Lighting Chanukah Candles After Work

I have a busy work schedule and do not return home until after 8 PM. Should I light when I return? Should my wife light for me earlier, before I get home? Or should I attempt to leave work early to light on time?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It’s nice that you want to fulfill the mitzvah in the proper way. Although the proper time to light the candles is right at nightfall (with some having earlier customs, as early as sunset), today this is not considered as critical as it once was. The reason we light the candles is to publicize the Chanukah miracle. Now in the days of the Talmud – in fact until very recent times – it was neither safe nor practical to be out of doors after dark. The streets would empty out shortly after nightfall and people would settle in their homes until the morning.

As a result, in Talmudic times, there was a very narrow window of time to light – basically for the 30 minutes after nightfall and no later. One would have to make an effort to be home by this time or otherwise miss the mitzvah entirely.

This has changed today for two reasons. Firstly, nowadays people are out and about till much later in the evening. Thus, one can equally fulfill the obligation for several hours after nightfall, so long as people are likely to see it – say till 10:00 or 11:00 at night, depending exactly where you live.

Secondly, since there were times in our history when it was dangerous to show public religious symbols outside, the emphasis was later placed on lighting the menorah inside the home – for the family to see – rather than outside our front door, as was done in Talmudic times. (Even today where it’s generally not dangerous, most people in the Diaspora light the menorah inside their homes, only placing the menorah at the window to further publicize the miracle.)

As a result, it is still considered proper to light the menorah immediately after nightfall. In fact, if one is at home, he may not eat, study Torah or occupy himself with anything else once the time has arrived. However, this is only viewed as the first choice – based on the principle in Jewish law known as “the zealous come promptly to perform mitzvot” (“zerizin makdimin l’mitzvot”).

Thus, if it’s not difficult for you to arrange your schedule to make it home by nightfall, that would be the preferred. But it is not an obligation if it would involve significant inconvenience. So long as your family is still awake when your come home – or even better, people are still outside, you may light when you return. (In fact, if a person returns home very late, when no one is out and his family is asleep, he must wake his family up before he lights so the mitzvah will be publicized.)

(Sources: Shulchan Aruch O.C. 671:7, 672:1-2, Mishna Berurah 671:38, 672:10-11, Ashrei HaIsh III 33:3, quoting Rav Elyashiv.)

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