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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Is Hanukkah Holy?

by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff (Posted on December 19, 2019)

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l (1895-1986) was the preeminent posek for North American Jewry for most of the 20th century, both for the Yeshivish and Modern Orthodox communities. Rav Moshe was born in Russia in 1895, where he served as rabbi making great personal sacrifices on behalf of his community until he emigrated to the U.S. in 1937, having determined that it was no longer possible to continue to live as a religious Jew in Russia. He lived on the Lower East Side of New York and served as the Rosh HaYeshivah and head of Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem.  Rav Moshe was active in communal affairs and served as president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis and Chairman of the Council of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the Agudath Israel of America.

His teshuvot, Iggrot Moshe, span 9 volumes (the last two published after his death in 1986) and deal with every topic in Shulkhan Arukh and with all the new contemporary challenges that presented themselves to Orthodox American Jewry in the 20th century, from transplants and medical ethics to birth control and abortion, to denominations, conversion, and feminism, and to dishwashers, ovens and microwaves.

Rav Moshe was known for his gentleness, his humanity and his responsiveness to the human condition.  His approach to psak was one which was based primarily on the Gemara and Rishonim, to which brought a conceptual lens for framing halakhic debates.

In the following teshuvah (OH 1:190), Rav Moshe deals with the nature of the She’hehiyanu blessing: is it recited over the mitzvah of lighting, just as we recite this blessing over any periodic mitzvah, such as sukkah and lulav, or is it recited over the sanctity of the day, just as we recite this blessing on Yom Tov even without a mitzvah, such as at kiddush on the last days of Sukkot or Pesach or on Shavuot night?  Rav Moshe believes that logic dictates that it is the former and not the latter, since there is no sanctity to the days of Hanukah, which would be defined (or reflected) by the prohibition of melakha, which is not the case with Hanukah.  In the section quoted here, he tries to make sense of the position of some Ahronim that the She’hehiyanu blessing made in the synagogue at the time that candles are lit there would exempt the person making the blessing from lighting again at home.  This seems to indicate that the blessing is over the sanctity of the day, but in his ensuing discussion he demonstrates that this position is not tenable, regardless.

In the end, he acknowledges that according to Tosafot, at least, the She’hehiyanu blessing- and its counterpart, the She’asah Nissim blessing – can be recited by someone who is not planning to light at home – even over the synagogue lights – since these blessings can serve the function of publicizing the miracle even when they are not connected to lights that were used to fulfil the mitzvah.

This teshuvah raises interesting questions about the relationship between our religious experience and halakha.  We experience Hanukkah as quite a special time period – but is this time “sanctified” and does it warrant its own blessing?  We want to publicize the miracle during this time, but can we do so through a blessing that is not connected to candles that were used to fulfil the mitzvah?  If the answer to these questions is “no,” perhaps that is because halakhic expressions, such as formal blessings, and these blessings must connect to halakhic realities. However, we have found many ways through our customs and practices – latkes, sufganiyot, Hanukkah parties, or Ma’oz Tzur, anyone? – to give expression to our religious experience during this time in ways that are meaningful to us.

Those who wish to learn more about his teshuvot and approach to psak are invited to listen into my podcast, Iggros Moshe A to Z, where we cover topics ranging, literally, from A to Z, starting with America, Birth Control and Conversion.


שו”ת אגרות משה או”ח א:קצ


ותמוה מאד מה שהביא השע”ת /או”ח/ סי’ תרע”א ס”ק י”א בשם מח”ב וזרע אמת שאם הדליק קודם בביהכ”נ לא יחזור לומר בביתו שהחיינו אם לא שמדליק להוציא ג”כ את אשתו וב”ב עיין שם. דלפ”ז לא יברך בביתו גם ברכת שעשה נסים כדהוכחתי מגמ’ כיון דעל נס אחד הוא, וכיון שסובר שמברך שעשה נסים משום דבירך שלא בעת קיום המצוה שלא כתקון חכמים כיון דאינו יוצא בהדלקתו בביהכ”נ, ורק מנהג בעלמא הוא לפרסומי ניסא… אבל מדינא אינו כלום… ולכן מברך בביתו ברכת הנס א”כ גם שהחיינו הי”ל לברך.

