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The Mitzvah of Lighting Hanukkah Candles in the IDF

Lighting Hanukkah Candles at the Entrance to Tents and Armored Vehicles

Yeshiva students on reserve duty asked:

During Hanukkah, we will be with other reserve soldiers in the southern part of the country, in a large exercise that simulates a week of war. During this week we will be sleeping in the field – either in tents or on the armored personnel carriers (APCs). Our question is: can we fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Hanukkah candles by lighting them at the entrance to the tent, and with a blessing?

Response:

To my beloved soldiers, the descendants of the Hasmoneans and the heirs to their legacy of bravely protecting the country:

In order to answer your question, we must clarify a few points.

  1. Is the obligation of lighting Hanukkah candles specifically at the entrance of the home?
  2. If so, what is the definition of home for this purpose?
  3. Is a pup tent considered a home for this purpose? What about an APC?
  4. There is another question, relating to the safety of lighting Hanukkah candles in this situation. They may cause a fire or set off explosive munitions.  

 

  1. A. Must the lighting of Hanukkah candles be in a place defined as “home”?

The gemara quotes a beraita (Shabbat 21a):

The Rabbis taught: The mitzvah of Hanukkah is one candle for a man and his household. The fervent light a candle for each person, and the extremely fervent: Beit Shammai say: The first day he lights eight, and he subtracts from there going forward. Beit Hillel say: The first day he lights one, and adds going forward.

What does the beraita mean by “a man and his household”? Does it mean that he lights one candle for all the people of the household, as opposed to the “fervent,” who light one candle for each person of the house? Or does the beraita mean that the obligation connects the mitzvah to the home – the obligation is for a candle to be lit in his home? Rashi (ad loc.) interprets the gemara according to the first explanation:

‘One candle for a man and his household’ – it is sufficient for a person and his entire household to have one candle. ‘The fervent’ – about fulfilling mitzvot – ‘light a candle for each person’ – one candle each night for each member of the household.

On the other hand, Rambam’s precise wording indicates that the obligation is for there to be a candle lit in the house (Laws of Megilla and Hanukkah 4:1):

How many candles does he light on Hanukkah? The mitzvah is that there be one candle lit in every home, whether it is a large household or a small household.

The same page of gemara later cites another beraita:

The Rabbis taught: It is a mitzvah to place the Hanukkah candle near the entrance to his house on the outside. If he lives on an upper floor, then he places it in a window facing the public domain. At a time of danger, he places it on his table, and it is sufficient.

This implies that the gemara connects publicizing the miracle with the home (See Rashi ad loc. who says that if one has a courtyard that opens to the public domain, he should place the candles by the entrance to the house, not the entrance to the courtyard. Tosafot disagree).

Perhaps we can infer similarly from Rambam’s formulation (Laws of Megilla and Hanukkah 3:3) about the root of the mitzvah to light Hanukkah candles:

For this reason, the rabbis of that generation enacted that the eight days, which begin on the 25th of Kislev, should be days of happiness and praise; on them we light candles in the evening at the entrance to the home.

[It is possible that this inference is not necessary; he may be emphasizing his opinion that even with the fervent one person lights the candles on everyone’s behalf.]

  1. R. Yehoshua Falk explains in P’nei Yehoshua (ad loc.) that the beraita means that the mitzvah of lighting Hanukkah candles is an obligation of the house:

“a man and his household” – it seems that what is different about this mitzvah from other mitzvot – which are personal obligations on each individual, as is established: "it is better for him to do a mitzvah himself than through a proxy" (Kiddushin 41a) – is that here the main mitzvah is to place the candles close to the public domain for the publicizing of the miracle. Therefore, they made this mitzvah an obligation of the house, as it were. This requires further study."

Even though R. Falk remains unsatisfied with his explanation, it is clear to him that the mitzvah of Hanukkah candles is not an obligation on each individual person, but an obligation upon the home, that there be a candle lit at the entrance.

The relationship between the mitzvah and the home is further clarified later on in the gemara (Shabbat 23a):

  1. R. Yirmiyah says: one who sees Hanukkah candles must make a blessing. R. Yehuda says: on the first night, one who sees must make two blessings, and one lighting must recite three blessings. Afterward, one who lights recites two blessings and one who sees recites one blessing.

What is the purpose of this special enactment requiring one who sees the Hanukkah candles of another to recite a blessing? What other mitzvah entails reciting a blessing when seeing someone else’s performance of a mitzvah?

Rashi (ad loc.) explains that the enactment is for those people who have not yet lit their own candles or are on a boat:

“one who sees” – one who is passing through the market place and sees lit candles in one of the courtyards. I have found in the name of Rabbenu Yitzhak b. Yehuda, who says in the name of Rabbenu Yaakov, that this blessing is only required of one who did not yet light in his own house or who is sitting on a boat.

Some wonder why Rashi mentioned the person on a boat. Why would he be different from any other person who had not yet lit? They infer therefore that, according to Rashi, has a different problem: a boat is not a home, and one cannot light Hanukkah candles with the blessings unless he is in a home. This opinion is explicitly stated in Tosafot (Sukkah 46a, s.v. "ha-ro’eh"):

With regard to other mitzvot, such as lulav and sukkah, the sages did not enact a blessing for one who sees it. Only with regards to seeing the Hanukkah candles, because the miracle is beloved, and also because there are people who do not have homes and are therefore unable to fulfill the mitzva

The second reason mentioned by Tosafot, that the enactment was made for homeless people who could not otherwise perform the mitzvah, is echoed by many Acharonim who understand that in order to fulfill the mitzvah one must have a home. Thus, the determination that lighting candles is an obligation of the house.

