Chanukah Timing Tips
by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein
It is hard to believe that Chanukah is almost here. As we look forward to this time filled with simcha and chizuk, as well as get togethers with family and friends, I thought it would be a good time to go over some of the common, but sometimes overlooked, halachos that come up over Chanukah.
The Proper Time to Light Candles
· There are different minhagim regarding what the best time, lichatchila, to light Chanukah candles is. Here in Yerushalayim, the minhag is to light the Chanukah candles at shkiah, sunset, or as close to it as possible. Most communities in Chutz LaAretz, where the amount of time in between sunset and nightfall (tzeis hakochavim) is significantly longer, light somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes after shkiah. A person should follow the accepted practice in her home or community.
· Chanukah candles must be lit at a time when there are still people out on the streets that will see the menorah lit. The poskim say that for an hour or so after the stores in an area close, it is still a time time that people are considered to be out on the streets. Seeing as most retail stores close in the 7-9PM vicinity, depending on the area, the latest time for lighting could be 10 or 11pm; in big cities it could be much later. If one lights later than this time, they should light without reciting the brachos. If one is lighting inside the house, then the lighting is primarily serving to publicize the mitzvah to those who are at home in the house. As long as one other person is awake to see the candles lit, one may light with a bracha even very late at night.
· If someone is unable to light at the proper time (around sunset), she should light later when she is able to. As long as she will still be lighting at a time that she can make a bracha (as explained above), it is better to wait until they are able to light and not light earlier than shkiah.
· If one will not be able to light later at all (if she is traveling or will not be back home until it is too late to light), one may light the candles earlier than sunset – provided it is later than plag hamincha. Before plag hamincha, one may not light the candles, and if one did so, it is invalid and the mitzvah must be done properly later.
· If a person lives together with other people (family, roommates, etc.), or if there is someone who will be fulfilling the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah in her current residence, she can ask someone who will be lighting on time to light on her behalf as well (making her friend her “shaliach” for this mitzvah). In fact, the poskim say that this preferable to a person lighting earlier than shkiah.
· Regardless of what time a person lights, there must be enough oil (or a long enough candle) for the Chanukah candles to burn until at least 30 minutes after tzeis hakochavim.
To get a better idea of what this all means, I have included here a few different locations with their zmanim on the first night of Chanukah (the night of December 1) – the zmanim get slightly earlier throughout Chanukah.
Plag: 3:44 Shkiah: 4:44 Tzeis: 5:28
Plag: 3:22 Shkiah: 4:21 Tzeis: 5:06
Plag: 3:59 Shkiah: 4:58 Tzeis: 5:43
Plag: 3:04 Shkiah: 3:55 Tzeis: 4:52
Plag: 3:41 Shkiah: 4:44 Tzeis: 5:24
Plag: 3:30 Shkiah: 4:30 Tzeis: 5:15
Plag: 3:31 Shkiah: 4:35 Tzeis: 5:10
Activities that Should not be Done Until a Person Lights
It is important to note that in order to make sure that a person does not unnecessarily delay the lighting and then perhaps forget to light, there are certain activities that are prohibited from the time the sun sets until a person has fulfilled the mitzvah.
· Activities that are time consuming and distracting should not be started within a half an hour before shkiah. These activities include getting a haircut, going to exercise or swim, business or purchasing interactions that have the potential to take a long time (going to buy a car, or a sheitel, or meeting with the photographer for the wedding, or going to a store to decide which items to register for, etc.). Even if one began one of these activities earlier, when shkiah comes she should, if she can, stop until she is able to light.
· “Minor” activities that do not continue indefinitely, or that are commonly interrupted in the middle and then continued later, are permissible. Therefore one may write an email, take a shower or the like during this time, even before she lights.
· A person may not eat a meal. This means that a person may not eat a substantial amount of bread (meaning more than a slice of bread or so), or an amount of mezonos that would constitute “a meal.” Snacks are permissible. Small amounts of mezonos foods, rice, and any foods that you make any other bracha on are permissible. But sitting down to a proper seudah with bread (like a family get together) should not be done until one has lit.
· Sleeping is not permissible beginning from 30 minutes before shkiah. Even putting one’s head down for a brief nap is not permissible until one has lit candles.
· IN ANY OF THE ABOVE SITUATIONS: If a person has set up a reminder for herself, to make sure that she does not forget to light, it is permissible to engage in any of these activities. This includes setting up a friend (who herself did light candles already on time) or setting an alarm to remind you to light when you get home. A person can set a reminder on a cell phone or PDA that she will get later that night, at a time she will be able to light.
I would like to finally note that there is no doubt that the best possible way to fulfill the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah is to light the menorah at the appropriate zman (shkiah or some 2-30 minutes thereafter). While there are halachos regarding what to do if this is not an option, and one can fulfill the mitzvah by lighting later or earlier, a rebbe of mine once commented that he felt that people should put real thought into making their Chanukah plans. Why should we set ourselves up, on the holiday of celebrating the mesiras nefesh of Klal Yisroel, to fulfill a mitzvah in a less than optimal way. It is very much in the spirit of Chanukah for a person to schedule her engagements during the week in such a way that she is able to fulfill the mitzvah bizman. May we all be zoche to see yeshuos Hashem bikarov.
Have a very happy and halachic Chanukah!