Issues in Practical Halacha

Issue Number 23 --- 20 Kislev, 5756

Compiled and Published by Kollel Menachem - Lubavitch (Melbourne, Australia)

in the zechus of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, o.b.m.

Shabbos Candles

This issue deals with some aspects of the halochos of Shabbos candles:

  1. Its Source
  2. The Halachic Status of the Mitzvah
  3. Its Reason
  4. The Number of Candles Lit
  5. The Brochah
  6. What is the Obligation, and on Whom Does It Rest
  7. Its Time
  8. Where the Candles Must Be Lit


The first person found to light Shabbos candles was the matriarch Sara. The Midrash [1] relates that Sara's Shabbos candles remained alight the entire week. The halachic source for the mitzvo is in the Mishna (Shabbos 31b). The Gemoro (Shabbos 25b) states: "The kindling of candles for Shabbos is obligatory."

The Halachic Status of the Mitzvah

There is a dispute among the authorities as to the halachic status of the mitzvo. Some [2] are of the opinion that the mitzvo is biblical in origin based on the verse (Isaiah 58:13) which says: "and you shall call the Shabbos 'delight'". This refers to the kindling of Shabbos lights.

Another [3] view is that it is "halocho l'Moshe miSinai", an instruction from Hashem to Moshe, orally transmitted to us.

Others [4] maintain that the mitzvo was originally instituted by the Prophets.

Most poskim [5], including the Shulchon Oruch [6], rule that the mitzvo is a rabbinic injunction.

Its Reason

There are several opinions as to the main reason for lighting Shabbos candles:

(a) The lighting of Shabbos candles honours the Shabbos (kovod Shabbos) [7].

(b) For "Oneg Shabbos" (delight on Shabbos). Tosefos tell us [8], that the Shabbos meal should be in the presence of the candles, for that is oneg Shabbos.

(c) "Sholom Bayis" (the peace of the home) [9]. Rashi [10] writes "... where there is no light there is no peace." Similarly, the Mogen Avrohom [11] explains that the candles are lit "so that we should not stumble or fall over wood or stone". For this reason where one cannot afford both Shabbos candles take precedence over wine for kiddush or chanukah candles since Shabbos candles have an effect on sholom bayis [12]. A further reason - which is stated in Sefer Chasidim [13] - that we light candles on Friday for Shabbos in order to repudiate the view of those heretics who do not have any light in the home on Shabbos due to their false interpretation of the verse "You shall not burn fire ... on Shabbos" [14].

The Number of Candles

The letter of the law only requires that one candle be lit [15].

The Remo [16] writes, however, that one may add more if one wants. He notes that if a greater number have been lit one may not thereafter diminish that number.

The Shulchon Oruch [17] cites a custom to light two candles corresponding to the two expressions used in the ten commandments in relation to the mitzvo of Shabbos: zochor (remember) and shomor (keep).

The Mogen Avrohom [18] adds that some have a custom to twine the two candles together since Hashem said the two words zochor and shomor together.

The Elya Rabbo [19] explains that the two candles correspond to man and woman. (Based on this explanation - that the woman lights a second candle representing her husband - the Lubavitcher Rebbe [20] advised that unmarried girls should light only one candle.)

The Arizal [21] writes to light seven candles corresponding to the seven days of the week.

The Kaf Hachaim [22] writes that the seven correspond to the number of aliyos to the Torah on Shabbos (and he adds that, therefore, on erev Yom Kippur one would light six and on erev Yom Tov five corresponding to the number of aliyos on each respective day.)

The opinion of the Shaloh [21] is that ten should be lit corresponding to the ten commandments.

There is also a custom to light one candle for each member of the family. The Likutei Maharich writes that this custom may have its source in the Gemoro which states that one who increases in the number of candles lit will have as sons and sons-in-law who are great rabbis.

