Skip to main content

Lighting Shabbat Candles (1)

Rav Doniel Schreiber
Text file


By Rav Doniel Schreiber



This week’s shiurim are dedicated by Abe Mezrich



Shiur #05: Lighting Shabbat Candles - Part I



1.  Is It Obligatory to Light Shabbat Candles?


            Lighting Shabbat candles is not simply a reshut, an option, it is a chiyuv, an obligation (Gemara Shabbat 25b and OC 263:2).  Some poskim understand that it is a biblical requirement (Behag and Yere'im) but most rule that lighting Shabbat candles is a rabbinic obligation (Rambam Shabbat 5:1, Rashba Responsa vol. 4, siman 265, and Meiri Shabbat 25b).


2.  What is the Purpose of Lighting Shabbat Candles?


            There are three reasons cited for lighting Shabbat candles: to honor (kavod) Shabbat (Rashi Shabbat 25b, and Rambam Shabbat 30:5), to take delight (oneg) in Shabbat (Tosafot Shabbat 25b, and Rambam Shabbat 5:1.  See Arukh Ha-shulchan OC 263:2 and Sefer Tosafot Shabbat 263:1 for an explanation of the roles of kavod and oneg in candle lighting according to Rambam), and to insure "shalom bayit," a peaceful and tranquil home (Shabbat 23b and Rashi ibid.; see, however, Levush OC 263:1 who states that shalom bayit is a dimension of oneg Shabbat).  In order to fulfill the concept of shalom bayit with nerot Shabbat (Shabbat candles), one should insure that there is some illumination in every area of the home that will be used on Shabbat so that everyone may be able to find their way around without any discomfort.


            According to those poskim who rule that kavod and oneg Shabbat are Torah obligations nerot Shabbat would then be considered a fulfillment of the biblical requirement for kavod and oneg Shabbat (see Sefer Ha-chinukh 297, Beit Yosef 487, and Ramban Vayikra 23:3).  The Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 30:1), however, rules that kavod and oneg are a rabbinic obligation.  Either way, kavod Shabbat is fulfilled by lighting in anticipation of Shabbat and oneg Shabbat is fulfilled by enjoying the light on Shabbat.  (This distinction between kavod and oneg Shabbat is discussed in Beit Ha-levi vol. 1, no. 11, and in Chidushei Ha-grach al ha-shas in the name of the Griz, on Gemara Shabbat 23b).  One should light the Shabbat candles with the intention to fulfill these mitzvot.


3.  Who is Obligated to Light?


            Everyone in the household, over the age of bar or bat mitzva is obligated to light Shabbat candles (OC 263:2).  According to rabbinic legislation the entire household fulfills its obligation when one household member lights (see Shulchan Arukh Ha-rav 263:9).  This is true even if the rest of the household did not hear the blessing for candle lighting (see Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 11, siman 21).


            The custom is that the mother, who is generally in charge of running the daily household affairs, takes the responsibility for lighting Shabbat candles (OC 263:3).  There is a custom that all girls in the household over three years light their own Shabbat candles as well.  Where this is the custom they should light before their mother (Arukh Ha-shulchan OC 263:7).  This is because they cannot fulfill the obligation on behalf of an adult until they are bat mitzva and if they light after their mother, it would not be clear that the mother was fulfilling the obligation on behalf of the other adults in the household.  It is customary for the man to participate in this mitzva by preparing the Shabbat candles (MB 263:12).  If the mother cannot light then the father, or other members of the household, should light.


4.  The Proper Time for Candle Lighting


            One cannot fulfill the mitzva of candle lighting before pelag ha-mincha (see Shiur #3 and #4). If they were lit before pelag ha-mincha the blessing was said in vain.  If this happens the candles must be extinguished and re-lit after pelag ha-mincha with a new blessing (OC 263:4 in Rema; and see MB and Bi'ur Halakha ibid.  The Yabi'a Omer vol. 2, no. 17, however, rules that the blessing is not repeated when relighting the candles).


