Shabbat Candles FAQs

May I extinguish my Shabbat candles if I want to go to sleep?

It is permissible – for safety reasons – to extinguish the Shabbat candles when retiring to bed.

This is quite a common concern from people who are new to observing this beautiful Mitzvah.

As it is prohibited to extinguish a fire on Shabbat, there are many practical safeguards which Jewish women have taken for generations to insure both safety, and the integrity of Shabbat.

First of all, the candle holders should be placed on a steady surface, i.e. no shaky tables or candlesticks. Additionally, a tray, usually decorative, is placed underneath as an added measure.

Bear in mind that before the discovery of electricity, candles were the common means of lighting a home – and there were always situations which would necessitate leaving a candle burning even after retiring to bed.

Another thing to remember is that riding in a car, a plane, or even crossing the street involves risk of being in an accident, Heaven forbid. Yet we do it just the same, as the benefits far outweigh the possibility of danger.

I would venture to say that statistically, a far greater percentage of people riding in cars or crossing the street, are involved in accidents, than those caused by unsupervised Shabbat candles.

You are obviously lighting candles to honor the Shabbat – the eternal benefit of not desecrating Shabbat by not extinguishing them, far outweigh any minimal risk.

Additionally, the very same G-d who gives us life, would not give us a Mitzvah which would endanger life.

Personally, my mother lit Shabbat candles, as does my wife (without extinguishing them on Shabbat), and in all my 46 years, nothing out of the ordinary happened.

 

What is the significance of Shabbat candles?

Light.

And light is a blessing. As the Midrash says “‘And G-d blessed the seventh day’ – with what did he bless it? With the Shabbat Candles”.

The first Jewish woman to light Shabbat candles was the first Jewish woman: Sarah. Sarah’s Shabbat candles would miraculously remain lit from one Friday afternoon until the next. When Isaac saw that the candles of his new wife Rebecca exhibited the same miraculous quality, he realized that he had indeed found a worthy successor to his righteous mother.

Their candles might not burn anymore, but their light still shines, as millions of Jewish women in every generation kindle the Shabbat candles every Friday before sunset.

Our sages tell us that diligent observance of this Mitzvah is a Segulah for having children who will be Torah scholars. (Mothers, don’t fret! This doesn’t mean that they have to be rabbis, they can have an ordinary job and still be Torah scholars…)

Shabbat candle-lighting is not mandated by Biblical law but the rabbis instituted this mitzvah for several reasons, here are two:

1) Light up the Shabbat: We are commanded to honor (kavod) the Shabbat, and to have pleasure (oneg) on this day of rest. Candles create an ambiance. Lighting Shabbat candles is a symbol of the respect we have for the Shabbat and it also contributes to the pleasurable ambiance of the Shabbat meals.

2) Light up your Soul: On Shabbat, a special extra soul – the Neshamah yetairah – is conferred upon every Jew. A soul is compared to a candle – “the candle of G-d is the soul of Man” – and in honor of this soul we kindle a special Shabbat candle.

Start lighting Shabbat candles and learn more about this special mitzvah by following this link: http://fridaylight.org/page/index.php

Footnotes: Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 11:2. Genesis 2:2. Rashi on Genesis 24:67. Maimonides laws of Shabbat 30:1. 5. Proverbs 20:27

 

Why is Shabbat candle lighting a woman’s Mitzvah?

The Mitzvah of Shabbat candles applies to men and women equally and if there isn’t a woman in the house, then the obligation to light the candles falls on the man.

However, for several reasons the rabbis instituted that if there is a woman (over the age of Bat Mitzvah) in the house, she should be the one who fulfills the obligation for the entire household:

a. In the home of the first Jewish couple, Abraham and Sarah, it was Sarah who lit the Shabbat candles.

b. Generally speaking it is the presence and contribution of a woman that transforms a house into a home; it is therefore her privilege to transform it into a Jewish home – filling it with the light of Judaism through the lighting of Shabbat candles (and other Mitzvahs associated with the home, such as Kosher and Family Purity etc).

c. Eve, the first woman, introduced sin and darkness to the world through convincing her husband to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. In an ongoing effort to restore the world to its original light women throughout history were given the opportunity to add light, through the Shabbat Candles, and reverse Eve’s mistake.

 

Footnotes: Rashi on Genesis 24:67. This is not to say that people are “born in sin”. That is not a Jewish concept. This merely says that at creation the world possessed a certain light that (for the time being) it no longer possesses.

