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Can a Child Light Chanuka Candles for a Household?

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This week’s shiurim are dedicated in memory of Israel Koschitzky zt"l, whose yahrzeit falls on the 19th of Kislev. 
May the worldwide dissemination of Torah through the VBM be a fitting tribute to a man whose lifetime achievements exemplified the love of Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael.


Please daven for a refua sheleima for YHE alumnus
Rav Daniel ben Miriam Chaya Rut

Translated by David Silverberg



            The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat discusses the issue of "hadlaka/hanacha osa mitzva" – whether one fulfills the mitzva of Chanuka candles when he lights the candle, or when he places it in its proper place.  Towards the end of this sugya, the Gemara (23a) posits:

"Now that we have determined that the lighting fulfills the mitzva, if a deaf-mute, mentally disabled person, or minor lit it, he has accomplished nothing.  A woman certainly lights, for Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said, 'Women are obligated in Chanuka candles because they, too, were included in that miracle.'"

The Gemara does not clarify whether any distinction exists in this regard between a child who has reached the age of chinukh (training in mitzvot) and a child below the age of chinukh.  Seemingly, the absence of any explicit distinction in the Gemara indicates that this rule applies to all minors.  Thus, although a child who has reached the age of chinukh presumably must light candles due to the obligation of chinukh, nevertheless, his lighting achieves nothing in terms of fulfilling the obligation on behalf of the household.

            In spite of this implication, the Sefer Ha-ittur (Hilkhot Chanuka, 115b-116a) comments:

"It stands to reason that when he has yet to reach the age of chinukh, there is a custom, and we follow the custom." 

Our texts of the Sefer Ha-ittur contain no reference to the source or root of this custom; in the comments of the "Petach Ha-devir" to this passage in the Sefer Ha-ittur, Rabbi Meir Yona adds to the text the words, "as it is written in Megilla."[1] Indeed, the Ran (Shabbat, 10a in the Rif) paraphrases the Ittur as follows:

"However, the author of the Ittur z"l wrote that if he has reached the age of chinukh, it is permissible [for him to light], and it all depends on the custom, as it says in the Yerushalmi in Megilla, 'from this point on they established that minors read on behalf of the congregation.'" 

The Ran refers to the conclusion of the Yerushalmi (Megilla 2:5) regarding the debate between Rabbi Yehuda and the Tanna Kama recorded in the mishna towards the end of the second chapter of Megilla (19b):

"Everyone is suitable for the reading of the Megilla, with the exception of a deaf-mute, mentally disabled person, and minor.  Rabbi Yehuda permits [a reading performed] by a minor. " 

            Most Rishonim understood Rabbi Yehuda's lenient ruling as applying strictly to a child who has reached the age of chinukh, whereas the Tanna Kama disqualifies even such a minor from Megilla reading.  It is indeed reasonable to assume that the mishna refers to a child above the age of chinukh, for a child capable of reading the Megilla presumably has reached the stage where he can be educated in mitzvot.  The Ittur, in Hilkhot Megilla (113b), brings this debate and the Rif's ruling, which follows the position of the Tanna Kama.  The Ittur, however, concludes:

"It stands to reason that they argue with regard to a child who has reached the age of chinukh, and the Halakha follows Rabbi Yehuda that a rabbinic obligation [of chinukh] can come and fulfill a rabbinic obligation [of Megilla reading].  We indeed find that the custom follows Rabbi Yehuda, as written in the Tosefta."[2] 

In light of these comments regarding Megilla, he determined that the same applies regarding Chanuka candles, and a minor who has reached the age of chinukh may light on behalf of others.


            Most Rishonim, however, remained silent on this issue, and thus appear to maintain that we draw no distinction in this regard between different ages of minors, as the simple reading of the Gemara implies.  For example, the Rambam writes plainly (Hilkhot Chanuka 4:9),

"A Chanuka candle lit by a deaf-mute, mentally disabled person, minor, or gentile – he has accomplished nothing, until somebody obligated in lighting performs the lighting."

Similarly, the Meiri (Shabbat 23a s.v. af al pi), after citing the position of the Ittur, comments, "This does not seem correct." 

We may suggest two explanations for their position.  Perhaps, they, like the Ba'al Ha-ittur, draw a comparison between Chanuka candles and Megilla reading, only they disqualify all minors from Megilla reading, as well, in accordance with the position of the Rif and Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla 1:2).  According to this approach, these Rishonim may have felt that a minor, who is obligated in mitzvot only mi-de'rabbanan, and thus for whom Megilla reading constitutes a "double de-rabbanan," cannot read on behalf of adults, for whom Megilla reading constitutes but a "single de-rabbanan."  Tosefot express this view in several places.[3] 

Alternatively, they might hold, as does Rashi[4], that a child bears no personal obligation whatsoever, as the chinukh obligation rests upon the shoulders of the parents, rather than on the child himself.  Or, even if the obligation is, indeed, cast upon the minor himself, it is a qualitatively lesser obligation than that cast upon adults, as the requirement of chinukh differs fundamentally from an actual obligation in the mitzva itself.  In any event, this approach would claim that these Rishonim accept the Ba'al Ha-ittur's equation between Chanuka candles and Megilla reading, only they disagree with his position concerning Megilla reading, and thus naturally dispute his position regarding Chanuka candles, as well.