וצריך לומר שהמח”ב והזרע אמת סוברין דברכת זמן הוא על היום כמו ביו”ט ולכן כשבירך זמן אף בלא הדלקה יוצא כמו שיוצא ביו”ט בברכת זמן אפילו בשוק, אבל זה אינו דלא הוזכר זה בגמ’ לענין חנוכה דאמר /שבת כג/ הרואה מברך שתים אבל אם גם אינו רואה משמע שלא מברך כלום, דאל”כ לא היה תולה זמן בראיה וגם הו”ל לאסוקי ואם אינו גם רואה מברך אחת אלא ודאי שלא נתקן בחנוכה ובפורים זמן על היום כיון שאין בהימים קדושה ורק על מצוה דהדלקה וראיה נתקן גם ברכת זמן כמו על כל המצות שבאין מזמן לזמן, ולכן כשבירך שלא בעת קיום המצוה אינו כלום.

וא”כ מאחר שסברי דמברך ברכת הנס בביתו אף שבירך בהדלקתו בביהכ”נ, אלמא שהדלקתו בבית הכנסת אינו כלום, כיון שהוא רק מצד המנהג גם זמן יש לו לברך, ואף אם נימא שנתקן זמן גם בשביל היום מ”מ גם בשביל המצוה צריך לברך זמן כמו בשופר וסוכה אם לא ישב בלילה צריך לברך ביום עוד הפעם זמן על הסוכה, וא”כ אף אם כשבירך זמן שלא בשעת הדלקה יצא זמן דהיום מ”מ זמן דהדלקה לא יצא…אך א”צ לזה דמסתבר דלא נתקן זמן על היום שלית בהו קדושה לא בחנוכה ולא בפורים…

וכן אין לפטור מי שהדליק בביהכ”נ מברכת זמן מחמת שבעת הדלקתו ראה הנרות דמאחר דלא חשיבי נרות דמצוה מכיון שאינו אלא מנהג לא נחשב זה גם לראיה, וכמו דמחייבי אח”כ אותו בברכת הנס.

ויתחדש מזה דכשאינו עתיד להדליק שצריך לברך על הראיה לא יברך על ראיית נרות דביהכ”נ. אך אולי לתירוץ ראשון שבתוס’ סוכה דף מ”ו שתקנו משום חביבות הנס שייך גם בראיית נרות ביהכ”נ דג”כ לפרסומי ניסא הודלקו, ומ”מ לא יצא המדליק בביהכ”נ משום דלא הותקן ברכה לרואה אלא באינו עתיד להדליק וגם לפ”ז גם זמן לא יצא.

סוף דבר אין שום סברא לחלק בין ברכת נס לברכת זמן, וא”כ צע”ג דינא דהמח”ב וזרע אמת, ומסתבר שצריך לברך בביתו גם זמן שהדלקתו בביהכ”נ אינו כלום.

Iggrot Moshe, OH 1:190

It is truly astounding what Sha’arei Teshuvah (OH 671:11) cites in the name of Mahazik Beraha and Zera Emet, that if a person did the lighting of the candles in the synagogue, then he should not afterwards recite the Shehehiyanu blessing at home when he does his own personal lighting, unless he is also lighting to discharge the obligation of his wife or children, see there. Now, based on this logic, he should also not recite the blessing of She’asah Nissim in his home, since I have demonstrated that both blessings refer to the same miracle. His opinion that the person does recite the She’asah Nissim blessing at home is based on the fact that his lighting in the synagogue was done not at the time of the mitzvah as is Rabbinical prescribed, and he thus did not fulfil his obligation in the synagogue but was only doing a customary practice for the sake of publicizing the miracle… but halakhically it is of no real value… and thus he has to make the blessing on the miracle again at home. But following this, he should also have to make the Shehehiyanu blessing again at home!

