OU Kosher Halacha Yomis: Chanukah

  • Whether to say havdalah or light chanukah candles first on Motzei Shabbos
  • Baking and Cooking While the Chanukah lights are burning
  • Chanukah Gelt
  • What can be used as a menorah?
  • Do guests light their own menorahs?
  • Is there Any Obligation to Make a Seudah (Meal) in Honor of Chanukah?

Which Comes First on Motzei Shabbos, Chanukah Lights or Havdalah?

There is a dispute among the poskim concerning this question. Normally, in selecting the sequence of two mitzvos we are guided by the principle of tadir v’she’eino tadir – tadir kodem (the more frequent mitzvah is performed first). As such, the Taz (681:1) rules that Havdalah is recited first because it is the more frequently performed mitzvah. The Beiur Halacha (ibid.) quotes many acharonim who agree with the Taz including the Maharal MiPrague, the Tosfos Yom Tov and the Pri Chodosh. This was also the custom of the Chazon Ish (Sefer Hilchos Chanukah, p.44 footnote 46). However, the Mechaber and the Rama (681:2), followed by the Magen Avraham, Eliyahu Raba and Gra (see Beiur Halacha ibid.), maintain that Ner Chanukah comes first. Their rationale is that delaying the departure of Shabbos is more important than the principle of tadir. A second reason to prioritize Chanukah is that one performs Pirsumei Nisa (publicizing the miracle) with the kindling of the Chanukah lights.

In Shul, the accepted minhag is to light Chanukah lights first (Mishna Berura and Beiur Halacha, ibid.). Possibly, this is because the great Pirsumei Nisa for an entire shul is very significant (see Aruch HaShulchan 681:2). At home one should follow his own minhag since there is a valid basis for both viewpoints (MB and BH, ibid.). If one has no minhag, he can choose what to do since both are valid minhagim (see end of Beiur Halacha, ibid., in the name of the Pri Megadim).

It should be noted that one is prohibited from doing any melacha after Shabbos, even if Shabbos has concluded, until he recites Ata Chonantanu in Shmoneh Esrei. If he forgot to say Ata Chonantanu, he should say the words Baruch hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol before lighting (MB 681:2).

May I Bake and Cook While the Neiros Chanukah are Burning?

Women have a custom not to do melacha (physical labor; see below) while the Chanukah lights are burning (Mechaber O.C. 670:1). While there are places where the men also have this minhag (Mishna Berura 670:3) it is mainly practiced by women. The reason for this is that women in particular benefited from the defeat of the enemy since they were released from an evil decree which specifically targeted women (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:3). In addition, the miracle of Chanukah came through the hands of Yehudis, the daughter of Yochanan the Kohen Gadol, who killed the evil Greek governor and caused his troops to panic and flee (Rama 670:2 and MB ibid).

Many poskim say that only work such as sewing and laundry may not be done but food preparation such as baking and cooking are permitted. Rav Belsky zt”l was of the opinion that the minhag includes work related to food preparation as well (Piskei Halacha, Vol. 1, p. 119). This opinion is shared by Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita (Shiurei Halacha Minhagei Chanukah p. 3 quoting Sefer Yimei Chanukah p. 39). His reasoning is that since this minhag is only practiced for the half hour the Chanukah lights are required to burn, it would only be apparent if there was a cessation of all physical labor during that short time period. Since we are only discussing a minhag, one who has no definite custom can rely on those who are lenient (Shiurei Halacha Minhagei Chanukah p.4)

What is the Reason that Children Receive Chanukah Gelt, Special Monetary Gifts on Chanukah? Why Do Some Have a Custom to Give Chanukah Gelt Only on the 5th Night of Chanukah?

The word Chanukah is related to the word chinuch (education). The Greeks wanted to make us forget our holy Torah. When they were defeated, it was necessary to begin reeducating the Jewish people, especially the children. Monetary gifts were given to the children with the intention of strengthening their love of Torah. As a reminder of these past events it has become a tradition to give monetary gifts during Chanukah to our precious children (Sifsei Chaim, Moadim vol. 2, p.134 in the name of the Ponovizher Rav zt”l).

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l offered a slightly different explanation. Initially the minhag was to give a monetary gift to the child’s rebbe on Chanukah because he played an integral role in the chinuch process. Subsequently, the custom evolved and the “delivery boy” was given a gift as well (Emes L’Yaakov Siman 670 in the footnote).

Rav Belsky zt”l related that Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l used to give money to his children on the fifth night of Chanukah (see Piskei Halacha Vol. 1 p. 120). Many choose the fifth night for Chanukah Gelt distribution since this night can never fall on Shabbos, when the distribution of money would be prohibited.

What Substances May a Chanukah Menorah Consist of? Do I Need a Menorah or Can Candles be Connected Directly to a Surface Such as a Ledge?

In the Kaf HaChaim (673:60) Rav Yaakov Chaim Sofer (1870 – 1939) listed fifteen common substances that may be used for a
Chanukah Menorah. The top three are gold, silver and copper. Further down on the list we find non-metallic substances such as glass, wood and china. One should obtain a beautiful menorah, to the best of his ability (Mishna Berurah 673:28). Egg shells, hollowed out potatoes, lemons and other fruits and vegetables may not be used in place of an oil menorah as this degrades the mitzvah (Kaf HaChaim 673:61-62). All permitted substances must be able to stand on their own accord without being propped up (ibid 673:60).

Wax candles do not need to be placed into a menorah or other vessel. They may be connected to a surface such as a wall or a ledge (see Mishna Berurah 671:18).

I am a Guest in Someone’s House for a Few Days During Chanukah. How Should I Perform the Mitzvah of Lighting Neiros Chanukah?

It is preferable for a guest to light his own Neiros Chanukah (Mishna Berurah 677:3 and Shaar HaTzion 677:10). However, it is also acceptable for one to fulfill the mitzvah by becoming a partner in his host’s lighting. This is accomplished by contributing at least a prutah (a few pennies) to the host thereby acquiring a share in the oil or candles (Mechaber 677:1) and wicks (Kaf HaChaim 677:8 quoting the Shu”t HaRashba Siman 542). When giving the host the money, the guest should say, “I am giving you this money to acquire a share in the oil and the wicks of the Chanukah lights that you will kindle tonight [or all eight nights of Chanukah]. The host should respond “I am transferring to you, with the acceptance of this money, a portion of the Chanukah lights that I will kindle tonight [or all eight nights of Chanukah] (Kaf HaChaim 677:2).

The guest should stand close to the host during the brochos and have intention to fulfill his requirement by listening to the host’s brochos, and the host should likewise intend that the guest fulfills his obligation with the host’s brochos (Kaf HaChaim ibid and Mishna Berurah 677:4).

Is There Any Obligation to Make a Seudah (Meal) in Honor of Chanukah?

Although there is no specific obligation to eat a meal on Chanukah, Rama (Orach Chaim 670:2) writes that it is nevertheless proper to prepare such a meal to recall the rededication of the Temple and to sing zemiros (songs of praise and thanks) to remember the miracles. If one does so, the meal is elevated to the status of a seudas mitzvah (i.e., there is a mitzvah to partake of such a meal). Additionally, there is a minhag to eat cheese on Chanukah, to remember how Yehudis (the daughter of Yochanan Kohen Gadol) was able to behead the Greek general Holofernes after serving him milk products. There is also an ancient minhag to eat foods fried in oil, such as doughnuts, to remember the miracle of the oil. The Rambam’s father, Rav Maimon HaDayan ben Yosef, writes that in his days this was already an established minhag, and that one should not treat it lightly.


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