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Hanukkah Candles: When and What

Updated: Feb 7, 2022

1. Question:

At what time should one light Hanukkah candles?


The Talmud Bavli (Shabbath 21b) states that one should light Hanukkah candles "mishetishqa' haHamah", i.e. immediately after the sun has set completely. (Rav Avraham Ben HaRambam clarifies that "sh'qiyath haHama" is the moment when the entire disc of the sun dips below the horizon).

2. Question:

Until when may one light Hanukkah candles?


It states in the Talmud (Bavli Shabbath 21b) that one can light Hanukkah candles "ad shetikhle reghel min haShuq", i.e. as long as people are still out and about. In many urban areas this could translate into midnight or even later. In small communities this might be as early as 7 or 8 pm.

It is well known that when the Brisker Rov was asked this question 50-60 years in Jerusalem he responded by asking when the last showing ended in the local cinema. He was informed that it got out at 11:30 pm. He responded: "In that case one can light until 11:30". (In those days the city shut down at that time; today things have changed).

3. Question:

Candles or Oil - which is preferable?


Some authorities claim that oil (specifically olive oil according to some opinions) is preferable "because of the miracle" (see SArukh OH 673). This is based on the understanding of the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbath 21b) that we light candles to commemorate the miracle of a quantity of oil burning longer than normal.

The Sages of Eress Yisrael, however, did not share this view. In Pesiqetha Rabbathi (Chaps. 2 & 6) & Meghillath Ta'anith (section 23) it states that we light Hanukkah candles to commemorate the historic victory over the Greco-Syrian colonialist forces and the reinstitution of the Temple service which began with the lighting of the Menorah (candelabrum, this being a relatively simple misswah to perform); the Menorah quickly became symbolic of the victory and the rededicated Miqdash. And this is precisely what all Jews say immediately after lighting the candles: "HaNeroth Hallalu Anu Madhliqim.... w'Al haMilhamoth..." These candles we light to commemorate the wondrous miracles, salvations and victories in battle that You performed for our forefathers..." (Massekheth Sopherim 20:4). All three texts - Pesiqetha Rabbathi, Meghillath Ta'anith and Massekheth Sopherim - were authored in the Land of Israel.

Thus there is no valid reason to prefer olive oil, or any oil, to candles. In point of fact, Rav Kook makes the opposite claim: that candles burn more brightly and efficiently than oil and are therefore to be preferred (just as the Talmud prefers olive oil to sesame oil because "it burns more brightly" - see Misswath Reayah ad loc; Shabbath 23a.) (Incidentally, this proves that the Talmud did not consider olive oil preferable for the reason given by certain posekim.)


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