We must explain that the Mahazik Beracha and the Zera Emet understand that the brakhah on time (Shehehiyanu) is a blessing over the day, as it is on Yom Tov. And therefore, when you say Shehehiyanu, even without lighting, you have fulfilled the requirement for the brakhah the same way you fulfil it on Yom Tov, even if you make the brakhah in the marketplace (i.e., not at the time of kiddush). But this is not correct, for this concept does not appear in the Gemara with regard to Hanukah. Rather, the Gemara says (Shabbat 23), “One who sees [the Hanukah candles] makes two brakhot (She’asah Nissim and Sheheyianu).” This implies that if you didn’t see the candles, you don’t make any brakhah at all. If this were not so, the gemara would not have made the brakhah conditional on seeing the candles. And it should have concluded by saying “If he doesn’t see [the candles], he still makes one brakhah (i.e. Shehehiyanu).” Rather, it must be the case that Shehehiyanu on Hanukah and Purim was not instituted over the day because those days don’t have holiness. Rather, this blessing also was instituted on the mitzvot of lighting and seeing the lights, just as we make the Shehehiyanu blessing all the mitzvot that come from time to time. And therefore, if you made the brakhah at a time when you were not fulfilling the mitzvah, it doesn’t count for anything.

Thus, since they hold that a person must make the brakhah on the miracle (She’asah nisim) at home, even though hemade that brakhah when he lit in the synagogue – thus proving that the lighting in synagogue is nothing more than a custom – then he should likewise recite the Shehehiyanu at home as well. And even if we were to say that Shehehiyunu was also instituted over the day, you would still have to recite it over the mitzvah the way you do for shofar and sukkah. For example, if one did not sit in the sukkah at night (and thus his She’hehiyanu blessing that he said at night at kiddush was only over the sanctity of the day of Sukkot, and not over the mitzvah of sukkah), he would need to say Shehehiyanu again the next morning when he ate in the sukkah over the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah. If so, even if one said Shehehiyanu not at the time of lighting (as we do in the synagogue), and fulfilled the requirement to make the brakhah over the day, in any case he has not fulfilled the requirement to make the brakhah over the mitzvah. And thus he should be required to recite the blessing of Shehehiyanu at home. But we don’t need this argument because logic dictates that Shehehiyanu was not instituted over the day because neither Chanukah nor Purim have sanctity…

We similarly cannot exempt someone who lit in the synagogue from the Shehehiyanu blessing on the basis that when they lit, they saw the candles (and one who sees the lit Hanukah candles recites Shehehiyanu). This is because one does not fulfil his blessing obligation by seeing candles that are not mitzvah candles, which is the case here since they are only lit due to custom, and thus seeing them is also not really considered seeing that requires a blessing. Just as one is required afterwards to recite She’asah Nisim because the blessing over the candles in the synagogue did not count as a blessing over seeing lit mitzvah candles, so too here.

From the preceding discussion we can derive a practical ruling that if a person is not going to light their own candles, and is thus required to make the two brakhot (She’hehiyanu and She’asah Nissim) on seeing the lights, he may not recite the brakhot over the lights in synagogue. However, according to the first explanation in the Tosafot in Sukkah 46 that they are lit because of the belovedness of the miracle – and not because they are mitzvah candles – one could even make the brakhah on seeing the lights in synagogue because they were lit for the purpose of publicizing the miracle. In any case, the person who actually lit them is not exempt, because the brakhot of seeing were only instituted for people who are not going to light their own lights. And in this case as well, they have also not fulfilled the requirement of Shehehiyanu.

In conclusion: there is no reason at all to distinguish between She’asah Nissim and Shehehiyanu, and if so, we need to work hard to understand the position of the Machazik Beracha and the Zera Emet. And it makes sense that one needs to recite Shehchiyanu at home even when he lit in the synagogue, because that lighting in the synagogue is of no halakhic value.