            A different explanation might be that these Rishonim agree with the Ba'al Ha-ittur's ruling allowing a child to read the Megilla on behalf of adults, only in their view, we cannot compare Megilla reading and Chanuka candles. 

            One possible distinction between these two obligations is suggested by the Magen Avraham; however, he himself distinguishes in the opposite direction, and is inclined to reject this distinction.  In the context of Chanuka candles, the Mechaber (675:3) cites the position of the Ittur without further comment: "There is someone who says that for a minor who has reached the age of chinukh – it is permissible."  In presenting the laws of Megilla reading, by contrast, the Mechaber omits the Ittur's position entirely and establishes unequivocally that a child cannot read the Megilla on behalf of others (689:1).  The Magen Avraham comments:

"This requires explanation, for the Bet Yosef ruled at the end of siman 675 in accordance with the Ba'al Ha-ittur, who allows a minor [to light Chanuka candles for the household], whereas here he rules unequivocally in accordance with those who forbid [a minor to read the Megilla for others].  It is far-fetched to distinguish in this regard between Megilla and Chanuka candles.  The Ran likewise implies that they resemble one another in this respect."

It behooves us, then, both to explain the position of the Ittur, and to assess the extent to which we may distinguish between these two mitzvot, in either direction.


            As regards the actual obligation of a minor in the mitzvot of Chanuka candles and Megilla reading, we may raise two possible suggestions. 

  1. He is obligated solely by force of the requirement of chinukh, just as he is with regard to tzitzit and lulav, as established in the Gemara (Sukka 42a). 
  2. In these two mitzvot, a child's obligation also stems from his having been included in the miracle commemorated, parallel to women's obligation in these mitzvot.

At first glance, it would appear that this second possibility hinges on a debate among the Rishonim regarding the clause, "for they, too, were included in that miracle."  Most Rishonim explained, based on the parallel formulation in the Yerushalmi (Megilla 2:5) – "for they, too, were included in that threat [of annihilation]" - that this refers to the inclusion within the danger from which we were saved.  Clearly, this would apply to minors, as well.  By contrast, Rashi and Rashbam[5] explained that women played a significant role in the process of the miracle's unfolding; seemingly, this would exclude children.[6] 

On a more fundamental level, however, one might question whether the factor of "af hen hayu be-oto ha-nes" ("they, too, were included in that miracle") can serve as a basis for obligating minors, even if they have reached the age of chinukh.  It stands to reason that this principle applies strictly to women, who generally are obligated in mitzvot like men, but would have been exempted from Chanuka candles and Megilla reading for the specific reason that these two mitzvot are time-bound ("mitzvot asei she-ha-zeman geraman"), and Halakha generally exempts women from this type of mitzva.  The consideration of "af hen hayu be-oto ha-nes" overrides the principle exempting women from time-bound mitzvot, resulting in their obligation in Chanuka candles and Megilla reading.  Minors, however, are excluded entirely from the general level of mitzva obligation, and even when they reach the age of chinukh, their obligation is of a shallower nature.  It follows, then, that their inclusion in the miracle would not affect their general exemption.[7]

Even should we assume (as I heard from my teacher and father-in-law, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l, in the name of his grandfather, Reb Chayim Brisker) that a minor's performance of mitzvot has the formal status of a mitzva act, and for this reason the Rambam rules (Hilkhot Korban Pesach 5:7) that a child who reaches bar mitzva age between Pesach and Pesach Sheni need not observe Pesach Sheni if a korban was slaughtered on his behalf on Pesach[8], this relates only to his fulfillment of mitzvot.  When it comes to a child's obligation in mitzvot, however, according to all opinions he is entirely excluded.  It stands to reason, then, that we cannot apply to minors the principle of "af hen hayu be-oto ha-nes," and we must confine a child's obligation to the realm of chinukh.


            We might suggest that this issue underlies a debate among the Rishonim concerning the obligation of arba kosot (the four cups of wine at the Pesach seder).  The Gemara (Pesachim 108b) writes,

"Everyone is obligated in these four cups – both men, women and children.  Rabbi Yehuda said: What purpose is there for children to drink wine?" 

The Rashbam explains:

"'And children' – for they, too, were redeemed. 

'What purpose is there for children' – aren't they exempt from mitzvot?" 

