By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
To learn or not to learn?
That is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind of halacha to light the Chanukah licht at home thus leaving seder early, or to continue learning in the sea of the Talmud..
Lakewood has their Kollel members stop learning in order to light the Chanukah candles. Yeshiva University does not. YU has them continue learning until night seder is over. Rav Moshe Feinstein’s Yeshiva, (MTJ), tells their Kollel yungeleit to continue learning as well.
In Eretz Yisroel, virtually all Kollel members stop learning and go home. At Torah v’Daas, Beis HaTalmid and Yeshiva Chaim Berlin they all give Kollel members time off to light candles in the proper time at home. Chaim Berlin and Mir Yerushalayim make the Kollel members come in earlier during lunchtime to make up for the lost learning time. In Mir Yerushalayim, those that come back to yeshiva after Chanukah licht get donuts. Yeshivas Chaim Berlin doesn’t offer donuts to the Kollel members, and very few come back.
Those are the Yeshivos. What about places of work? The Five Towns Jewish Times has their men continue working until the day is over. B & H Photo does not dismiss any earlier on Chanukah either. Suit Central in Cedarhurst switches off, allowing their employees to light at staggered times between ten minutes after sunset until Tzeis HaKochavim.
Okay. Enough with the hyperbole and theatrics; let’s get down to the halacha. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 672:1) writes “We do not light the Chanukah lamps before the sun sets, rather [we light them] with the end of Shkiyah. We neither delay it nor do it earlier. There is an opinion that if he is “tarud” he may light from Plag Mincha (1 and ¼ hours before sunset), but he must place enough oil in it to remain until there is no longer foot-traffic in the market.”
The Chofetz Chaim writes that the halacha is (MB 672:10) that men are forbidden to do malacha (work) or learn within 30 minutes before Chanukah lighting time. This is the ruling of the Mogain Avrohom, the Taz, the Bach and the Machatzis HaShekel. Eating a set meal of more than a k’beya of bread is likewise forbidden as the Shulchan Aruch explains in regard to davening Mincha (See OC Siman 232).
WHAT TYPE OF WORK IS FORBIDDEN?
What type of work or activity is forbidden? It is forbidden to perform the type of work that is liable to continue, such as a haircut or bath, or doing business. Specifically, one may not wash dishes, iron clothing, among other things. Rav Elyashiv explained (Kuntrus Hilchos Chanukah page 6) that even cooking or baking during this time is forbidden for someone who has an actual obligation to light. The reason why this is more stringent than Chol HaMoed is because the reason for this prohibition is on account of Pirsumei Nissa – publicizing the miracle.
According to this, Rav Elyashiv has ruled that a store-owner must literally go home and light when the time for Chanukah candle lighting has arrived. If, however, his living is dependent upon his store being open during those hours, he should leave someone that is not obligated in lighting in the store. If this is not possible, then he may delay going home until 50 minutes after sunset. If this is not possible, then he should appoint a Shliach to light on his behalf.
WHEN THE WIFE IS WORKING
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l writes that if the wife is working, however, the father should not light before she comes home from work on account of Shalom Bayis (Emes L’Yaakov page 254). The rationale is that if one does not have enough money for both Chanukah candles and Shabbos candles, the Chanukah candles are set aside for Shalom Bayis. Rav Yakov zatzal held that there would be a Shalom Bayis element here as well.
WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT THAN MEN
It is also interesting to note that women do refrain from Malacha (work) after the candles are lit. The reason why women have this custom is because a woman – Yehudis, the daughter of Yochanan the Kohain Gadol, brought about a miracle. She was very attractive and told the persecuting king that she would be intimate with him. Yehudis then fed him dairy products so that the king would be thirsty. He drank wine and got sleepy. She was able to kill him and cut off his head, which caused the general of the army and his soldiers to all run away. This halacha applies to women but not to men.
GATHERING THE FAMILY
It is also appropriate to gather the entire family around to light the menorah, even if in waiting for them there will be somewhat of a delay in lighting (See MB 672:10). If most family members are home, then one or two children who arrive later should light on their own and not delay the rest of the family.
It is interesting to note that the Steipler Gaon (Orchos Chaim p. 17) would even gather his married daughter who would fulfill her Mitzvah later on in her own apartment. Such is the importance of the Pirsumei Nisah of Chanukah.
THE ACTUAL TIME TO LIGHT
The Gemara tells us that we light the candles “from the time the sun sets.” There is a debate as to whether this means the beginning of what we call sundown or whether it means when three medium stars appear. Practically speaking, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, held that we light 13–18 minutes after sunset. Rav Aharon Kotler held that we light 25–30 minutes after sundown.
When one will be unable to light later, one may light as early as plag Minchah which is 1 ¼ halachic hours before sunset. Generally, in New York City, this is sometime between 3:30 PM and 3:37 PM.
It seems to this author that if the custom of the Yeshiva is to continue to learn, then one should follow the Yeshiva’s custom. Many Yeshivos in the United States do not dismiss the married Kollel Yungerleit until well after candle lighting. The rationale for this may be based upon the Meiri (Shabbos 21b) who mentions this Minhag for the Yeshiva students in France during his time.
Otherwise, the Pirsumei Nissah obligation would indicate that one should stop learning. Indeed, Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita is also quoted in a new Sefer that a Kollel member should not continue learning and have his wife light but should stop when Chanukah candle lighting time arrives and go home to light.
Regarding work, the frum owners of an establishment should allow the men to go home early to light Chanukah candles on time. A staggered system that is similar tone suggested earlier may be ideal.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org