            According to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l (Igrot Moshe OC, vol. 1, siman 96) the established custom is to light nerot Shabbat twenty minutes before sheki'a.  Moreinu Ha-rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlita has commented that there is a widespread custom to light eighteen minutes before sheki'a (sunset).  This is done out of concern for the opinion of the Yere'im that "3/4 of a mil" (i.e., 18 minutes) before sheki'a is in fact the beginning of bein ha-shemashot.  Minhag (the custom of) Yerushalayim is to light forty minutes before sheki'a (Sefer Bein Ha-shemashot by Rav Y. M. Tokitzinski, chap. 6; and see SSK vol. 2, p. 39, note 57, and Yalkut Yosef vol. 4, siman 263, note 66 for a dissenting opinion).  In pressing circumstances one can light up until it is almost sheki'a (MB 261:23).  If it is getting late and a woman will not have time to light candles before sheki'a her husband should light the candles (MB 262:11).


5. Accepting Shabbat When One Lights Shabbat Candles


            Women generally accept Shabbat when they light Shabbat candles unless they make a tnai (stipulation) not to accept Shabbat until later (OC 263:10; see, however, Yalkut Yosef 263:10).  This stipulation may be made mentally (Rema 263:10; see Pri Megadim ibid., however, who requires verbalization of the tnai).  This stipulation should not be made except in cases of genuine need (MB 263:21,44, SSK vol. 2, 43:22, note 128, and Tzitz Eliezer vol. 10, siman 19, and vol. 11, siman 21 and 22) since the efficacy of this stipulation is disputed amongst poskim (MB 263:44).  A woman who needs to make this stipulation should light only at the time that the rest of the community lights; otherwise, it will not be clear that she lit in honor of Shabbat (263:4).  However, a woman who lights Shabbat candles early, after pelag ha-mincha, without accepting Shabbat, has still fulfilled the mitzva (MB 263:20 and Biur Halakha s.v. Mi-be'od yom).


            Although women accept Shabbat when they light, other members of the family are still permitted to do melakha after the candles are lit until sheki'a (OC 263:10 in the Rema).  Since it is not a general rule that if a man lit the candles he has accepted Shabbat, men do not have to make a tnai to not accept Shabbat when they light.  However, it is preferable if they do (MB OC 263:42).


6.  The Blessing


            When is the proper time to recite the blessing over the Shabbat candles?  In general, there is a principle called "over le-asiyatan" which requires blessings recited over mitzvot to be said prior to doing the mitzva (Pesachim 7b).  However, this is a problem in the case of Shabbat candles: when a woman recites the blessing, according to many poskim, she is accepting Shabbat which would forbid her to light the Shabbat candles afterward (MB 263:27).


            The solution to the problem is for the woman to first light the Shabbat candles, immediately cover her eyes (without any interruption of talking - SSK vol. 2, 43:30) and recite the berakha.  Then, she uncovers her eyes and derives benefit from the light.  In this way, she is able to maintain on some level the demand for "over le-asiyatan" since the mitzva is not completed until she benefits from the light (OC 263:5 in the Rema).


            A man, however, can make the berakha first and then actually light the Shabbat candles (SSK vol. 2, 43:30, note 153).  A woman may do the same if she stipulates that she is not accepting Shabbat when she lights (SSK vol. 2, 43:30, end of note 155).  In this case one should make sure that the match or candle, that will light the Shabbat candles, is already lit to prevent an interruption between the blessing and the lighting of the Shabbat candles (SSK vol. 2, 43:30).


            If a woman accidentally recites the blessing before lighting the candles she is still allowed to light the candle.  This is because we assume that she did not intend to accept Shabbat (SSK 43:30, note 155).  If a woman lit the candles and forgot to recite the blessing at that time, she can say the blessing until sheki'a which is the end of the period that one may light candles (Bi'ur Halakha 263:5, s.v. Ke-sheyadlik).


            Since we rule that women accept Shabbat when they recite the blessing they are permitted to blow out the match (an act normally forbidden on Shabbat) after lighting the Shabbat candles before they say the blessing (Arukh Ha-shulchan 263:14; this is also the ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l - Radiance of Shabbat p. 16, note 10, and is apparently the common practice.  See also Yabi'a Omer vol 3, OC 16.  See, however, Ben Ish Chai, Shana Shnia, parashat Noach par. 8, and Berit Olam p. 17 who write that according to some poskim women accept Shabbat when they light the candles and therefore should be careful to let the match extinguish by itself).


