Many of us fondly remember precious moments with our families during Hanukkah – lighting candles, singing songs, eating latkes, and playing dreidel. The family-oriented strand of this holiday is actually deeply woven into its mitzvot and halakhic requirements. The obligation rests not on the individual, as is the case with almost all other mitzvot, but on the household as a unit, ner ish u’veito, a candle for the person and his household. As long as one person lights in the house, even just one candle, everyone fulfills his or her basic obligation.
The concept of house or household is also central to where the candles are lit and for whom. Originally, the lighting was supposed to be done at the opening of a person’s doorway or the entrance to the courtyard, not only publicizing the miracle to passersby but also, like the mezuzah, marking the identity of the house. Nowadays we light indoors, and while we no longer mark our homes in the same fashion, the audience for the lighting becomes the benei bayit, the members of our household.
In our parasha this week, the word bayit echoes throughout the Torah’s story of Yosef’s brothers returning to Egypt to return the money found in their sacks. Yosef tells his servant to bring the people into his bayit. They are brought into the house and become fearful. Yosef then returns to the house, and they bring their present to him in his house. In fact, excluding the two mentions of the “servant over his household,” the word bayit appears seven times, a number which underscores its significance in the story.
The Torah seems to highlight how foreign Yosef’s brothers feel. They are strangers in a strange land, fearful of the fact that they have money which is not theirs, concerned for their safety and their future. They are away from home, and Yosef’s home is not theirs. Yosef, for his part, tries to alleviate their fears and anxiety and invites them in, and has them eat with him for the midday meal. A degree of foreignness still remains: the brothers eat at their own table, separate from Yosef’s table and separate from the Egyptians’ table. To eat with someone is to be welcome in their home; to share a table is to become part of the family. In fact, a central way that halakhah determines if a person is a member of a household is whether or not he or she is someikh al shulhan ba’al ha’bayit, is fed by – literally, “is supported by the table of” – the homeowner.
The place where one eats is also a central factor in defining a person’s house when it comes to lighting Hanukkah candles. But there is another factor to consider – the place where a person sleeps. When it comes to “living” in a sukkah, for example, a person is supposed to both eat and sleep in a sukkah (although in practice, for the most part we only eat in a sukkah, and do not sleep there). But which of these is more central? In the laws of eruv, the Talmud debates whether a person’s primary domicile is defined as the house in which he sleeps or the one in which he eats. We rule that a person’s home is defined as the place where he takes his meals (Eruvin 72-73, SA OH 370:5).
So what is the law when it comes to Hanukkah? What matters more: where one eats or where one sleeps?
Consider a couple of common scenarios:
- A person eats with friends and goes home to sleep – where does he light?
- A person lives in a dorm and eats in her college’s cafeteria – where does she light, in her room or in the cafeteria?
- A person shares an apartment suite with apartment mates, and will be travelling and not be able to light. Can he fulfill his obligation through the lighting of his apartment mates?
Let’s look at these scenarios one by one:
Eating at a friend’s house. When a person eats dinner at a friend’s house, it would often be much easier to light Hanukkah candles there. However, since a person is not sleeping there and doesn’t eat there regularly, he is seen as a guest and not as someone who is living in his host’s house, even temporarily. The solution to “contribute towards the Hanukkah candles” as a way of being part of the host’s lighting only works when a guest is sleeping over and is thus already somewhat part of the household. When someone is only coming over for dinner, he would have to light when he gets home, or he can fulfill his obligation through the lighting done by his family members at home (Magen Avraham 677:7; Taz 677:2; Mishneh Brurah 677:12).
Dorm room or cafeteria? If a guest sleeps in a room with its own entrance and eats at his host’s table, Shulkhan Arukh and Rema disagree whether he should light in the doorway of his host’s house or the doorway to where he is sleeping (OH 677:1). The opinion to light at the entrance of one’s bedroom is based on a concern that passersby will see the person going in and out of the entrance and not lighting in his doorway, and suspect him of not doing the mitzvah. When these concerns are not present, and certainly nowadays when the lighting is primarily for the members of the household, all would agree that the guest should light in his host’s home (Mishneh Brurah 677:11). This is both because “the place of eating is primary” – that is, defines more where a person is living than the place where he is sleeping, as is the case regarding eruv (Taz 677:2) – and also because that is where people congregate and will see the lights.
When someone is living in a dorm, it would seem that it would be preferable to light in the cafeteria, the place where a person eats. That being said, most poskim advise lighting in one’s dorm room, preferably in the window where it can be seen by others (see, for example, Iggrot Moshe OH 4:70.3). They argue that in this case, the public nature of the cafeteria makes it difficult to consider it to be a person’s domicile. To this we can add that a person will often eat in her dorm room or elsewhere on campus, which is another reason to consider her room as the place where she lives. So, if it is possible, a person should light in her room, but if there are fire hazard concerns, or if the university will not allow her to light in her room, she should light in the cafeteria with a brakhah. In such a case, it would be advisable that she also light in her room with electric lights without a brakhah. See last week’s article for more on this topic.
Sharing an apartment. If two or more people share an apartment suite with separate bedrooms for each person and a shared kitchen, are they considered one household for Hanukkah lighting? This is a relevant question in a case where one person is travelling and it will be difficult for him to light. Can he fulfill his obligation through the lighting of his apartment mates? Here poskim disagree. The sticky point is that while they share the same kitchen, and they might in practice eat at the same time, they are each individually responsible for buying their own food. Because they are “not unified in their bread,” some poskim take it for granted that they are not one household and that each person must do his or her own lighting (Maggid Mishneh, Laws of Hanukkah, 4:4; Pri Hadash 677:1). Others assume exactly the opposite: if they share an apartment, they are one household (Levush OH 677:3). Pri Megadim (Eshel Avraham, 677:3) quotes both sides and concludes that “the matter requires greater investigation.”
It should seem that even those who consider them to not be one household should permit the travelling person to contribute to the cost of the candles and fulfill his obligation that way. We allow a guest who is sleeping at his or her host’s house to do this even if he or she is not eating with the host, and our case seems to be exactly parallel. Nevertheless, Pri Megadim states that the device of “contributing to the candles” might be a special dispensation given for a guest that would not apply to a person living in his own home. Even if we grant that distinction, our case of the travelling person would also call for a similar dispensation, since the person is not at home and does not have the ability to light candles on his own. In my opinion, if a person will not be in a place where he can light, or won’t come home until everyone is asleep, he should contribute to the cost of the candles for that night, and he will be considered part of his apartment mates’ lighting. That being said, he should also light where he is with an electric light, but without making a brakhah.
This Hanukkah, let’s take a moment to appreciate the ways in which we come together in our homes as a family, and the different types of families and home welcome in. s that we form. Let it be a Hanukkah that we bring into all our homes a warmth and light that is felt throughout the home, to all who live there and to all whom we welcome in.