It appears that according to the Rashbam, the Tanna'im debate the issue of whether an obligation applies to children due to the external factor of their inclusion in the redemption.  Although in the Rashbam's view we are not dealing here with the concept of "af hen hayu be-oto ha-nes," for according to the Rashbam, "af hen hayu" has to do with women's participation in bringing about the redemption, nevertheless, according to the Tanna Kama, we have a parallel progression.  By contrast, Rabbenu David (ad loc.) takes issue with the Rashbam and writes,

"This is incorrect; for although they were redeemed, what obligation is there for children?" 

In truth, however, one might claim that this debate has no relevance to our issue.  For it appears from the Rashbam's commentary on Rabbi Yehuda's position that he refers to a child who has yet to reach the age of chinukh.  Therefore, if the Tanna Kama holds that we apply here the rule of "af hen hayu be-oto ha-nes," we have here a far more novel ruling than that which we suggested earlier regarding Chanuka candles and Megilla reading. 

It seems reasonable to assume, therefore, that the Rashbam never intended to base the minor's obligation on the concept of "af hen hayu."  Rather, he refers to the obligation upon the parent to have the members of his household drink the arba kosot, not as part of their training in mitzvot, but rather as part of his own obligation.[9] 

Conversely, we might confine Rabbenu David's objection to the application of this factor, of inclusion in the redemption, to a child below the age of chinukh.  When it comes to a child who has reached this age, however, Rabbenu David might concede that there exists a level of obligation due to the factor of "af hen," and not merely stemming from the obligation of chinukh.

            Truth be told, we need not look far and wide for a discussion among the Rishonim relevant to our issue, for our question was addressed explicitly by the Rishonim in the context of Megilla reading.  The Ramban, in his Milchamot Hashem in Berakhot (12a in the Rif), writes:

"A minor, even if he has reached the age of chinukh, cannot fulfill the obligation on behalf of others, even regarding a rabbinic [obligation], as it says in the mishna, 'Everyone is suitable for the reading of the Megilla, with the exception of a deaf-mute, mentally disabled person, and minor.'  The reason is that chinukh is the obligation of his father, whereas he bears no obligation whatsoever." 

The Ramban omits any explanation of Rabbi Yehuda's position.  But the Ran in Megilla (6b in the Rif) adds the following approach in the Ramban's name:

"Rabbi Yehuda himself permitted a minor only with regard to Megilla, because they were all included in that miracle." 

The Ran then proceeds to dispute the Ramban's approach:

"I am not satisfied with this answer, for if he bears no obligation with regard to mitzvot, even mi-de'rabbanan, then what difference does it make that they were included in that miracle?  This reasoning applies only to someone who bears an obligation regarding other mitzvot, like women, whom we obligate in this case, as well, because they, too, were included in that miracle.  But someone for whom no obligation applies – how can we obligate him on this basis?"

The Ran establishes quite clearly that no obligation can possibly apply to a minor.  Within the Ramban's position, one might question whether the Tanna Kama follows the Ran's position on our issue, or if even he maintains that there exists a dimension of "af hen" with regard to the minor's personal obligation, and we should not restrict it to the mitzva of chinukh.  However, in his view, this does not suffice to allow the child to read on behalf of others, somewhat similar to the Behag's position that women cannot read the Megilla on behalf of men.  In any event, the Ramban's own position on this matter is quite clear.

            It would appear that this issue finds expression in a different context, as well.  The Ravya brings the aforementioned view of the Behag that a woman cannot fulfill the obligation of Megilla reading on behalf of men.  The Behag bases his position on the fact that women are not obligated in keri'a, reading the Megilla, but rather in shemi'a – hearing the Megilla read.  Later, the Ravya writes (2:569, p.293):

"I am uncertain as to whether a minor can fulfill the obligation on behalf of women, or women for a minor, regarding both Megilla and lighting [Chanuka candles].  For perhaps although both are exempt [from keri'a] and obligated in listening to the Megilla, they may not be equally obligated, as we say in Masekhet Shabbat [beginning of the 24th chapter, regarding a deaf-mute, mentally disabled person, and minor], 'Which one takes precedence?' despite the fact that it always mentions them together as a single group."

We may explain the Ravya's question in one of two ways. 

First, his uncertainty may have to do with the scale of different levels of the same mechayev (source of obligation).  This question itself reduces to one of two issues:

  1. Is there any difference at all in terms of level of obligation between a minor and a woman?
  2. Does this difference preclude the possibility of one fulfilling the obligation on behalf of the other? 

Alternatively, the Ravya's question may have to do with distinct mechayevim.  This approach, too, divides into two possible understandings:

  1. Do we have here two different mechayevim, or only a single mechayev?
  2. Assuming the mechayevim are distinct, what weight does this distinction carry with respect to the ability of one to fulfill the obligation on behalf of the other?