 

What are Shabbat Candles?

A. Shabbat brings light into your universe: the rat race, the bills, the Weird Wired World—for 24 hours, it’s gone. You escape. Your soul emerges. Moms and dads and kids come closer together. And the portal to this beacon of light is the Shabbat Candles.

B. Just before sunset every Friday afternoon millions of Jews around the world usher in the Shabbat by lighting Shabbat candles. The very first Jewish woman, our Matriarch Sarah, lit Shabbat Candles.1 Throughout history Shabbat Candles were the first sign of Shabbat light at the end of the work-week tunnel.

C. Shabbat is the original mom thing. That’s why the Shabbat candles are a woman’sMitzvah2 —because Shabbat nurtures the family, like a mother nurtures her children. Young girls join their moms and start lighting Shabbat candles of their own as soon as they can recite the blessing, which is usually sometime around (or on) their third birthday.

Footnotes: Rashi on Genesis 24:67. In a home where no woman is present, men light the Shabbat candles.

 

I forgot to light Shabbat candles, what should I do?

If you forgot to light the Shabbat candles before Shabbat, do not light them on Shabbat. The Shabbat candles, and for that matter any candle, may not be lit on Shabbat. Forgo the candles and observe Shabbat. Although Shabbat candles are a Mitzvah, they do not override the severe prohibition of lighting a fire on Shabbat.

Jewish tradition requires one who forgot to light candles, to light an additional candle every week for all forthcoming Shabbat candle lightings. (I.e. a woman who normally lights two candles will henceforth be required to light three.)

The significance and value attached to the Shabbat candles will be remembered and will (hopefully) never be forgotten again

Numerous candles may be added. (I.e. if a woman forgot to light candles for a second week, she must begin to add two candles onto her original amount etc.)

If a woman is poor and cannot afford to add a candle each week, she may light a taller or a thicker candle instead.

However, if candle lighting was missed through no fault of her own, she is exempt from this requirement.

The purpose of this custom is to remind women to be more scrupulous in the lighting of Shabbat candles. By adding another candle (for each neglected candle lighting), the significance and value attached to the Shabbat candles will be remembered and will (hopefully) never be forgotten again.

Footnotes: Ramoh – Orach Chayim 263:1. Eliya Rabba. Magen Avrohom, ibid. Magen Avrohom, Orach Chayim 263:3.

 

“CHANAH” – The Woman’s Three Mitzvahs

Both man and woman are obliged to fulfill G-d’s mitzvahs (precepts). The man is obligated to perform all 613 commandments. The woman, on the other hand, is excused from the performance of a few positive mitzvahs which are restricted to specific time periods, in recognition of her primary obligation to family and home duties.

However, there are three precepts which are the specific prerogative of the Jewish woman. The initial letters of these three mitzvahs form the acronym HaCHayN (grace) orCHaNaH (the popular female name Channa or Hannah).

1. Challah – separation of the dough being prepared for bread baking. A small portion of the dough is not kneaded into the loaf, but is put aside, a blessing is recited and the dough is later burned.

2. Niddah – laws relating to Family Purity

3. Hadlokas Neirot – lighting the Shabbos and Holiday candles.

The sequence here is significant: Before there can be birth, there must be parents. The health of mother and father is dependent upon their eating: it is bread (symbolic of food in general) which holds body and soul together. But Challah must first be taken – man must dedicate a portion to G-d before satisfying his own needs. (Challah also underlines and symbolizes the woman’s responsibility with regard to maintaining the Kashrut of the food).

The health of mother and father is dependent upon their eating: it is bread which holds body and soul together. But Challah must first be taken – man must dedicate a portion to G-d before satisfying his own needs

Then follows the second Mitzvah indicated by the word Niddah – Family Purity, leading to the birth of healthy children.

Finally, comes the mitzvah of lighting the Shabbat candles, which accomplishes Shalom Bayit, peace and good relations between mother and father, son and daughter.

Of these three mitzvahs, two of them – separation of Challah and lighting the candles – may also be performed by the man, although they are woman’s special privilege, but the one mitzvah which is entirely dependent upon her is Taharat Hamishpachah, Family Purity.

A Jewish marriage is called a Binyan Adei Ad – an “everlasting edifice”. In order that the edifice of marriage should indeed be strong and lasting, everything connected with the wedding, as well as the establishment of the couple’s home, should be in full compliance with the instructions of the Torah. Our Torah is called the “Torah of Life”. It is the source of everlasting life in the Hereafter as well as the true guide to life on earth.