Further clarification is still required, though. If the main function of Hanukkah candles is the publicizing of the miracle, why does the mitzvah depend on the home? Why can’t homeless people light where the masses can see the candles, thereby publicizing the miracle?

Perhaps we can answer this in more of a midrashic vein. The main purpose of decrees of the Greeks was to destroy the modesty and sanctity of the Jewish home. They decreed that Jews take the doors off their homes, so that husbands and wives would have no privacy; ultimately they enacted the jus primae noctis – that every bride was required to sleep with the hegemon first. This precipitated the rebellion and eventually the victory over the Greeks. Therefore there is a special relationship between the publicizing of the miracle and the Jewish home.

  1. B. What is considered a home for the purposes of this mitzvah?

The basis for answering this question is found in Responsa

Maharsham (4:146). He was asked, more than a century ago, whether one can fulfill his obligation of lighting Hanukkah candles while traveling on a long journey by train. Is the train considered a home? This is his response:

To answer your question from the second day of Hanukkah, whether it is permitted to light Hanukkah candles on a train: I have not found anything explicit. But someone who pays for the entire night is like one who pays rent for a house to eat and sleep in and is therefore obligated to light Hanukkah candles. And what Rashi writes regarding one who is sitting on a boat, perhaps he refers to unroofed boats that do not protect from the cold or wind, which cannot be considered like a home. Even though a train does not stand in one place, and riding is like walking, we do not find that a house must be stationary, for the mitzvah is to publicize the miracle. This is my understanding and rationale.

His responsum teaches that the obligation to light Hanukkah candles depends on something that has the status of a home. A boat without a roof, which cannot stand up to a common wind, is not a home, as was explained by Rashi. But a train car is considered a home even when it is moving.

Some Acharonim explain that derive the definition of a “home” for the purpose of lighting Hanukkah candles from the definition of a home for the purpose of affixing a mezuzah – and a space smaller than four amot by four amot is not considered a home. However, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach discusses this question at length and rejects this equation, arguing that for the purpose of Hanukkah candles, even a space smaller than four amot by four amot is a home (Responsa Minhat Shlomo Tinyana 2/3:48): "here too it is sufficient to have a temporary home …"

Nevertheless he remains in doubt about whether or not the house requires a roof and a minimal size of seven tefahim by seven tefahim and a height of ten tefahim:

Nevertheless, regarding the doubt whether a home that has no roof, does not contain ten tefahim, or is smaller than seven tefahim by seven tefahim is even considered a temporary home, it may render one who lights there akin to one who lights outside, and not in a home. However, it is possible that “home” means only a space that is considered to be his, as opposed to the street or the synagogue. Therefore, perhaps even in a place that does not meet the requirements of a temporary home, but it is a separate domain, it is effective…

  1. C. According to this, what is the status of (small) pup tents and APCs?

Pup tents are smaller than four amot by four amot. The way in which the tents are built, they may not even be seven tefahim by seven tefahim with a height of ten tefahim. Tents in the south are often built on sand and cannot stand up to a common wind.

Therefore, one who is living in a pup tent on Hanukkah is not obligated to light candles and should not light with the blessings. R. Avidan (in Shabbat U-mo’ed Be-tzava, pp. 332-333) cites R. Elyashiv as saying not to recite the blessings over Hanukkah candles in pup tents. This is also the opinion of R. Eliyahu (and, I have heard, the opinion of R. Lior).

But if they bring to the field tents big enough to sleep four soldiers, then it is four amot by four amot, or other tents that are sufficiently large, then the tent is considered a home, even if it is temporary.

An APC is considered a home according to all opinions. It is four amot by four amot. It is best to light the candles while the ramp is closed, next to the rear entrance door. A tank is also considered a home, especially the Merkavah tank which has a square door in the back.

  1. D. Safety

If one is lighting next to the door of a tent in order to publicize the miracle, the candle must be in a glass aquarium so that the candles do not cause a fire in the tent. In an APC which has explosive materials of any kind, it is forbidden to light candles for fear that it might cause an explosion. Sometimes during reserve duty, there is no explosive material on the vehicle. In that case, it is permitted to light within a tefah of the door to the APC or tank.

Summary

  1. If one lights in a place not defined as a home, he should not recite the blessings.
  2. Regarding the definition of a home: a pup tent is not considered a home, but an APC is.
  3. If there is no alternative, it is permissible to light candles without the blessing, in order to publicize the miracle.
  4. One who has lit candles near the tent door in order to publicize the miracle, without the blessing, must put the candles in a glass aquarium to prevent the tent from catching fire. In an APC that has explosives in it, it is forbidden to light any candles for fear that it will cause an explosion.
  5. Soldiers should ask family members to light at home on their behalf (this applies whether married or single, Ashkenazi or Mizrahi).
  6. When lighting the Hanukkah candles, one should think about the sanctity of the Jewish home, which started a revolution and caused a miracle to happen for the Jewish people. It is also important to think about the great miracle and tremendous opportunity we have in returning to our land, reestablishing the State of Israel in the spirit of the Hasmoneans, and, like them, serving in a Jewish army to defend the Jewish people.
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