7. What Kind of Shabbat Candles Should One Use?


            Almost any type of candle may be used for the mitzva of lighting Shabbat candles.  Their only requirements are that they have to burn well and not emit a bad odor (OC 264:1,3,6).  Some say it is better to light with olive oil (OC 264:6) either because it burns nicely (MB ibid. note 23) or because it was used in lighting the menora in the mikdash (Temple), (Midrash Tanchuma on parashat Beha'alotkha, and Ketzot Ha-shulchan 74:4).  However, other candles, such as wax candles which burn at least as well as olive oil may also be used (MB ibid.).


8. May One Use Electric Lights to Fulfill the Mitzva?


            Most poskim permit one to use electric incandescent lights (preferably non-frosted ones) to fulfill the obligation of nerot Shabbat.  This includes reciting the blessing (Sefer Ha-chashmal le-or ha-halakha 3:6, Beit Yitzchak vol. 1, Yoreh De'a siman 110, and vol. 2, siman 31, R. Yosef Eliyahu Chenkin zt"l in Edut Le-yisrael p. 122, Yabi'a Omer vol. 3, siman 17, Har Tzvi OC 143, Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 1, siman 20, chap. 11, Rav Moshe Ha-levi Soloveitchik zt"l and Rav Chaim Ozer zt"l in Nefesh Ha-rav p. 155-156).  However, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l was reluctant about allowing one to do this (as was R. Yosef Rosen zt"l, the Rogatchover, cited in Har Tzvi, vol. 2, OC 120) and only permitted the use of electric lights for ner Shabbat in pressing circumstances and without a recitation of the blessing (Radiance of Shabbat p. 12, note 26, and p. 19).  Moreinu Ha-rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlita also rules that one may use electric lights for fulfilling the obligation of nerot Shabbat only in pressing circumstances but one does recite a blessing on them.  See also SSK 43:4, note 22.


            If one may recite a blessing over electric lights: Why do we light with oil or wax candles since, comparatively, they provide such minimal illumination?  Would it not be better to use electric lights for nerot Shabbat since they provide the primary light in our homes?  Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l suggested that we still light oil or wax candles today for several reasons.  One is that they were established as the most beautiful way to fulfill the mitzva.  Moreover, they are intrinsically identified with nerot Shabbat, and thus distinguished as being in honor of Shabbat.  Finally, since it is such a widespread custom to kindle them in honor of Shabbat, they may have the status of minhag chashuv (an important custom that cannot be changed) and thus we perform the mitzva with them (SSK vol. 2, 43:34, note 171; see also Az Nidberu vol. 3, no. 1).


9.  Lighting in a Well Lit Room


            Some poskim question whether one can fulfill the obligation when a room is already lit to the point that the Shabbat candles do not add any appreciable light to the room (OC 263:8).   One cannot rely on the existing electric light to fulfill the mitzva as the electric light was not lit in honor of Shabbat (OC 263:4).  In principle one may be lenient and fulfill the mitzva even by lighting Shabbat candles in a well-lit room (OC 263:8 in the Rema).  However, in order to satisfy all opinions, some suggest to turn off the electric lights, turn them back on in honor of Shabbat (without speaking light - Az Nidberu vol. 5, no. 3) light the Shabbat candles, and then recite a blessing on all the lights.  This was the minhag in Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l's home (Radiance of Shabbat, p. 20, note 3).  The Rav zt"l, Maran Rav Joseph B. Halevi Soloveitchik, thought that one should turn off the electric lights, light the Shabbat candles, then turn on the electric lights, and then say the blessing on all the lights (Nefesh ha-Rav p. 156, par. 3).  R. Yehoshua Neuwirth shlita (SSK vol. 2, 43:34) suggests either to turn the lights off and then light the candles (like Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l), or to turn off the lights, light the candles, have someone else turn on the lights, and then recite the blessing on all the lights.  There is an opinion that one may light Shabbat candles le-khatchila (initially) in an illuminated room (see Yalkut Yosef, 263:8).




This website is constantly being improved. We would appreciate hearing from you. Questions and comments on the classes are welcome, as is help in tagging, categorizing, and creating brief summaries of the classes. Thank you for being part of the Torat Har Etzion community!