The analogy of a marriage to an “everlasting edifice” is not merely a figure of speech, but contains also an important idea and moral. In the case of any structure, the first and most important step is to ensure the quality and durability of the foundation. Without such a foundation all the efforts put into the walls, roof, decor and so on would be of no avail.

This is even more true of the structure of marriage. If its foundation should be unstable, what tragedy would result! This is why a Jewish marriage must, first of all, be based on the rock-solid foundation of Torah and mitzvahs, then follows the blessings of joy and happiness for the rest of the beloved couple’s lives.

Adapted from the works of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Reprinted from The Chabad Times. Copied with permission from www.mikvah.org

 

My wife will be away for Shabbat; do we both light two candles?

There are two general reasons given for lighting Shabbat candles: 1) So that there will be shalom and menucha (peace and rest) in the home and people won’t trip over things; 2) to honor and delight in the Shabbat.

Accordingly, even though your wife will be lighting elsewhere, you should also light at home and recite the blessing.

Footnotes: Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 263:2-4; Magen Avraham loc cit. s.k. 13, 14.

 

How do I prepare the Shabbat candles for lighting?

In preparation for candle lighting, some have the custom to light the candles and extinguish them, thus charring the wicks and making it easier to light the candles at the time for candle lighting. In many households, this is the husband’s job—his share in this special Mitzvah.

If the candlesticks are placed on the table, the Challah or a prayer book should be placed on the table before the candle lighting and should not be removed until nightfall. Otherwise, the table cannot be moved for the duration of that Shabbat.

 

What should be done if I forgot to light the Shabbat candles in time?

If one has, G-d forbid, forgotten to kindle the Shabbat candles before sunset, a non-Jew should be requested to light the candles. The Jew then covers her (or his) eyes and recites the blessing with a slight variation: Boruch attah… asher kidishanu… al hadlakat haner. (Blessed are You… Who has sanctified us… and commanded us regarding the kindling of the candle.)

 

Is it permitted to do work after lighting the Shabbat candles?

With the lighting of the Shabbat candles, the kindler is ushering in the Shabbat. As soon as all the candles are lit, even before the blessing is recited, all forms of work are prohibited.

If a woman makes a condition, even if the condition is non-verbal, that she is not accepting the Shabbat with the lighting of the candles, she is permitted to continue working until approximately ten minutes after she lit the candles. This is especially useful when one is lighting candles at home and then needs to drive to synagogue or another home to eat the Shabbat meal. This condition should only be used in times of need—ideally, Shabbat should be accepted immediately with the lighting of the Shabbat candles, otherwise it isn’t readily evident that the candles are solely in honor of Shabbat.

As soon as all the candles are lit, even before the blessing is recited, all forms of work are prohibited.

Footnotes: This rule applies only to a woman who lights candles. A man who lights candles may continue doing work until shortly before sunset.

 

If I am a guest, am I covered by the hostess’ Shabbat candle lighting?

A woman’s candle lighting only covers her household. This includes guests who will be eating together with the family and are sleeping in the same home—but do not have their own designated living quarters. (“Living quarters” means a suite which contains self-sufficient living space. A guest bedroom is not considered independent living quarters).

Guests who will be joining the family for the Shabbat meal, but will not be sleeping in the same home should light Shabbat candles in the home where they will be sleeping.

Guests who will be joining the family for the Shabbat meal, but have their own designated living quarters should light their candles in their own rooms.

Guests who will be joining the family for the meal, and do not have their own designated living quarters technically are not obligated to light their own candles, but customarily do so anyway, and they light together with the hostess in the eating area.

 

Footnotes: Care must be taken that the candles are large enough that they should still be lit when the guests return to their home after the meal—otherwise, the candles served no purpose. Alternatively, the guests can spend some time next to the candles before they leave to their host’s home. Consult with your rabbi if neither of these options are a possibility.

 

How does Holiday candle-lighting differ than Shabbat candle-lighting?

There is a fundamental difference between Shabbat and the holidays. On Shabbat it is forbidden to kindle — or even handle — a flame. On holidays, however, certain creative activities which are associated with food preparation, such as lighting a fire from a pre-existing flame, are permitted.