            The Gemara he cites as an example raises a question concerning a case of extenuating circumstances, where Halakha permits one to perform an activity forbidden on Shabbat through a person with a lower level of obligation.  The Gemara asks if one should afford preference to a deaf-mute over a minor or vice-versa in such a situation (Shabbat 153b):

"Should he give it to a deaf-mute, because a minor will eventually attain intelligence, or should he give it to a minor, because a deaf-mute may be confused with an adult?"[10] 

A clear gap exists between the two arguments posed.  The stringency of the minor can be viewed as fundamental in nature, meaning, forbidden activity performed by a minor is forbidden in the sense of an early adulthood of sorts.  The stringency of the deaf-mute, by contrast, results from merely a peripheral concern.  It would thus appear that the Gemara's question hinges on the aforementioned issue as to the nature of the preference.  Clearly, however, one may explain the Gemara differently.

            Now, if we assume the second possibility posed, that the Ravya's question involves the nature and level of different mechayevim, then we clearly understand why a woman might not be able to fulfill the obligation on behalf of a minor.  For in his view, a woman is obligated only to hear the Megilla, whereas a minor, presumably, bears an obligation to read, as well, just as he will when he becomes an adult.  When the Ravya writes as a self-evident fact that both women and minors are obligated only in shemi'a, he did so only in presenting the possibility that one can, indeed, fulfill the obligation on behalf of the other. 

What is less clear, however, is why a minor would be unable to fulfill the obligation on a woman's behalf if they share an identical obligation.  In light of what we have seen, we may suggest a simple explanation, based on the questions raised in the aforementioned comments of the Ramban and Ran.  If a minor's obligation stems from both the mitzva of chinukh as well as the factor of "af hen hayu," then there really is no reason why he cannot fulfill the obligation on behalf of women.  If, however, he is obligated solely due to chinukh, as the principle of "af hen" does not include minors, then there exists a component that applies to women from which a minor is excluded, and he therefore cannot fulfill the obligation on their behalf.


            Let us return to our issue – the position of the Ba'al Ha-ittur that compares Megilla reading and Chanuka candles. If we view the minor's obligation as stemming from the mitzva of chinukh, we have no reason to distinguish between these two mitzvot.  Why would one differ from the other in terms of the obligation to train a child in mitzva performance?  We would thus conclude that those who follow Rabbi Yehuda's view, allowing a child to read the Megilla on behalf of adults, will also accept the Ittur's ruling that candle lighting by a minor who has reached the age of chinukh fulfills the obligation on behalf of the entire household.

            At first glance, the same would apply to the mechayev of "af hen hayu be-oto ha-nes."  However, the Keli Chemda draws a distinction in this regard.  He suggests that if a minor's obligation in these two mitzvot stems from chinukh, then clearly we cannot differentiate between the two with regard to the minor's ability to fulfill the obligation for others, as stated above, and this, he claims, was the Ittur's position.   When it comes, however, to the mechayev of "af hen hay be-oto ha-nes," here, the Keli Chemda argues, we may certainly distinguish between Megilla reading and Chanuka candles, and those who disputed the Ittur followed this view.  The Keli Chemda explains the distinction as follows (Parashat Miketz, p.112):

"It would thus appear that this applies specifically on Purim, when the miracle was that they were saved from death to life, for the decree was to destroy and kill.  Therefore, no distinction exists between young and old, and we may reasonably say about them that they, too, were included in that miracle. 

This is not the case regarding Chanuka, where the decree was to have them violate their religion, and we hold that one must subject himself to death rather than transgress, due to the mitzva of 've-nikdashti[11] be-tokh Benei Yisrael.'  Therefore, this applies specifically to adults; minors, however, who are not included in the positive commandment of 've-nikdashti', are permitted to transgress, and were thus not killed.  On Chanuka, therefore, it cannot be said about minors that 'they, too, were included in that miracle,' since no miracle saving from death occurred for them, because they did not have to surrender their lives for the sanctification of the Name.  Since they cannot be obligated by virtue of 'af hen hayu be-oto ha-nes,' no basis remains for us to obligate them other than chinukh, and so we again say that a 'double de-rabbanan' cannot fulfill the obligation on behalf of a 'single de-rabbanan.'  We therefore never find in Tosefot that Rabbi Yehuda would allow candle lighting on Chanuka by a minor."

His point is clear, but very difficult to accept.  He operates on the basic assumption that the miracle, meaning, redemption from a threat or danger, entails salvation from physical destruction as a result of the obligation to give one's life rather than transgress.  It appears obvious and self-evident, however, that this is not the case at all.  Is release from the grip of religious persecution insufficient salvation to require praise and thanksgiving and commemoration of the event through candle lighting?  Even taking into account the fact that the children permissibly violated their faith rather than surrender their lives, is not the loss of eternal life and all connection to Torah observance a tragic calamity, such that any survivor would be included in the Chanuka miracle?  This point is clear from pure logic, but it has clear evidence, as well, from the famous discussion of the Taz (O.C. 670:3) concerning the difference between Chanuka and Purim with respect to abstaining from food and drink:

"The Levush drew a distinction in this regard, claiming that on Purim lives were saved, whereas on Chanuka no lives were saved, for the Greeks sought not lives but rather submission and violation of the faith.  But this is incorrect, for Rashi commented in Parashat Ki-Tetze that causing another to sin is graver than killing him."