All the foregoing relate to the candles lit in the place of eating. When lighting candles throughout the house (see below), however, only one need be lit in each place. [23]

The Remo [24] writes that if a woman forgot to light Shabbos candles one week she should from then onwards add one candle to the number she normally lights. If she forgot again she should add another. [25]

This does not apply, however, if she did not light for reasons beyond her control. For, as the Mogen Avrohom explains [26], the reason for her adding is to remind her to be more careful in the future and this does not apply if it was beyond her control originally. [27]

If a woman once lit less than her regular number of candles the Pri Megodim writes [28] that she should increase in the number she lights in future. The Mishna Brura states [29] that since the increase in the number of candles required by the Remo (in a case of one's forgetting to light at all) is itself a minhag and not a strict halocho one should not add to the number.

The Brochah

The Tur [30] cites an opinion that one should not say a brocho on lighting Shabbos candles. The Tur himself (and the majority of other poskim), however, maintain that a brocho must be said. [31]

In relation to the wording of the brocho we find various opinions:

(a) in Shulchon Oruch "lehadlik ner shel Shabbos" [32].

(b) the Elya Rabbo writes [33] that when lighting more than one candle the word "ner" (singular) should be replaced by "neros" (plural). The Kaf Hachaim [34], however, states that since the basic halocho is that only one candle need be lit therefore the singular form of the word may be used in the brocho; he adds that the word "ner" has special kabbalistic significance.

(c) in the siddur Tehilas Hashem the wording is "lehadlik ner shel Shabbos kodesh". (Although if mentioning Yom Tov in the brocho as well the word "kodesh" should be omitted [35]).

(d) the siddur Tikunei Shabbos has it: "al hadlokas ner Shabbos kodesh"

(e) Or Zorua [36]: "lehadlik ner lekovod Shabbos".

The Remo [37] cites a dispute as to whether the brocho is to be said before or after the kindling. Those who say that the brocho should be said beforehand base their argument on the principle that a brocho should be said before the mitzvo to which it relates. The other opinion is that since the saying of the brocho is itself an acceptance of Shabbos once it is said the lighting of candles is itself prohibited by the laws of Shabbos. Accordingly, the brocho is to be said afterwards which is the opinion of the Remo himself.

What is the Obligation, and On Whom Does It Rest

Every man and woman is obligated in the mitzvo of Shabbos lights. Nevertheless, the rabbis instituted that women light the candles since they "are normally found at home and are engaged in household needs" [39].

The Midrash [40] states that the Shabbos lights should be kindled by the woman since she (Chava - Eve) extinguished the "light" of the world (Adam). (The only time the husband lights instead of his wife is the first Shabbos after she gives birth [41] ). Nevertheless, the husband should prepare the candles for lighting, since, as the Alter Rebbe writes [42] the wife is lighting on behalf of her husband since the obligation is essentially his.

In order to clarify the following complex halochos two aspects within the mitzvo should be distinguished: the obligation to kindle Shabbos candles and the obligation to have Shabbos candles lit. Since the halocho requires that candles which were already lit on Friday afternoon must be extinguished and rekindled [43], we see that in addition to having candlelight on Shabbos (for which the pre-existing candles would suffice), one must fulfil the act of kindling the Shabbos candles. The reason for this is that it must recognisable that the candles were lit for the sake of Shabbos.

One may fulfil the first obligation - to kindle the candles - in one of the following ways:

(a) by lighting the candles oneself

(b) if the candles were lit (at the place where is staying) on his behalf [44]

(c) where the husband is away from home and his wife (or member of the household) lights candles belonging to him [45]

(d) if one is a guest in another's home, one may become a partner in the host's Shabbos candles by giving him a small sum of money for a share in the candles [46], or if the host gives him part ownership in the candles [47]

(e) if the guest eats therefore becoming "reliant" like the other members of the household upon the table of the host [48].

Since, however, there is also an obligation to have candle-light on Shabbos the act of kindling the candles is insufficient as we shall see in the following discussion of the time and place of the kindling of the Shabbos lights.

Its Time

In terms of the above two general aspects of the mitzvo of kindling Shabbos candles the timing of the mitzvo may also be divided into two categories - the time to kindle the candles and the amount of time the candles must be alight.

In relation to the time to light the candles the Gemoro states "[One may light Shabbos candles] provided they are not lit too early nor too late." [49] Rashi explains [50] that if the candles were lit too early it is not recognisable that they are for Shabbos.

