Chanukah Lighting: At Home NOT IN A Whyhtba, Ryhtba, Pyhtba or Ayhtba

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

This article is going to be controversial, but if you need confirmation of its content – it is suggested that you speak to your Posaik about the underlying issues.  We will identify the four terms under discussion: Whyhtba, Ryhtba, Pyhtba and Ayhtba. We will also discuss the underlying issues at greater depth.

NER ISH UVAISO

The Gemorah uses the term, “Ner Ish uVaiso”:  There are three halachic repercussions of this term.

  1. The Menorah must be lit in one’s home.
  2. One’s personal obligation of lighting can be fulfilled through a shliach, a messenger or agent, in one’s own home.
  3. All members of that household can fulfill their obligation through that lighting – as long as it was also lit on his or her behalf.

ANALYZING REPERCUSSION NUMBER ONE

If someone is in another home or inn overnight, then that home or inn can be considered his home for that night – but not if he doesn’t sleep there.

THE FOUR PLACES THAT ONE MAY NOT LIGHT

Because of the principle of Ner Ish uVaiso, the vast majority of Gedolim and Poskim hold that one MAY NOT LIGHT in a:

  1. Wedding Hall You Happen To Be At – Whyhtba
  2. Restaurant You Happen To Be At – Ryhtba
  3. Party You Happen To Be At – Pyhtba
  4. Airport You Happen To Be At – Ayhtba

We will now embark upon a discussion of these four areas in greater depth.

WRONG INFERENCE FROM THE LIGHTINGS IN SHULS

As mentioned earlier, the enactment of Chazal to light Chanukah lamps was “Ner Ish uVaiso” – to do so in one’s home. Later on, however, the custom developed to light the Chanukah lights in shul. Eventually, a blessing was also recited on the lighting in shul and that custom became enshrined in the Shulchan Aruch (OC 671:7 citing the responsa of the Rivash #111).

The Rivash himself writes that “Now that the hands of the gentile are strong upon us and it is impossible to light the Chanukah lamps at the doorway to our homes outside, therefore we light the Chanukah lamps in the synagogue in order to publicize the miracle. And we recite a blessing on this just as we recite a blessing on the Hallel of Rosh Chodesh – even though it is only a minhag.”

TWO QUESTIONS ON THIS RULING OF THE SHULCHAN ARUCH

This brings up two important questions:

  • The first question is how is it that the Shulchan Aruch ruled that a blessing is made in the synagogue, when he himself rules in the laws of Rosh Chodesh (OC 422:2) like the opinion of the Rambam (Megillah 3:7) that a blessing is not recited on the Hallel of Rosh Chodesh because it is only a Minhag? The Rivash’s entire reasoning to recite a blessing on the lighting in shul is because a blessing is recited on a custom! This question was first posed by the Chacham Tzvi (#88).

THREE ANSWERS TO THE FIRST QUESTION

  • The First Answer: The Vilna Gaon (OC 671:8) seems to be bothered by the Chacham Tzvi’s question and brings a proof from the Hallel that is recited on the night of Pesach on account of Pirsumei Nisa. It seems that the Vilna Gaon understands the Shulchan Aruch here regarding reciting a bracha on Chanukah lighting in shul as being permitted because of a combination of minhag and Pirsumei Nisa. Perhaps his position on not reciting on a minhag is different if it includes an element of the original Rabbinical enactment. This also seems to be the understanding of the Aruch HaShulchan in the Shulchan Aruch (See AH OC 671:26).
  • The Second Answer: The Bais Yoseph in his comments on the Tur actually cites three reasons for lighting in shul.
    • To fulfill the Mitzvah for those guests who do not have a home in which they can light (See Orchos Chaim Hilchos Chanukah #17).
    • To publicize the miracle which can be done better in shul (See Kol Bo’s work on Psachim – Sefer HaMichtam page 80 on Psachim 101a).
    • To fulfill the Rivash’s rationale that the element of Pirsumei Nisa doesn’t exist when there is an anti-Semitic environment and thus the shul lighting is fulfill this aspect of the lighting.

The Chacham Tzvi himself concludes that the Shulchan Aruch must be ruling like the first two reasons that he cites or of a combination of these two.

  • The Third Answer: Rav Chaim Leib Eisenstein in his Pninim MiBei Midrasha suggests based upon a Brisker Rav’s explanation of the Rambam in Hilchos Brachos on the difference between a Mitzvah and a Minhag. According to this, the Minhag of lighting in shul was not a minhag per se, but rather an expansion of the parameters of the original Rabbinic Mitzvah on account of the antiSemitism. Thus there is a difference between Hallel which is a Minhag and the lighting of Chanukah lamps in shul which is a form of the Mitzvah.

