After the Lighting

BY RABBI YOSEF ZVI RIMON

It is written in the Orchot Chayim (siman 21) and in the Kol Bo (siman 44) that women have the custom to not do melacha, work, while the candles are lit, and so it is written in the Shulchan Aruch (670:1). In this way there is a built-in reminder that it is forbidden to use the lights of the Chanukah candles. The custom is not to do work for about a half-hour, because this is the minimum time required to fulfill the basic mitzvah. After this, it is permissible for women to do melacha.

Why, specifically, do women have the custom to not do melacha while the candles are lit? It’s possible that since women traditionally do more work in the home, they need a reminder to not use the light of the Chanukah candles more than men. But it is also possible that women have this custom because they are attached more deeply to Chanukah, for the miracle of Chanukah was performed through a woman. For this reason, they celebrate Chanukah by refraining from work.

Which melachot, specifically, do women have the custom of refraining from? Some say that for the first half-hour after lighting, women refrain from all melacha, as they do on yom tov. Logically, however, it seems that women should only refrain from melachot that are forbidden on chol hamoed, meaning melachot that are a bother, like doing laundry and ironing. Other melachot that are needed for Chanukah or to prevent a loss are permitted, as many achronim have ruled. Regardless, it is permissible to cook and bake, because these melachot are permissible even on yom tov.

In the Gemara, rishonim and Shulchan Aruch there is no mention of any custom to remain next to the candles after they are lit. Nevertheless, the Chavot Yair writes that there is a value to seeing and enjoying the candles (Mekor Chayim, Kitzur Halachot, 672): “It seems to me that the main part of the mitzvah is for the one who lights to be near the candles for a half-hour to see them and enjoy them, for the candles are also meant to remind us of the people’s joy when they were able to light the menorah again after the miracle of Chanukah… And this is what it means when we say ‘We do not have permission to use the candles but only to see them,’ and therefore one who sees the candles can also make a blessing.”

Technically, there is no halachic requirement to stay near the candles, but it is a beautiful custom for the entire family to sit together next to the candles without rushing away, especially for the first half an hour. Sing together, talk with one another, and share words of Torah. In this way it is possible to feel the great miracle of Chanukah, the light of G-d Who loves us, and to receive the abilities we need to bring good to the world through Torah, good middot and holy deeds.

 

Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is Head of Mizrachi’s Educational Advisory Board and Rabbinic Council. He serves as the Chief Rabbi of Gush Etzion, Rosh Yeshivah of the Jerusalem College of Technology and is the Founder and Chairman of Sulamot and La’Ofek.

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