Hilchot U’Minhagei Chanukah

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The following is meant as a convenient review of Halachos pertaining to Chanukah. The Piskei Din for the most part are based purely on the Sugyot, Shulchan Aruch and Rama, Nosei Keilim, and the Mishna Berura, unless stated otherwise. They are based on my understanding of the aforementioned texts through the teachings of my Rebbeim. As individual circumstances are often important in determining the psak in specific cases, and as there may be different approaches to some of the issues, one should always check with one’s Rav first.

  1. There are no stringencies regarding work on Chanukah. One can work all the days of Chanukah at any time of day.
    1. There is a minhag that women don’t do any work (i.e. laundry, household chores, or professional jobs) while the candles are lit.
      1. This doesn’t mean if the candles stay lit for 5 hours they cannot work for five hours. Rather, it means that women should refrain from work only until a half hour after nightfall (Tzeit), (or a half hour from when the Chanukah lights were lit, if this was later than Tzeit).
      2. This ‘not working’ does not include cooking for dinner that night or other things for immediate use.
    2. One should refrain from getting involved in a job or starting to eat a half hour prior to candle lighting (unless it is something that will certainly take only a minimal amount of time).
    3. There is a minhag that even men don’t do melacha while the candles are lit so as to show that we can’t derive use from the Chanukah lights.
      1. This minhag should definitely not be kept at the expense of Talmud Torah.
    4. It would seem that there isn’t any obligation to have any special Seudot Mitzvah on Chanukah (although there is a source to having such Seudot – see Rama).
      1. However, since it has become a minhag to have special family gatherings and the like on Chanuka, it is important to turn these into Seudot Mitzvah by saying Divrei Torah, and singing praises to Hashem.
        1. As there is a Mitzvah to praise Hashem on Chanukah, if we utilize the Seudah (i.e. ‘Chanukah party’) for this purpose we are in essence turning the Seudah into a part of a great Mitzvah.
      2. There is a minhag to eat dairy products on Chanukah because a good part of the miracle (the story of Yehudis) occurred through the eating of Dairy products.
        1. By eating dairy products we are also fulfilling the Mitzvah of praising Hashem on Chanukah as dairy foods help commemorate the miracles.
          1. Even if one is making a Seudat Mitzvah on Chanukah one can make it dairy for this reason.
        2. There is a minhag to eat fried foods to commemorate the Miracle of the Oil.
          1. Such foods are likewise being used as a tool to commemorate the miracles of Chanukah thus integrating them into the Mitzvah of praising Hashem.
        3. The Kaf Hachaim says that one should try to make a Seuda every day of Chanukah, and that one should utilize it as a Seudat Mitzvah.
      3. One is not permitted to fast on Chanukah.
        1. If one accidentally fasts on Chanukah one should fast after Chanukah to atone for their fasting on Chanuka.
        2. If one had an unpleasant dream on Chanukah and wishes to fast a Taanis Chalom one should ask a competent Halachic authority.
        3. If one has a Yartzeit for a parent (and if not for Chanukah would have fasted) one should accept upon oneself a later date to fast instead of fasting on Chanuka.
      4. There is a minhag to ‘gamble’ either with cards, or by using a dreidel.
        1. Many of the Achronim are very opposed to this Minhag.
        2. The origin of the minhag to ‘gamble’ (not per se with a Dreidel) is that the Rabbonim at some point felt that gambling was starting to become an issue in the Frum community. They therefore made it a minhag on Chanukah to ‘gamble’ so as to provide a bit of an appropriate outlet for it. This was as an attempt to keep gambling from becoming an all out epidemic in the community (Rabbi Belsky Shlita).


