Shabbat Parashat Miketz| 5766
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I was brought up as a girl to light my own neirot (candlesof) Chanuka (= NC) and I continued to do so as a married woman. Recently I was told that when there are men in the house, only they should light. Should my daughters and I stop lighting?
Answer: The basic mitzva of NC is to have one light a night per household. A higher level (mehadrin=mh)is to light a candle for each person and an even higher level (mehadrin min hamehadrin = mmh)is to have the number of lights increase corresponding to the day of Chanuka (Shabbat 21b). Rishonim disagreewhether mmh erases the mh, and the household lights only the number that corresponds to that day (Tosafot) or whether we do both, as we light per person times the number of the day (Rambam). Ashkenazim follow the Rambam’s approach (approximately) whereas Sephardim follow Tosafot’s approach (Shulchan Aruch & Rama, Orach Chayim 671:2). So for Sephardim, it is traditional that the husband/father alone lights the candles.
Not only is a woman obligated to be involved in NC (Shabbat 23a), including by someone lighting on her behalf, but there is a clear consensus that a woman can light on behalf of a man (Magen Avraham 675:4; see Yechave Daat III, 51). The question is wherther the Ashkenazic practice of mmh, that all members of the household light their own NC, applies to women as well?
The Rambam (Chanuka 4:1) writes that the number that corresponds to the people of the house includes both men and women. This makes perfect sense, as women are obligated like men. (We should note that the Rambam implies that even in mmh, onlyone person lights, just that the number is adjusted by the number of people, but Ashkenazim have each person light.) As time went on, though, it appears that different minhagim, which differ from the expected, surfaced. The Maharshal (Shut 85) (400 years ago) and Eliyah Rabba (671:3) (300 years ago) say that a wife does not light separately from her husband, as the latter explains, because a wife is part of her husband (ishto k’gufo), not a separate unit within the household. This idea, a reflection of marital unity, has halachic implications in various areas of halacha. This implies that daughters should and probably did light.
Later poskim noted that in practice no girls light, and all sorts of explanations (often a sign that all are tenuous) were raised to explain the phenomenon. The most famous one is the Chatam Sofer’s (175 years ago) who says that since the practice was to light outside and since it was not considered modest for women to congregate among men from other families, the practice that everyone lights was not extended to them. The Mishna Berura (675:9) brings the Olat Shmuel that females are not required to light separately and are subsumed in the men’s lighting, but if they want, they can light with a beracha. R. Sh. Z. Orbach (Minchat Shlomo II, 58.3) explains his opinion as follows. If one naturally fulfills his requirement with someone else and for no good reason intends not to be exempt but to do it himself, there may be an issue of an unnecessary beracha. However, since here there is a reason (even though not an obligation) for a woman to want to do mmh bylighting her own NC, it is not considered an unnecessary beracha. These poskim do not say that a girl should not light; they explain how there could be a minhag that many do not.
There are many females, including the wife and daughters of Rav Soloveitchik (Nefesh Harav, pg. 226), who have the minhag to light. Such a girl can be proud that she performs the mitzva as mmh (without belittling those with a different minhag). Regarding a wife, there are classical sources (see also Terumat Hadeshen 101) and a clear explanation as to why not to light separately. Thus, she might consider it sufficient to light the household ’s Shabbat candles and have her husband represent their unit on Chanuka. If she does light, she may avoid possible doubts by using her husband’s beracha to cover her lighting as well. There are other halachically plausible compromise possibilities, but we refer to the main practices we know of.
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