By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
To learn, or not to learn—that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind of halachah to light the Chanukah licht at home, thus leaving seder early, or to continue learning in the sea of the Talmud . . .
The Lakewood yeshiva has its kollel members stop learning 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 kollelyungeleit to continue learning as well.
In EretzYisrael, virtually all kollel members stop learning and go home. At Torah Vodaas, 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 to make up for the lost learning time. Those who come back to yeshiva after Chanukah licht in the Mir get doughnuts. Yeshivas Chaim Berlin doesn’t offer doughnuts to the kollel members, and very few come back.
What about places of work? The Five Towns Jewish Times has the men in the office 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 tzeisha’kochavim.
OK, enough with the hyperbole and theatrics; let’s get down to the halachah. 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 plagMinchah (1¼ hours before sunset), but he must place enough oil in it to remain until there is no longer foot-traffic in the market.”
The ChofetzChaim writes (MB 672:10) that the halachah is that men are forbidden to do melachah (work) or learn within 30 minutes before lighting time. This is the ruling of the MagenAvraham, the Taz, the Bach, and the MachatzisHaShekel. Eating a set meal of more than a k’beitzah of bread is likewise forbidden as the ShulchanAruch explains in regard to daveningMinchah (See OCSiman 232).
What Type Of Work
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 or iron clothing, among other things. Rav Elyashiv explained (KuntrusHilchosChanukah, page 6) that even cooking or baking during this time is forbidden for someone who has an actual obligation to light. This is more stringent than cholha’moed because the reason for this prohibition is on account of pirsumeinisa, publicizing the miracle.
According to this, Rav Elyashiv has ruled that a storeowner must 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 shalombayis (EmesL’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 shalombayis. Rav Yaakov, zt’l, held that there would be a shalombayis element here as well.
The Halachah For Women
Women refrain from melachah (work) after the candles are lit. The reason women have this custom is that a woman, Yehudis, the daughter of Yochanan the KohenGadol, brought about a miracle. She was very attractive and told the persecuting general that she would be intimate with him. Yehudis then fed him dairy products so that he would be thirsty. He drank wine and got sleepy. She was able to kill him, cut off his head, and stake it on the walls of the city, which caused his soldiers to retreat in terror. This halachah 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 pirsumeinisa 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 plagMinchah which is 1¼ halachic hours before sunset. Generally, in New York City, this is sometime between 3:30 p.m. and 3:37 p.m.
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 kollelyungeleit 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 pirsumeinisa obligation would indicate that one should stop learning. 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 to one suggested earlier may be ideal.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.