Accordingly, the Shulchon Oruch [51] permits one to light the candles early if he takes upon himself - is mekabel - Shabbos at once before its normal time. Since he is mekabel Shabbos at once this is not considered "early".

The Derech HaChaim [52] explains that the words of the Shulchon Oruch "at once" mean "immediately".

The Alter Rebbe [53] maintains (as explained in the Badei HaShulchon [54]) this to mean that one must be mekabel Shabbos within approximately ten minutes.

This halocho that when lighting the Shabbos candles early Shabbos must be taken upon oneself "at once" refers only to a man. A woman lighting the candles, however, automatically brings in Shabbos for herself (without her having to consciously accept it) unless she clearly has in mind not to bring in Shabbos with the candlelighting [55]. This she may do under certain circumstances (as explained in Shulchon Oruch) in which case when lighting early she must bring in Shabbos (as a man would) "at once".

The Shulchon Oruch [51], moreover, states that the candles may be lit early (with the above condition of the immediate acceptance of Shabbos) provided this is not before "plag hamincho".

If, the Remo adds, one lights the candles before "plag hamincho" he has not fulfilled his obligation and must extinguish the candles and relight them. [56]

Where the candles were lit after "plag hamincho" but Shabbos was not accepted "at once" the Alter Rebbe writes [57] that the candles must be relit.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger, however, states [58] that if the lighting was specifically for the sake of Shabbos, although Shabbos was not accepted, his obligation has still been fulfilled. Rabbi Akiva Eiger explains that the halocho, that an early lighting of the candles requires an immediate acceptance of Shabbos, is only in the first instance (l'chatchilo) but if they were lit for the sake of Shabbos, and Shabbos was not accepted immediately thereafter, the lighting is still valid.

The Derech HaChaim writes [59] that if in the 58 minutes prior to "bein hashmoshos" (the period of "twilight" between definite day and definite night), considered the time of "tosefos Shabbos" the candles were lit one need not bring in Shabbos. Since this is the time of "tosefos Shabbos" the lighting is recognisable as being for the sake of Shabbos. Before the time of tosefos Shabbos, but after plag hamincho, is the time period to which the Shulchon Oruch refers in requiring a woman lighting early to accept explicitly the Shabbos (otherwise the lighting would be "too early").

However, it would seem from the words of the Shulchon Oruch and other poskim that the entire time from plag hamincho until Shabbos (including the time of tosefos Shabbos) has the one rule: namely, that a woman's lighting automatically brings in the Shabbos for her while a man must take in the Shabbos "at once".

As for the halocho that one may not light Shabbos candles "too late" the Mishna Brura [60] explains this to refer to leaving lighting to the last moment before Shabbos, since the time might be missed.

If at sunset the candles have not yet been lit it is forbidden to light them. However, if it is still the time of bein hashmoshos (see above) a non-Jew may be asked to light a candle [61] and the woman should cover her eyes, say the blessing and then open her eyes and benefit from the light. [62] She may only ask the non-Jew to light one candle (since with one candle the mitzvo is fulfilled). [63]

Regarding the brocho said in this situation, the Alter Rebbe writes that she should say "al hadlokas ner" ("...Who has commanded us concerning the kindling of Shabbos candles").

Regarding the time the candles must be and remain lit, Rashi [64] explains that the Shabbos meal should be eaten near the light of the candles because "a valued meal is only with light". From this it follows that the candles should be alight during the meal and one must therefore light candles long enough to last until dark. However, if the candles did not last till dark but the meal was eaten (before dark) near them the lighting is valid. [65]

If the meal was eaten after the candles went out (before dark) the lighting is invalid unless there was some benefit gained from the candle-light such as where, although it was not yet completely dark, the room was dark enough for one to derive some benefit from the candle-light) [66].

A consequence of the above is that those who light Shabbos candles at home but eat the meal elsewhere should ensure that they benefit from the candle-light before they leave or by returning home before the candles go out.

