6:65, Shevet Halevi 4:65, Az Nidberu 6:75
[7] Mishne Sachir 2:202
[8] Az Nidberu 6:75
[9] Mishna Berura 671:69, Kaf Hachaim 671:65, Torat Hamoadim p.312 note 97

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