Therefore, whereas it is imperative that Shabbat candles be kindled on Friday afternoon before sunset (see How early or how late, can I light the Shabbat-candles?), for afterwards it is forbidden to light a candle, on Jewish holidays things are a bit different:

On the first night of a holiday the candles should be lit before sunset (similar to Shabbat candles). However, if one forgot to (or couldn’t) light candles at that time, she can light the candles any time before the holiday meal. Shabbat always takes precedence over a holiday, and therefore, if a holiday falls out on Shabbat, then the normal Shabbat rules apply; the candles cannot be kindled after sunset.

On the second night of a holiday, the candles must be kindled after nightfall, also from a preexisting flame. Unless the second night of the holiday is Friday night, in which case the candles must be lit on Friday afternoon before sunset.

To find exact candle-lighting times for any Shabbat or holiday, for any location in the world, go to link http://www.chabad.org/calendar/candlelighting.asp?AID=6226.

Following are links for the proper candle lighting blessings: Shabbat, Holidays, High Holidays.

 

Footnotes: This is in order not to get confused about proper candle lighting time, and to usher in the holiness of the holiday a little earlier. When lighting after dark you must light from a pre-existing flame. A Yahrtzeit candle or the pilot light of your gas stove work great as pre-existing flames. This only applies to the Diaspora where there are two nights of Holidays. With the exception of Rosh Hashana there is no second night of a Holiday in Israel.

 

At what age should a girl start lighting Shabbat candles?

Rabbi Menachem Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, strongly urged that girls start lighting Shabbat candles as soon as they can recite the blessing said before kindling the candles, which is usually around the third birthday. This is also the age when our Matriarch Rebecca began lighting candles.

The Rebbe pointed out that in pre-war Europe it was the norm amongst many communities for young girls to light Shabbat candles. It was only due to war, candle shortages, blackouts, etc. that this custom was discontinued. Thus young girls lighting candles is actually a return to an age-old beautiful custom.

The earlier a girl is taught the beauty of the light of Torah and Mitzvahs, the better off she will be

The earlier a girl is taught the beauty of the light of Torah and Mitzvahs, the better off she will be. While some may say that starting at this young age is not necessary, and others will argue that a woman should start lighting when she marries and starts her own home, nevertheless, an extra light never hurt anyone… The pressing need for extra lights is especially felt today; in a time when unfortunately all sorts of “dark” secular influences pervade society, many of which infiltrate the home as well.

Obviously a three year old girl cannot light Shabbat candles on her own. When a mother and young daughter light the candles, the mother should first assist her daughter with the lighting and then light her own candles.

 

Footnotes: There is a technical/halachic reason for the mother to light candles after her daughter: Once a woman has lit Shabbat candles she has already accepted upon herself the sanctity of Shabbat and is forbidden to handle matches or candles.

 

Who lights Shabbat candles?

Each and every Jew is obligated to light Shabbat candles, but it is done by the women of the household, because the primary role and obligation of a woman is her home.

In addition, it was the first woman, Eve, who “extinguished” the light of the world by talking Adam into eating from the “Tree of Knowledge.” This sin resulted in the “darkening” of his soul, which is also referred to as a light. Therefore women rectify this by lighting candles in honor of Shabbat.

Although it is a woman’s job to light the candles, the husband should help in preparing the candles, and making the candles easier to light by lighting them and then extinguishing them.

 

How early, or how late, can I light the Shabbat-candles?

Shabbat candles must be lit before sunset since Shabbat begins at sunset, after which it is forbidden to light fire. Standard candle lighting time is 18 minutes before sunset.1

If one wants to begin Shabbat early s/he may light candles (and begin Shabbat) as early as one and a quarter halachic hours before sunset (also known as “plag haminchah”), but not earlier.

Click here to find the standard candle lighting time or the plag haminchah time for any date and for any location in the world.

Footnotes: The reasons being: a) We don’t want to wait for the last minute, and b) we want to “stretch” the Shabbat a bit into the weekday. In some communities the standard custom is to light candles (and begin Shabbat) as early as 40 minutes before sunset, for the above reasons.

 

I am a single man; do I have to light Shabbat candles?

It is your obligation to light a candle, and say the blessing, every Friday afternoon.

The Mitzvah of Shabbat candles applies to men and women equally. However, for several reasons the rabbis instituted that if there is a woman (over the age of Bat Mitzvah) in the house, she should be the one who fulfills the obligation for the entire household (see “Why is Shabbat candle lighting a woman’s Mitzvah?” and “Who lights Shabbat candles?”). If there aren’t any women in the house, then the obligation falls on the man.