  1. Everyone must be very careful to light Chanukah candles.
    1. Even a poor man who lives off of charity must either sell belongings or collect money in order to light.
      1. Although he should collect money to light he should not collect to light more than a candle a night. (See Halachos that follow).
        1. Even if right now a poor man has enough money to buy as many lights as the number of nights – he still should only light one as he will have to beg for more money in the future (if he lights more than one now).
          1. In our day in age in which needy people don’t go around collecting, but rather receive stipends, and candles and oils are cheap – even poor people can light an additional light per night (if they feel they can afford it).
        2. There are different Minhagim regarding whether females living together with males (i.e. Father, brother etc.) light.
          1. Wives do not light (unless the husband isn’t going to be lighting at home).
          2. In Eretz-Yisroel, where Chanukah lights are kindled outside, unmarried girls don’t light (contemporary Poskim based on Chasam Sofer).
  1. It is preferable that everyone should light for themselves and not fulfill their obligation through another person’s lighting.
  2. The most preferable method of lighting is to add an additional light every night of Chanukah (i.e. the first night one; the last night eight).
    1. Sephardim are noheg that if the lights are being kindled in this preferable manner “Mehadrin – Min Hamehadrin” then only one set of lights should be kindled per household. This is in order to allow for it to be completely clear how many lights have been kindled.
    2. While Ashkenazim are Noheg that multiple sets of lights should be kindled – particular care must be given to see to it that the different sets are differentiable from one another.
      1. The clearer the differentiation the better.
        1. The first night or two we could allow for two people to kindle on the same Menorah/Chanukia, as there would still be a distinct difference between the two sets on the same Menorah. Whereas later on in Chanukah we should not.
      2. If the choice is that a person can light the appropriate number of lights each night, or that everyone can light one light that night – then everyone should light one light (Mishna Berura).
    3. The number of candles being lit must be the same as the number of nights; otherwise only one should be lit.
      1. Since the Mehadrin Min Hamehadrin cannot be fulfilled, even Sephardim revert to Mehadrin (i.e. each household member should light one light).
    4. Any kind of fuel may be used for Ner Chanuka. Likewise any kind of wicks may be used.
      1. There is a hiddur to use a fuel and/or wick that will burn nicely.
      2. There is a hiddur to use olive oil as a Zecher (reminder) of the miracle of Chanuka.
        1. Thus there are those who are mehader even more to try to use the most similar olive oil to that which was used in the Beis-Hamikdash – שמן זית זך כתית למאור, and therefore use virgin olive oil. More particularly, if possible with a low acidity level (Rav Eliyashiv Zatzal).
      3. One should not light in an item that will become heavily black and smoky (such as clay or uncoated ceramic).
        1. If someone does light in such a utensil it should not be reused as the second time the utensil in question is already unappealing.
        2. Wicks can be reused as many times as they will still light and burn well.
          1. As the wicks were used for the purpose of a mitzvah “Anshei Maaseh” are particular not to throw them out and instead burn them.
            1. There are those that save the wicks to be burned with Biur Chametz – so as to use them again and finally for a Mitzvah as well.
          2. From the time of the Rishonim there has been a good deal of discussion as to what is the best location for kindling the Chanukah lights. What is clear is that there are two essential elements as to where one must light: 1) in a way that the person who is lighting is enabling a “Persumei Nisa” (publicizing of the miracle) to other people (even if nobody ends up seeing them). 2) In a way that makes clear the candles may belong to the person who lit them.
            1. The brisker Rov maintained that one should light at the Pesach Hachatzer.
              1. In Yerushalayim this seems to be the prevalent Minhag, although not all do so:
                1. Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach maintained that if the Pesach Habayis is seen from Reshus Harabim (Public Domain) – then one should light by the Pesach Habayis (next to the door of the house).
              2. The Chazon Ish maintained that one should light at the Pesach Habayis. The Chazon Ish maintained that the more visible the door is to Reshus Harabim the better. He also maintained that a porch door is (where the porch overlooks Reshus Harabim) is a Pesach that opens to Reshus Harabim. The Chazon Ish often maintained that a porch door was the best place to light (Chazon Ish Mipi Hashmua).
              3. Apartment buildings are a relatively new phenomenon with regard to the question as to where to light, and the Psakim (rulings) differ.
                1. When someone has a porch/balcony that is overlooking Reshus Harabim and it is not more than 20 cubits high (between 33 and 39 feet) then according to the Chazon Ish one can light at the door to this porch/balcony.
                2. According to the Chazon Ish ruling that one should light at the Pesach Habayis, it would then seem that one can light at the door of his apartment that opens to the communal hallway/stairwell.

Regardless of where one ends up lighting, one must make sure that the lights can theoretically be viewed by someone else, and that the lights appear to belong to the person lighting.