The Levush and Taz agree that the salvation of Chanuka was spiritual, and had nothing to do with the physical ramifications of the spiritual threat.  They argue as to the significance of this fact with respect to the inclusion of a festive meal and celebration on Chanuka.  Clearly, then, we cannot distinguish between Megilla reading and lighting Chanuka candles on the basis of the application of "af hen hayu" to minors; this detail has no connection at all to the debate between the Ba'al Ha-ittur and the other Rishonim.[12]


            We may, however, assess this question from a different angle entirely.  Until now, our discussion concerning the possible equation between the two mitzvot focused on the foundation and level of the personal obligation of the minor who has reached the age of chinukh.  But it is possible to approach this issue from the perspective of the nature and character of each of these two mitzvot, and their particular demands.  We can then examine whether we can distinguish between the two in this regard such that their difference will yield ramifications in terms of the ability of a minor to fulfill the obligation on behalf of others. 

Indeed, the difference in nature between these two mitzvot is clear.  Megilla reading constitutes a "chovat gavra," a personal obligation upon each individual which he himself fulfills.  That one person can read on behalf of another stems from the principle of "shomei'a ke-oneh" (listening is akin to reciting).  Although this concept lends itself to different understandings and interpretations regarding the connection between reader and listener, they all share the basic notion that the listener fulfills his obligation through his direct participation in the process of the mitzva's execution. 

By contrast, the lighting of Chanuka candles was established, on the fundamental level, as a mitzva upon "ish u-veito" – a person and his household.  All members of the household bear the obligation to see to it that a light will be lit in or near the house.  There is no personal obligation cast upon any single individual to perform the act of lighting personally.  One person, who perhaps need not even be a resident of the house[13], fulfills the obligation on behalf of others by bringing about the presence of Chanuka candles in the home.  The sugya excludes from this process the deaf-mute, mentally disabled and minors, to which the Rambam (Hilkhot Chanuka 4:9) adds a gentile, because they are not included at all in the mitzva.

            It seems clear that this difference in the nature of the mitzva's fulfillment may very well affect the ability of one person to fulfill the obligation on behalf of another.  Case in point: the Rishonim disagree as to whether or not a woman can read a Megilla on behalf of men, and many followed the ruling of the Behag that a man cannot fulfill his obligation by hearing a woman's reading of the Megilla.  No such dispute exists regarding Chanuka candles, and the straightforward reading of the sugya (Shabbat 23a), which concludes that women may light Chanuka candles, certainly implies that they thereby fulfill the obligation on behalf of men.  The Gemara establishes for women that which was denied to the deaf-mute, mentally disabled and minor, and what was denied from them clearly is not only their personal obligation - for they are exempt from all mitzvot – but rather their ability to fulfill the obligation for others.  It thus seems clear that women can light for men, unlike the Behag's ruling with regard to Megilla reading. 

The Ravya, in Hilkhot Megilla (2:569, p.293), appears ambivalent on this issue:

"I searched in the Halakhot Gedolot [= Behag] and he made no explicit comment on this, and I do not know if we can view both [mitzvot] together in this regard." 

However, in Hilkhot Chanuka (843, p.580), he decides upon the lenient ruling:

"A woman certainly lights and also fulfills the obligation for a man, for Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said: Women are obligated in Chanuka candles for they, too, were included in that miracle.  In the context of the laws of Megilla, I wrote that in the Halakhot Gedolot the text reads, 'Women are obligated in hearing the Megilla,' and it does not read, 'in the reading of the Megilla.'"

He does not, however, explain the meaning behind his initial uncertainty or the definitiveness of his conclusion.  The Peri Chadash (675:3) brings an additional source for this distinction:

"In the glosses to the Mordekhai it is written in the name of Tosefot z"l that a woman certainly lights, even to fulfill the obligation for others.  Although she does not fulfill the obligation of Megilla reading on behalf of others, despite their having been included in the miracle, perhaps [the obligation of] Chanuka candles is more lenient, just as it says that [a visitor] participates [in the host's lighting] with coins, but when one marries he has no need, as he relies on his wife's lighting outside his city."

Here, too, however, we have but a proof without any explanation.

            We can raise several different suggestions to explain this ruling.  One suggestion among those I heard – without these sources being addressed – from my father-in-law zt"l is built upon the difference in the essence of the obligation.  A woman cannot fulfill an obligation on a man's behalf on the level of interpersonal connection.  If, however, we require merely the creation of the halakhic entity of Chanuka candles, then this can be accomplished through a woman, as well.