Where the Candles Must Be Lit

Although, as the Mogen Avrohom writes [67], one must light in every room one will use during Shabbos, nevertheless the principal mitzvo is to light candles on (or near) the Shabbos table [68]. It is for this reason that the brocho is recited when lighting these candles [69] since these candles embody all the reasons for the mitzvo (see above) - while the candles in other rooms are lit for one reason only - sholom bayis, that one should not stumble etc.

If, therefore, there is already light in that room (including light originating from outside the room, and including, it would seem, electric lighting) no kindling is necessary [70]. If lighting is necessary in other rooms this should be done by the husband [71].

In view of this halocho a guest away from home (or a student in a Yeshivah dormitory) who has a room of his own which is not utilised by the head of the household has an obligation to light candles there himself. Whereas, if the owner of the house does use the room, the obligation rests upon the owner [72].

[1] Bereshis Rabbo 60:16
[2] Midrash Tanchumo - beginning of Noach
[3] Yereim 100, brought in Chassam Sofer Shabbos 25b
[4] Smag, Essin 30
[5] see rambam Hilchos Shabbos 5:1
[6] Orach Chayim 263
[7] Pesochim 53b, Rashi Shabbos 25a sv. choivo, Rambam ibid 30:5 and others
[8] Shabbos 25b sv. hadlokas; see also Rambam ibid 5:1, Shulchan Oruch O.C. 263:2 and others
[9] Shabbos 25b
[10] ibid. sv. hadlokas, also in Shulchan Oruch 263:3
[11] 263:13-14; also in Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Oruch 263:1 and others
[12] Shulchan Oruch 263:3
[13] Ch.1147 - Margolis edition
[14] Shmos 35:3
[15] Mogen Avrohom 263:3, see also Alter Rebbe's Shulchon Oruch ibid Kuntres Acharon 5
[16] 263:1
[17] ibid.
[18] 263:1
[19] 263:2
[20] Likutei Sichos Vol 11 p.289
[21] quoted in Mogen Avrohom 263:2
[22] 263:34
[23] Alter Rebbe's Shulchon Oruch 263 Kuntres Acharon 1
[24] 263:1
[25] Mogen Avrohom 263:3
[26] ibid.
[27] The Pri Megodim (Aishel Avrohom 263:3) disagrees
[28] ibid.
[29] Biyur Halocho 263:1
[30] 263
[31] see Beis Yosef sv. U'mah shekosav v'yesh omrim; Shulchan Oruch 263:5
[32] ibid.
[33] 263:10
[34] 263:38
[35] Likutei Sichos vol 14 p.377
[36] Hilchos Erev Shabbos Ch.11
[37] 263:5
[38] Explained in Mogen Avrohom 263:12
[39] Shulchan Oruch 263:2
[40] Tanchumo Noach 1 - qyuoted in Tur 263
[41] Mogen Avrohom 263:6; Alter Rebbe 263:5
[42] Kuntres Acharon 263:2
[43] Tosphos Shabbos 25b sv. chova
[44] Alter Rebbe 263:9 from Mogen Avrohom 676:2
[45] ibid.
[46] Shulchan Oruch 263:7
[47] Alter Rebbe 263:9
[48] ibid from Mogen Avrohom beginning of Ch 677
[49] Shabbos 23b
[50] s.v. shelo yakdim
[51] 263:4
[52] 50:3
[53] 263:6 and in Kuntres Acharon 2
[54] 74:17
[55] Remo 263:10, Mogen Avrohom
[56] 263:4
[57] 263:6
[58] 263:4
[59] 50:2
[60] 263:16
[61] Shulchan Oruch 261:1
[62] Mogen Avrohom 263:11; Alter Rebbe 263:11
[63] ibid.
[64] Shabbos 23b s.v. chovo
[65] Mogen Avrohom 263:16
[66] Alter Rebbe 263:13
[67] 263:1
[68] Remo ibid 10
[69] Mogen Avrohom 263:21
[70] see Badei HaShulchan 74:1
[71] Alter Rebbe 263:5
[72] Shulchan Oruch 263:6; Alter Rebbe ibid 9

The above is not intended to decide halachic questions, but rather to clarify them in a clear and concise form. Please refer all your practical questions to your local Rabbi.

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