 

Is any candle kosher for Shabbat candle-lighting?

In years gone by most candles were made of tallow (rendered animal fat). However, since the candles are used in and around food and dishes it has become the accepted practice to use only non-animal fat based candles, in case they drip on food or dishes. Most candles today are made from paraffin wax.

All candles which are manufactured today emit a clean stable flame and are kosher

Halachah discusses different kinds of fuels and wicks which are invalid for use on theShabbat, because the flame that they produce is jumpy and unstable. Therefore, there is the concern that perhaps one will try to adjust the flame to stabilize it — and this is forbidden on Shabbat.

However, all candles which are manufactured today emit a clean stable flame, and are, therefore, Kosher.

The color of the candles is irrelevant; all colors are fine.

 

How many Shabbat-candles should I light?

Strictly speaking, it is sufficient to light one candle for the household.

However the prevailing custom us to light (at least) two candles. The commandment to keep Shabbat is mentioned twice in the Torah; once in Parshat Yitro, where we are told to “remember” the day of Shabbat, and a second time in Parshat Vaetchanan, where we are further instructed to “keep” it holy. Therefore, we light two candles, one to represent each term.

We are told to “remember” the day of Shabbat, and a second time to “keep” it holy. Therefore, we light two candles, one to represent each term

“The candle of G-d is the soul of Man.” Because every Jewish soul brings the light of G-dliness into the world, there are those who observe the custom of lighting an additional candle upon the birth of each child. Thus a woman with three children would light five candles.

An unmarried girl should light one candle. [A woman who is divorced or widowed should continue lighting the same amount of candles as when she was married.]

Footnotes:

1. Exodus 20:8. 2. Deuteronomy 5:12. 3. Proverbs 20:27. 4. In certain families/communities it is customary for all married woman to light a certain number of candles–seven, ten, etc. Be sure to ascertain your family/community tradition!

 

Are candles a must for the Shabbat light?

Technically speaking, you can turn the light on, and that is lighting the Shabbat candles. The problem is that there is no way to recognize that this is something special in honor of Shabbat. Candles add a special atmosphere that is unique to the day.

 

Using an electric light as shabbat candles should only be done where an open flame is not possible, such as if you’re in the hospital.

 

Why do we close our eyes when lighting the Shabbat Candles?

I assume you are referring to the beautiful custom of covering one’s eyes with one’s hands during the blessing over the candle-lighting. The actual lighting is done with eyes wide open. It would be quite a feat to do otherwise.

Anyhow, the reason we cover our eyes during the blessing is a bit complicated, so bear with me and prepare to enter some Talmudic logic.

Generally, blessings are recited before the act. You say the blessing on the Matzah before you eat it, etc. (The obvious reason for this is so that you will be in the proper state of mind when doing the Mitzvah. However, there are Kabbalistic reasons for this as well.)

Covering the eyes helps one to concentrate better on the blessing and the silent prayers that are said at that time

In the case of lighting Shabbat candles, the blessing is said after the candles are lit. Why? Shouldn’t the blessing be said before the lighting?

The answer is that once the blessing is said, the woman has begun the Mitzvah of lighting the candles and thereby inaugurated the Shabbat day. It would now be inappropriate for her to light a candle—an act that desecrates the Shabbat.

So she lights the candles before saying the blessing, while it’s still weekday. But, she still wants to fulfill the concept of saying the blessing before the act. How does she manage that? She does so by not completing the Mitzvah entirely until after saying the blessing:

After lighting the candles, she immediately covers her eyes. She then says the blessing and only afterwards uncovers her eyes and enjoys the candlelight. This way, she has fulfilled the concept of saying the blessing before the act, since the act of lighting is not complete until she actually enjoys the light.

That is the technical reason. Practically, covering the eyes helps one to concentrate better on the blessing and the silent prayers that are said at that time—prayers for health, wealth and all good things. And it makes a great picture.

 

Footnotes: Source: Rabbi Moshe Isserles, Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 263:5.

 

What is the blessing when lighting electric-light Shabbat candles?

You may only use electric lamps for Shabbat candles when you absolutely cannot light real candles. (For example, a woman in the hospital after giving birth would not be allowed to light real candles in the hospital).

In such a circumstance you would recite the regular Shabbat candle-lighting blessing.

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