            Correspondingly, we may easily adopt the distinction raised and rejected by the Magen Avraham, who extracted from the Mechaber's rulings that a minor can light Chanuka candles on behalf of adults, but cannot read the Megilla on their behalf.  We need only assume that a minor cannot perform a mitzva act through which an adult can fulfill his obligation, but is capable of creating the halakhic entity of Chanuka candles, through which all members of the household then fulfill their obligation.  The Mechaber's rulings are then perfectly understood.[14]

            Conversely, as we saw, many Rishonim accept Rabbi Yehuda's position regarding Megilla reading but make no distinction between different stages of childhood when it comes to Chanuka candles, presumably maintaining that even upon reaching the age of chinukh a child cannot light on behalf of adults.  We might explain – though this may depend on how we understand the rule of "shomei'a ke-oneh" – that an adult can fulfill his obligation through his act of listening to the child's reading, for the purposes of which we may consider this reading a reading performed for the mitzva.  When, however, it comes to candle lighting, which is intended to fulfill the obligation for the entire household simply through its constituting a halakhic entity of Chanuka candles for the home – the child does not have the capacity to create this entity on the adults' level of obligation.

            The Peri Chadash, in the continuation of the aforementioned passage, also addresses the different rulings of the Mechaber and offers the following explanation:

"Although the Mechaber in the aforementioned siman [in the context of Megilla] disregarded the Ba'al Ha-ittur's stance and did not mention it, he brings it here, for it is quite possible that even those who disagree [with the Ittur] there agree here, because [the obligation of] Chanuka candles is more lenient, as I wrote in the name of Tosefot."

In light of what he had written earlier in that passage concerning women, he explains the Mechaber's rulings on the basis of somewhat ambiguous levels of stringency and leniency.  But as we have seen, we can explain the distinction based on the difference in the nature and root of the two mitzvot.

            I then discovered that indeed this approach to the distinction is established in brief by the Chakham Tzevi.  Addressing the discrepancy between the two rulings of the Mechaber, the Chakham Tzevi responds (in "Tosafot Chadashim" at the end of the Chakham Tzevi's work, 13):

"He maintains that on Chanuka, the obligation of lighting is not cast upon each individual, but rather one person from among all the members of the household lights at the entrance to the yard, and there is then no obligation upon anyone from among all the members of the household, even though they did not hear the berakha and did not see the lighting.  Rabbi Zeira went even further, saying: Once I married, I said that I no longer need [to purchase a share in my host's Chanuka candles,] for they light on my behalf in my home.  For this reason, it suffices for even a child who has reached the age of chinukh to light at the entrance of the yard. 

Regarding Megilla reading, however, which is cast upon each individual, either to read or to hear the Megilla, a minor – even who has reached the age of chinukh – cannot fulfill the obligation on behalf of others.  This is a very reasonable distinction."[15]



[1] The original version of the text reads, "We learn in Megilla;" but given that later he cites a Gemara from Masekhet Shabbat, clearly this version is incorrect.

[2] See Tosefta, Megilla 2:4, and Tosefta Ki-pshuta, pp.1148-9.

[3] See Megilla 19b, Tosefot s.v. ve-Rabbi Yehuda; Megilla 24a, Tosefot s.v. mi; Eruvin 96a, Tosefot s.v. dilma.

[4] See Berakhot 48a, s.v. ad she-yokhal.

[5] See their comments in Pesachim 108b, s.v. she-af.  In Megilla (4a), however, Rashi (s.v. she-af) follows the explanation of the other Rishonim, whereas in Shabbat (23a, s.v. hayu) he combines both views.

[6] However, the Midrash (Esther Rabba 8:7) records, "What did Mordekhai do?  He assembled all the children, withheld from them bread and water, clothed them in sackcloth, and had them sit on ashes, and they shouted and cried and occupied themselves in Torah."  According to this midrash, perhaps, the children indeed played a role in bringing about the miracle, toward which they contributed their Torah, prayers and merit.

[7] In one place, Tosefot explain that even Rabbi Yehuda maintains that a "double de-rabbanan" cannot fulfill the obligation on behalf of a "single de-rabbanan."  He allows a child to read the Megilla on behalf of adults because of his inclusion in the miracle: "But regarding Megilla there is reason to be lenient, because women and children were all at risk of murder and destruction, and Rabbi Yehuda therefore considered [the child] like an adult" (Megilla 24a, Tosefot s.v. amar).  However, the more common approach among the Ba'alei Ha-Tosefot is that according to Rabbi Yehuda, we treat a "double de-rabbanan" no differently than we do a "single de-rabbanan," and each can fulfill the obligation of the other on his behalf.  Rabbenu Tuvia, cited in the Mordekhai (Megilla, 757), goes even further, claiming that according to Rabbi Yehuda, anyone included in an obligation mi-de'rabbanan can fulfill the obligation on behalf of someone obligated on the level of de-orayta.  Therefore, a blind man, whom Rabbi Yehuda exempts from mitzvot (Bava Kama 87a) and is at most, in his view, obligated mi-de'rabbanan, can recite kiddush on behalf of his wife.  Moreover, he brings as an example the fact that someone who recites kiddush during the time of tosefet Shabbat (the period added onto Shabbat before sundown), when, in his view, Shabbat has begun only on the level of de-rabbanan, fulfills the Torah obligation of kiddush.