THE SECOND QUESTION

The second question is whether the lighting in the synagogue can be extended to other areas as well. Can there be public lightings made at parties and any public gathering and may a blessing be recited? No one is questioning whether some of the public lightings are an effective outreach tool. There are thousands of people that have come back to Yiddishkeit on account of the outreach efforts that include such public lightings. The questions is can the idea of shul Chanukah lighting be extended to other venues and may it be done with a blessing?

Let us go through all three answers to the first question, before we examine the relevant response on the matter.

 

#1] According to the way in which we have understood the Vilna Gaon’s answer – we would need both a minhag in Klal Yisroel to be combined with Pirsumei Nisa. Theoretically, if this reading is correct, the Vilna Gaon would hold that if enough of Klal Yisroel would start doing so, and there was adequate Pirsumei Nisa, a blessing could eventually be recited. Did this happen yet? This author believes that it did not. One reader has written in that the earliest such public lighting was in 1979 with President Carter, but I would believe that it dates earlier.

#2] According to the Chacham Tzvi’s answer, neither of the first two answers that the Beis Yoseph cites is fulfilled. There are no guests who do not have a home and this is not a shul.

#3] According to the expanded Mitzvah theory – the Mitzvah was only expanded to include a shul – not other venues.

Thus, only according to the Vilna Gaon’s explanation of the apparent contradiction within the Shulchan Aruch is there a possibility of expanding the blessing to include venues beyond a shul.

LEADING POSKIM WHO FORBID

Dayan Yitzchok Weiss zt”l (Minchas Yitzchok Vol. VI 65:3) writes in regard to lighting in an outside lighting, “How can one possibly think to invent on our own that which our forefathers did not consider?”

The Tzitz Eliezer zt”l writes (Vol. XV #30) It is clear and obvious that we may not add to lighting at partie and we must refrain from doing so. One who recites such a blessing is reciting a Bracha levatala. One who refrains from doing so receives reward from staying away.

The Shaivet HaLevi (Vol. IV #65) zt”l disapprove of making a Bracha on such lightings.

Rav Elyashiv zt”l even ruled that the women’s section of a shul that is not used on Shabbos but only during the weekday is not considered a shul for these purposes and a blessing may not be recited on the lighting.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita is also of the opinion that this is a breach of halacha and tradition.

POSKIM WHO DO NOT FORBID

Interestingly enough, the author of Az Nid’bru (Vol. V #37 and Vol. VI #75) rules that a Bracha can be made on a lightings in the public area in Israel.

Rav Ovadia Yoseph zt”l (Yabia Omer Vol. VII #57) also writes that they have who to rely upon, even though he recommends that a Maariv service be held.

POSITION OF THE LUBAVITCHER REBBE

In the Sichos of Parshas VaYaishev printed Toras Menachem 5747 Vol. II page 98, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l writes specifically that an announcement should be made at these lightings that one does not fulfill the Mitzvah with this lighting. Nowhere in his writings did the Lubavitcher Rebbe ever say that a blessing should be recited, nor did he state that it is just like a shul.

 

This author would like to suggest that the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s advocating of the public lighting was based upon outreach and his view was not necessarily so that he equated public lightings like a shul. It is also clear from his writings that he did not advocate a lighting to publicize the miracle for gentiles. Although some readers had read my previous article on Pirsumei Nisa as implying that he did, this was not the author’s intention. The intention of the previous article was to prove that there was ample opinion in Torah thought that, at least for Chanukah, there may be a Pirsumei Nisa for gentiles as well.

CONCLUSION

It is clear that the overwhelming majority of Gedolei Yisroel rule that it is forbidden to recite a blessing at a lighting that is not at a home venue or a shul. Indeed, even a shul that is not used on Shabbos is not considered a shul for the purposes of a blessing according to Rav Elyashiv zatzal – certainly parties and public lightings.

The halacha that Klal Yisroel has always followed is Safek Brachos Lehakel – whenever there is a doubt in the recitation of a blessing – it should not be recited. Here it is not just a case of Safek Brachos, as the overwhelming majority of Poskim hold not to make such a blessing, including Rav Elyashiv zt”l. Also, nowhere do we find that the Lubavitcher Rebbe had advocated reciting a blessing at such a venue, although some may claim that he did.

The author can be reached at [email protected]


3 COMMENTS

  1. When I was in kolel, Rabbi Heller gave a shiur and explained why he paskened that one can say a bracha on a public menorah lighting.
    This is from memory: he said that the lighting in shul was because was the place where people gathered NOT just to daven, but also to eat meals in the adjacent rooms etc.

    This is no longer then case, and the public square is more of the place where people gather and so essentially it has the same status as the shul in regard to pirsumei nissa or more so.

  2. The Dirshu Mishna Berura brings down that Rav Elyashiv (in addition to others) holds that there IS a concept of persumei nisa for non-Jews. A ramification would be that, all things being equal, if you had a choice between a location in your house where just Jews could see the menorah, or Jews and non-Jews could see it, the location where both could see it would be preferable.