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Shabbat Parashat Vayeishev | 5770

Ask the Rabbi: Chanuka candles before or after Havdala.

Question: I always forget whether on Motzaei Shabbat of Chanuka, we are supposed to light the Chanuka candles before or after Havdala.

Answer: We will see that it is not the end of the world that you forget. Let us first understand the issues, which revolve around the question of which halachic rules of precedence take precedence when they compete with each other.
The Terumat Hadeshen (I, 60) says that on Motzaei Shabbat of Chanuka, we light the Chanuka candles before we do Havdala (after doing a basic Havdala in Shemoneh Esrei). The reason is that we are interested in delaying Havdala, since it ends Shabbat and it is good to have an excuse to push off Shabbat’s end. This concept is found in a few contexts. One is in the gemara in Pesachim (105b), which says that at the end of Shabbat, if one has only one cup of wine to be used for either bentching or for Havdala, he waits until after bentching on it to then use it for Havdala. The gemara explains that we anyway want to delay Havdala so that Shabbat does not look like a burden to us. This also explains why, when Yom Tov falls on Motzaei Shabbat, we recite the beracha on Kiddush before the one for Havdala (see Rashbam, Pesachim 103b). The Beit Yosef (Orach Chayim 681) cites the Terumat Hadeshen and also an Avudraham who argues. In the Shulchan Aruch (OC 681:2) he seems to pasken like the Terumat Hadeshen, saying that in shul we light the Chanuka candles first.
However, not everyone agrees. The Taz (681:1) says that the above concept of precedence is overcome by a more weighty consideration: tadir v’she’eino tadir, tadir kodem (the more regular practice comes first). A famous application of that rule is that Beit Hillel cites it as one of the reasons that during Kiddush, we recite the beracha on the wine, which is made any time one drinks wine, before the beracha for Kiddush of Shabbat (Berachot 51b). We even find this rule regarding Chanuka, as we lain the reading for Rosh Chodesh before that of Chanuka (Tosafot, Shabbat 23b- see there a few possible explanations).
An interesting question of precedence arises in Zevachim (90b). Is the more common korban brought before the more holy one? The Rambam (Temidin 9:2) understands that the gemara never resolved the issue, and therefore one can do whatever he wants on the matter.
Regarding Motzaei Shabbat, the Terumat Hadeshen brings another example of pushing off Havdala: we do sefirat ha’omer before Havdala. However, the Taz says that there is a difference. If we do sefira first, we will be pushing off the ending of Shabbat. In contrast, since it is forbidden to light candles on Shabbat, lighting Chanuka candles is anyway a way of ushering out Shabbat.
The Taz concedes that regarding Havdala andlighting in shul, the minhag is to do the Chanuka candles first. However, he felt that regarding the house, one should practice what he considered more halachically sound - that (the tadir) Havdala should precede. There may even be reasons to distinguish between the two venues. The Pri Megadim (ad loc.) says that after already having partaken in Havdala in shul, the idea of delaying Shabbat’s exit has less weight. Others say that specifically in shul, where many people are found, the pirsumei nisa (publicizing the miracle) element pushes us to hasten the lighting. (There is logic in the opposite direction, which we will not get into.)
It is hard to determine which opinion is correct, so what should one do halacha l'ma'aseh? In shul all agree that we light the candles before Havdala. At home, the prevalent Sephardic minhag is to switch the order and do Havdala first (Kaf Hachayim 681:4; Yalkut Yosef, Moadim p. 236). For Ashkenazim, there is no clear ruling, and the consensus is that one can rule either way (Biur Halacha to 618:2). The minhag may lean in the direction of doing Havdala first. It seems that a whole lot of people have your minhag: they don’t remember what their father did or what they did in years past, and do first whichever one is ready first. That ends up being quite reasonable.
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