[8] In his work on the Rambam, Reb Chayim explained the Rambam's view on the basis of the position that "seh le-veit avot de-orayta" – the concept of registering for a korban pesach works on the level of Torah law. In other words, Reb Chayim explained the Rambam based on a local factor.  Orally, however, he suggested an approach built upon a general distinction between a minor and mentally disabled person: the former fulfills a mitzva even though he is not obligated, whereas the latter is excluded from the possibility of mitzva fulfillment.  Therefore, someone who experiences periodical mental illness but is at times mentally healthy, who hears the shofar on Rosh Ha-shana during a period of illness, must hear it again when his mental stability returns, as established in Masekhet Rosh Ha-shana (28a).  The halakhic status of a minor's actions, both for mitzvot and aveirot, has merited much discussion among the Acharonim, and comprehensive treatment of this subject lies beyond the scope of our context.  Clearly, however, attributing to a minor the ability to fulfill a mitzva, and considering his mitzva performance a formal "kiyum mitzva," is far more novel than simply defining a given action by a minor a mitzva act or an aveira act.

[9] A similar point regarding Megilla reading seems to emerge from the Yerushalmi (Megilla 2:5): "Bar Kappara said: One must read it for women and for children, for they, too, were included in that threat."  The Yerushalmi thus explicitly applies the factor of "af hen hayu" to minors.  However, Bar Kappara's formulation of this halakha clearly implies that he deals not with a personal obligation upon the child, but rather with the responsibility of others – presumably, his father – to read the Megilla for him, as part of the father's obligation of "pirsumei nisa" (publicizing the miracle).

My father-in-law zt"l was inclined to interpret the Behag's view, that women, though obligated in Megilla reading, cannot read on behalf of men, in a similar vein.  That is to say, women themselves are exempt from both reading and hearing the Megilla, but others must read for them for purposes of publicizing; the Rav based this approach on the Yerushalmi.  However, the Behag himself, despite his bringing the Yerushalmi later in his discussion, begins, "Women, servants and minors are exempt from Megilla reading but are obligated in listening, for everyone was at risk of destruction, murder and annihilation; since everyone was included in the threat, they are all obligated to hear" (Hilkhot Megilla, p.80).  This formulation seems to describe a personal obligation.  However, the mention of minors in this passage requires clarification.  If the Behag refers to minors who have reached the age of chinukh, then why does he obligate them only in listening to the Megilla, and not reading?  If the minor of whom he speaks has not reached chinukh age, then this passage demonstrates that the factor of "af hen hayu" can generate a personal obligation even upon a child below the age of chinukh – the issue we dealt with above.  In any event, it is clear that the Rishonim who debated the question of whether according to the Behag a woman recites "al mikra Megilla" or "al shemi'at Megilla" – see Ravya, 2:294, and Rama, 689:2 – understood the Behag differently than did the Rav zt"l.

[10] Obviously, we deal here with an adult other than the child's father, for regarding a child performing a given activity for his father, the Torah forbids, "Do not perform any forbidden activity – you, and your son, and your daughter."  This verse must refer to minors, for adult children are included in the prohibition in any event.

[11] Twice in this passage the Keli Chedma wrote "ve-kidashto;" clearly, however, this is a slip of the pen, and in my citation I corrected his wording in accordance with the verse.

[12] This refers to the obligation upon a minor to light for himself, either if he has his own home, or according to the practice of the Rama (671:2) that all members of the household light Chanuka candles.  See also Rama, 675:3, and Magen Avraham, 677:8. 

There is yet another application of the issue of a minor's status with respect to Chanuka candles according to the Rambam's view (Hilkhot Chanuka 4:2) that only the head of the household lights, and he lights corresponding to the number of family members.  According to this position, the question arises as to whether to include minors in the number of members of the household, thus requiring the head of the household to light for them, as well, since they were also included in the miracle and saved.  We need not, one might argue, assess the status of their obligation in mitzvot, since it is not they who light the candles.  Or, perhaps only the adults, who bear the obligation of the mitzva of Chanuka and to whom the lighting relates, are included. 

The Piskei Ri'az (Shabbat, p.102) writes, "But for minors, who are not obligated, it appears to me that he does not light."  This ruling is cited in the Shiltei Ha-gibborim (Shabbat, 9b in the Rif).  The Meiri (Shabbat 21b, s.v. mitzvat Chanuka) similarly takes this position as a given: "Those who perform the mitzva on a higher standard – a candle for each person according to the number of adult members of the household." 

