By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Go to Eretz Yisrael for Chanukah and you will see Lucite or glass boxes containing menorahs for outdoor lightings. There is, however, a halachic hurdle that must be overcome for this type of lighting to be valid.
In the time of Chazal, the minhag, of course, was to light the menorah outside in the front courtyard. It was to be lit by the entranceway of the front yard, facing the street. This was on account of the fact that we fulfill the maximum pirsumei nissah when we light the Chanukah lamps outside.
The hurdle is that we rule that “hadlakah oseh mitzvah”—the mitzvah happens at the exact moment of lighting (see Shulchan Aruch OC 675:2). This means that if everything that is necessary for the Chanukah lamps to be lit is not present at the exact moment of the lighting then that lighting is invalid. Thus, if there was not enough oil in the lamps to last for 30 minutes, and that oil was added later, the mitzvah has not been fulfilled.
So what’s the hurdle?
If at the point of lighting the glass door is open and the wind would put out the Chanukah lamps within 30 minutes, the subsequent closing of the glass door will not help.
There is a type of glass container where the door is on the side; this averts the problem entirely. Another workaround is if one is careful to stand directly in front of the glass container in such a manner that his body entirely blocks the wind. Since it is theoretically possible for him to stand there the entire thirty minutes, it would still fulfill the idea of “hadlakah oseh mitzvah.”
It should also be noted that Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, zt’l, in his Mikraei Kodesh (#16), makes an inference from the Shiltei Giborim (Shabbos 21b) to permit it. The Shiltei Giborim writes that if someone lit and it went out, he must go back and relight it. Rav Frank infers that if he lit and it did not go out, it must be that the Shiltei Giborim holds that the mitzvah has been fulfilled! Some, however, are of the opinion that this inference is somewhat tenuous.
Outside Of Israel
When Jews started living among the gentiles, the minhag changed to lighting inside the house on account of danger. Nowadays, the main pirsumei nissah, publicizing the miracle, is for one’s own family members. When did this change happen? The Meiri, who lived about 750 years ago, seems to indicate that the change had happened already during his time (see Shabbos 21b). The Ohr Zaruah (323:2), the Ravyah (Hilchos Chanukah 843), and the Ba’al HaIttur all clearly state the change.
Why Do We Not Go Back?
The question arises as to why we do not go back to the original custom in situations where, baruch Hashem, there is no longer a physical danger. There are many locations in the United States—such as Kiryas Yoel, Lakewood, Boro Park, Williamsburg, Monsey, and Far Rockaway—where there are neighborhoods of just Jewish homes. Are there opinions that one should ideally be lighting outside in these neighborhoods?
The Aruch HaShulchan is of the opinion that we do not default to the original custom. He explains that the wind or rain would extinguish the menorah, and Chazal did not go so far as to demand that we enclose the menorah in glass. In Eretz Yisrael, as mentioned earlier, many people do light outside in a glass-enclosed case.
The Munkatcher Rebbe, in his Nimukei Orach Chaim (Siman 671), cites his grandfather’s custom to light outside (with his silver menorah, no less!). The Munkatcher Rebbe then questions why people do not light outside anymore. The Yaavetz (Sheilas Yaavetz Vol. I #149) also writes that it is almost an obligation to light outside.
Rav Elyashiv, zt’l (Koveitz Teshuvos Vol. I #67), writes that even nowadays, outside of Israel, where there is no danger on account of the gentiles, it is a mitzvah to light outside. Rav Moshe Shternbuch in his Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (Vol. III #215) also writes that in an all-Jewish community even outside of Israel one should light outside.
Rav Shlomo Miller
Rav Shlomo Miller, shlita, one of the leading poskim in North America, writes (Kuntrus Shoshanas Yisrael), however, that in the exile it has not been the custom to light at the front of one’s yard next to the street, nor should one be changing this practice.
Rav Miller explains that, generally speaking, we do not have permission from the local governing authorities and municipalities to light in such a manner without adequate fire-safety steps. This is especially true if everyone were to start lighting outside, as it is highly likely that some sort of fire might break out, chas v’shalom. Therefore, Rav Miller concludes that it is incorrect to be stringent in this matter.
Essentially, we have a debate between Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, and, l’havdil bein chaim l’chaim, Rav Shlomo Miller, shlita. It is interesting to note that in regard to burning chametz on erev Pesach, some people do it outside without fire-safety supervision. This is still the case in many Jewish neighborhoods. On the other hand, there are neighborhoods where the fire departments are quite strict about erev Pesach burnings and require that it all be done at one supervised site.
This author has noticed that there are a number of individuals who have started lighting outside. It could be that they are following the ruling of Rav Elyashiv on the matter. The majority of people, however, follow the Aruch HaShulchan on the issue.
The author can be reached at email@example.com.