Candle Lighting on a Plane
BY RABBI YOSEF ZVI RIMON
We’re flying to Israel for Chanukah but we’re leaving a few hours before sunset and arriving the next day. We’ll be on a plane all night. How should we light candles?
1. Is there a mitzvah to light candles on a plane? 2. Can one light in the airport? 3. Does lighting electric bulbs count?
Lighting in the house
There is a special law of “one who sees” with Chanukah lights, i.e. even someone who does not light their own candles can make a blessing (שֶׁעָשָׂה נִּסִּים, and שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּּ on the first night) upon seeing someone else’s candles (Shabbat 23a). Tosafot (Sukkah 46a) explains that this law of “one who sees” was only instituted regarding the Chanukah lights because one needs a ‘home’ to fulfil the mitzvah.
A homeless person is also obligated to light candles, since the mitzvah is incumbent on everyone, but he cannot fulfill it because he doesn’t have a home.
Some later poskim say that the mitzvah is to light davka in a home. Therefore, a person should strive to observe the mitzvah even when not in his own home but in another ‘home’ (Maharsham, Rav Zvi Pesach Frank, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Elyashiv and others.)
Is a plane considered a home?
The Maharsham writes that covered boats or long-distance trains are considered homes and one can light Chanukah candles in them. But it appears we can’t apply this to a plane, because the plane is in the air (i.e. can’t stop like a boat or train), and is also more of a temporary abode. For example, one thing that defines a home is sleep (see Biur Halacha 677, and Chovat Hadar Chanukah 1:12), and since one doesn’t sleep in normal fashion on a plane it is hard to say that a plane is considered a home.
Can one light in an airport?
Even the person who lights in shul needs to light again in his home (Rema and Mishna Berura 671:7). This proves that having a home is not enough, but that the person lighting the candles must have some connection to that home. Thus if a person sleeps in a house for one night, he can light there. One cannot fulfill the mitzvah in an airport because there is no connection between the lighter and this ‘home.’
Lighting electric bulbs
Even if it was halachically permissible to light in a plane, it is obviously not a practical option. The only acceptable solution is through electric bulbs. However, it seems that one actually needs fire for lighting and not just light. Therefore, fluorescent, PL or LED bulbs, none of which have a filament, are not fire at all, and so are definitely disqualified. Regarding filament bulbs, there are differences of opinion whether the burning metal filament is considered fire (see Mitzvat HaReayah of Rav Kook, Orach Chaim 673, and others). Indeed, most poskim say one cannot use them, although Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichot Shlomo 15:3), holds that when there is no other option one can light with a flashlight that has a filament.
Since there is a doubt whether one can light in a plane, and another doubt whether electric bulbs are permitted, one should take a flashlight with a filament (or an electric Chanukiah) to fulfil the mitzvah, but should not make a blessing.
If other members of the family have remained at home, they can light for those on the plane, who are then exempt from lighting (Shabbat 23a, Shulchan Aruch 677:1). Husband and wife can light for each other, but parents lighting can also include their children (who live with them.) And if the children are lighting in their parents’ home while the parents are flying, they are considered the parents’ shlichim.
The mitzvah of Chanukah is “very well loved” (Rambam, Hilchot Chanukah 4). Am Yisrael do not easily relinquish this mitzvah, wherever they may be.
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is Head of Mizrachi’s Educational Advisory Board and Rabbinic Council. He serves as the Rabbi of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, Rosh Yeshiva of the Jerusalem College of Technology and is the Founder and Chairman of Sulamot.