Quite conceivably, however, one could distinguish between these two issues and claim that a minor is excluded from lighting altogether, but nevertheless he counts towards the number of household members.  Conversely, perhaps according to the Rama's custom, we train children to light for purposes of chinukh, like in all mitzvot, as is indeed the widespread practice, but the head of the household would not light for him according to the Rambam, as doing so serves no educational purpose. 

It is inexplicable why the Magen Avraham and Bei'ur Halakha (end of siman 675) combine the comments of the Ri'az concerning lighting on behalf of minors, with the Rama's ruling regarding minors lighting themselves.  Moreover, the reasoning suggested by the Bei'ur Halakha ("for although he is obligated to train him, this pertains to matters regarding which the adult himself bears an obligation according to strict Halakha; here, however, where even for the adult this involves merely enhancement of the mitzva ['hiddur mitzva'], he is not obligated to train the minor") requires clarification. 

This touches upon the fundamental nature of hiddur mitzva on the one hand, including all its levels and facets, and on the other, the specific character of the "hiddur" that applies in the context of Chanuka candles.  Seemingly, to the extent to which we classify the enhancements of Chanuka candles as additional levels and extensions of the actual mitzva, we have no reason not to include them within the mitzva of chinukh.  By contrast, to the extent to which we categorize them under the general rule of "zeh Keli ve-anvehu" (the overarching halakha of hiddur mitzva), we have more room to exclude them from the requirement of chinukh. 

Even this, however, is far from clear.  For even if this does not constitute an extension of the actual mitzva itself, why shouldn't the concept of enhancing our avodat Hashem be included in the mitzva of chinukh?  Furthermore, we must assess this issue in light of the sugya (Chagiga 6a) that deals with the extent to which the present obligation of chinukh must practically correspond with the future obligation the child will assume upon reaching the age of mitzvot.  The source of the Bei'ur Halakha's comments, the Machatzit Ha-shekel (677:4), raises this distinction as a conceivable explanation for the possibility raised by the Magen Avraham.  We will not, however, elaborate on these points in this context.

To complete this discussion, we should note that the final comments of the Machatzit Ha-shekel in the aforementioned passage are particularly difficult to understand.  Addressing the ruling of the Ri'az, that according to the Rambam one does not light for the minors in the household, he notes: "Undoubtedly, this refers to a child who has reached the age of chinukh, for otherwise, this is obvious."  Clearly, however, even regarding children who have yet to reach the age of chinukh this halakha is far from obvious.  One may certainly contend that although small children are personally excluded from all mitzva obligation, they may nevertheless count towards the total number of household members.

[13] To the best of my knowledge, this point is not explicitly addressed in the Gemara or Rishonim, and I have the impression that the person lighting must be a member of the household.  For otherwise, no connection exists between the candle and the home, and we cannot consider this a fulfillment of "ner ish u-veito."  However, Reb Velvel (Chiddushei Maran Riz Ha-levi, Hilkhot Chanuka 4:1, p.28) assumes as self-evident the fact "that even the primary Chanuka candle required of each person and his household may be lit even by someone who is not a member of the household, so long as he bears the obligation." 

We may perhaps draw support for this theory from the Ramban's formulation in Masekhet Pesachim (7a): "If you will ask from Chanuka candles, which may be performed through an agent, and we recite over it the berakha, 'le-hadlik."  It is unclear, however, from this wording whether or not one can have someone else light for him without formal shelichut. 

However, my son, Rav Yitzchak Abba shlit"a, pointed out to me that the comments of Rabbenu David in that same context indeed imply that an unrelated party may, in fact, light, even without his appointment as a shaliach.  See Chiddushei Rabbenu David, Pesachim 7b (p.47):

"One might answer that the mitzva of Chanuka candles certainly is not fulfilled through a shaliach, for if someone purchased wicks and oils and lit for his fellow, he clearly has accomplished nothing… But after the head of the household has prepared in his home oils and wicks, another may recite the berakha in his stead, and he listens and fulfills his obligation to recite the berakha."

[14] My father-in-law zt"l suggested a similar distinction with regard to the ability of a minor to fulfill the obligation of birkat ha-mazon for an adult.  In "Shiurim Le-zekher Abba Mari z"l" (Mossad Ha-Rav Kook edition, 2:102-106), he contends that according to many Rishonim, a minor cannot recite birkat ha-mazon on behalf of others through the mechanism of shomei'a ke-oneh, but he is capable of creating a halakhic entity of birkat ha-mazon in a zimun, through which the others automatically fulfill their obligation by virtue of the halakha that one member of the zimun recites birkat ha-mazon on behalf of the entire group.

[15] It may be that the citation of Rabbi Zeira's comment (by the Peri Chadash and the Chakham Tzevi) comes to demonstrate the nature of the mitzva, and the Peri Chadash did not intend merely to show a general point of leniency.  In any event, his comments in this context remain somewhat unclear.

, full_html, This shiur discusses whether a child can light Chanuka candles for a household., full_html, Regarding the lighting of Chanuka candles by a minor.

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