  1. In the event a person lives in a residence that has two or more doors (house, or courtyard), giving the impression that there are two or more separate dwellings, the individual in question should then light near each of those doors.
  2. If one is lighting at a doorway (whatever its location) one should place the Chanukia on the left side (opposite the mezuzah) so as to be ‘surrounded by Mitzvos’.
    1. If there is no Mezuzah (because there isn’t a proper doorway) the Chanukia should then be placed on the right (where a Mezuzah would usually be).
      1. There are those that are Mehader to put up a doorway and put up a Mezuza at the Pesach Habayis/Chatzer in order to have the ideal situation. This Hidur isn’t a necessity at all.
    2. The Menorah must be placed in as close proximity as possible to the actual doorway (within a few inches).
  3. One should set up the Menorah by putting the first night’s light in the right-most spot. Each succeeding night we then add another light to its left.
    1. When we light, we start with the left most light (which will always be the new light).
      1. There are differing Minhagim as to exactly how to set up, and in what order to light the Menorah. If one has a different Minhag (if one is for instance Noheg like the GRA etc.) one should continue to adhere to that minhag. If not, the above represents the traditional way of lighting.
    2. The first night we recite three Brachos (blessings) prior to lighting: Lehadlik Ner (shel) Chanuka, She’osoh Nisim, and Shehechianu. From the second night on, we say only the first two prior to lighting (we don’t say Shehechianu at all).
      1. If one forgot to make a shehechianu or somehow didn’t light the first night, one should make the Shehechianu when lighting the first time afterward. (If one saw a Menorah and only made She’osoh and not Shehechianu (see 9b) they should then make a Shehechianu the next time they light or the next night when they see a Menorah.)
      2. If one didn’t (and won’t be able to) light, and also cannot have someone else light on his behalf, that person should say She’osoh Nisim if and when he sees someone else’s Ner Chanuka. If this happens on the first night, that person should say Shehechianu as well.
      3. After lighting the Chanukah candles we recite Haneiros Halalu.
    3. Chanukah candles should be lit with Tzeis (at nightfall).
      1. There are opinions who maintain Chanukah lights should be kindled at Shkia (sunset) (GR”A – see Mishna Berura, and accompanying Biur Halacha).
        1. Many of the recent Poskim (Rav Moshe, R’ Aharon Kotler, and The Chazon Ish) consequently had calculations of intermediate times to light so as to be Yotzei all the opinions.
      2. Chanukah candles should be lit within a half hour from Tzeis.
        1. This is because in olden days there was in essence already no more traffic in the streets by a half hour after nightfall.
          1. Nowadays, since there is usually traffic outside until considerably later, there are those Poskim who are maikel to light later (see Aruch Hashulcan).
          2. If one is lighting inside one can light as long as there is still someone around to view the Chanukah lights (and as long as it is still night).
  1. If a man lit Shabbat candles first then he still should light Chanukah candles.
    1. If a woman forgot and lit Shabbat candles first, she cannot then light Chanukah candles afterwards (just as she cannot do any Melacha). If she had in mind for some reason or another to do melacha after she lit (and not to be Mekabel Shabbat) then she may also light afterwards Ner Chanuka.
      1. If a woman was confused and thought that she would light Chanukah candles afterwards, she can then light the Chanukah candles even though she already lit Shabbat candles.
        1. She can also continue to do other Melachot until she lights Chanukah candles, but once the Chanukah candles are lit she must cease doing Melachot immediately.
      2. If a women forgot to light Chanukah candles before lighting Shabbat candles she can still make she’asa nisim on someone else’s Ner Chanuka.
    2. If one finds himself with only one candle to light on Erev Shabbat, he should light the candle inside and not make a bracha on it (Aruch HaShulchan).
      1. If there is an incandescent bulb in the house one should use the bulb as Ner Shabbat (as R’ Chaim Ozer and the Avodat HaMelech used to do) and light the candle for Ner Chanukah (electricity cannot be used for Ner Chanukah as there isn’t sufficient fuel present at the time of the hadloka for a half hour, since electricity is received on an as need basis and isn’t contained like a candle…).
    3. On Motzei Shabbat there are those who maintain that Ner Chanukah is first and there are those that maintain Havdala is first.
      1. Nowadays that we are not so makpid to light at Shkia or Tzeis it would seem preferable to make Havdala first.
        1. According to the GR”A no matter what Ner Chanukah should be first.
        2. If someone doesn’t have a minhag they should make Havdala first.
      2. We do not light any of the Chanukah candles from any other Chanukah candles.
      3. As it is forbidden to derive benefit from the Chanukah candles, we light a Shamesh (an extra candle used to light the Chanukah lights).
        1. The Shamesh should be lit in a way that makes clear that it is separate from the rest of the Chanukah candles.
        2. Even if there are strong electric lights around one should still light a shamesh.
        3. There should be a shamesh for every Menorah (not just one for all the sets together).
      4. Children of educational age (perhaps as young as three but definitely by the age of nine) should light Chanukah candles of their own (for Ashkenazim as all members of the household light their own).