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Public Lubavitch Menorah Displays and Halacha

men[By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times]

During the Chanukah season, we see a major proliferation of Menorah lighting in public areas. For many years now, Lubavitch Chassidim have propagated the public display of Chanukah menorahs throughout the United States, Canada, and even Europe. In the headlines recently, for example, the Eiffel Tower had hosted a well-publicized menorah lighting ceremony. Some people embrace this proliferation and label it as Pirsumei Nisa. Others claim that there is no Mitzvah of Pirsumei Nisa being fulfilled here, and they have expressed animadversions about the church and state issues and controversies that the publicity has engendered. A few readers have actually requested that the topic be addressed in a Five Towns Jewish Times article.


There are two issues involved. The first is the issue of whether or not there is a concept of Pirsumei Nisah for the general non-Jewish public. The second issue involves whether or not a Chanukah Menorah lit in a setting that is not a home would be considered a fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Pirsumei Nisa.


The Chemed Moshe (#672) writes that there is no pirsumei nisah for gentiles. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l writes (IM OC IV #105:7) almost categorically that there is no Pirsumei Nissah in regard to gentiles.


On the other hand, one of the Rishonim, the Sefer HaNiar, writes that there is a Pirsumei Nissah for gentiles. This is also the view of the Hisorerus Teshuva (Vol. I #153) as well as the Sefer Beis Pinchas (by the author of the Pischa Zuta).

This could be borne out by the verse in Yechezkel (38:23), “Thus will I magnify Myself, and sanctify Myself, and I will make Myself known in the eyes of many nations; and they shall know that I am Hashem.”

Rav Yerucham Olshin Shlita (Yerach LaMoadim page 438) writes in his Sefer that there is, in fact, Pirsumei Nissah for gentiles on Chanukah, but not on Purim. His explanation is that the Greeks tried to export their pantheistic theology all over the world. The Jewish nation merited the 8 days of miracles in Chanukah to counter this Greek heresy that was spread throughout the world. The Pirsumei Nissah is, therefore, to spread the belief in the Oneness of the Creator throughout the world.


The debate may depend upon how we translate the word “Tarmudai” that appears in the Gemorah in Shabbos 21b. The Gemorah explains that the end time in which the Chanukah licht may be it is until there is no more Tardumai traffic in the street. What does “Tardumai” mean? Are they a nation that gathers thin wood, as Rashi explains or are they a subgroup of Jewish people?


Rashi says that these Tardumai gather thin wood. They wait until the people go home and light their fires. When the people run out, they go back to the “late” market and get some more wood from the Tardumai people. It was kind of like a Talmudic era 7-11 convenience store. The key point, however, is that Rashi identifies them as foreigners and that seems to be the pivotal issue – that there is a pirsumei nisah for gentiles.

The Rif (tractate Shabbos page 9 in the Rif’s pagination), however, identifies them as Jews. How so? He identifies the wood under discussion as Tarmuda. Thus the collectors of the Tarmuda wood are called Tarmudaim.


On the other hand, it could very well be that Rashi just happens to know that they were gentiles, but still may hold that Pirsumei Nissah applies only to Jews. And it could also very well be that the Rif just happens to know that they were Jewish, but he could be of the opinion that Pirsumei Nissah also applies to gentiles. How so? It could be that when the Tardumaim are still around to sell the wood – the Jewish customers are still around looking to be the buyers. These arguments are presented by Rav Nosson Gestetner zt”l (L’horos Nosson Vol. IV #63) and Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Moadim uZmanim #141).


Interestingly enough, however, Rav Elyashiv (Sheves Yitzchok Chanukah chapter 4 cited in Pninim M’Bei Midrasha siman 99) zt”l suggests that it is unlikely that the pirsumei nissah is on account of the customers of the Tardumaim since the retailers generally stay later than the customers. Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita (in Taamei D’Kra after Parsha Vayeshev) is of the same opinion. Thus, it seems that Rav Elyashiv zatzal and l’havdil Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita both seem to understand Rashi and the Rif as debating this point.


Thus, we see that notwithstanding seemingly categorical statements about whether or not there is Pirsumei Nisa to gentiles, there is clearly a halachic debate about the issue. Rav Feinstein zt”l held that there is not, but other leading Torah figures held and hold that there is.


But while there may be ample room for a wider Pirsumei Nisa, it is clear that the Mitzvah lies only within the specific parameters that Chazal have delineated. One such example is that the Pirsumei Nisa of Purim is limited to the time of Purim. Reading the Megillah to Jews on Chanukah, would not be a fulfillment of Pirsumei Nisa because it does not fit within the parameters that Chazal had delineated.

By the same token, it is clear that the obligation of Chanukah lighting is within the dwelling of the house (See Rambam Hilchos Brachos 11:2-3). While it may be incumbent upon the person to ensure that he is in a house, there is no obligation outside of the venue of the home.

It is also true that the Mitzvah of Pirsumei Nisa is only fulfilled when and where there is an obligation to light. Lighting a Menorah publicly in a venue that is not a house with a dweller who is fulfilling his obligation to light is tantamount to taking a full page ad out in the New York Times saying that the mirace of Chanukah happened. This is not to say that there is something wrong with such an advertisement per se. Indeed, taking pride in our religious beliefs is a very positive thing. But it should be understood that this is technically not a fulfillment of Pirsumei Nisa. Since it is not the fulfillment of a Mitzvah, however, the issue must be weighed carefully in every time and place. A lichtiga Chanukah!

PLEASE NOTE: A number of Shluchim have explained to this author that their primary intention is for Pirsumei Nisa to unaffiliated Jews and not for gentiles.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

38 Responses

  1. In your discussion of the first issue, you don’t mention the possibility of pirsumai nissa that can reach freiyer Yidden, which, presumably, is the primary intention of Chabad.

  2. Also, it’s very easy for you to publicize the miracle for your family while Chabad is out there reaching out to every Jew. I personally saw how one guy got a menorah from a mitzvah tank to take home to light. How did your lighting in your house reach this yid who otherwise wouldn’t have lit one? That’s just one case… There are plenty more.

  3. This discussion is absurd. Why not discuss if donuts halachically oily? Why not analyze if the elaborate parties qualify as halachically connected with chanuka?
    When it comes to adding sushi to the table or buying holiday, nobody asks questions.
    And you’re sitting to analyze if spreading light is halachically acceptable?!?!?

  4. To mugsisme:
    While I too was bothered by the fact that Rabbi Hoffman put a strong emphasis on pirsumei Nissa to goyim , as opposed to “non observant Yidden” , which are L’Choirah the main מטרה of the Lubavitcher Public lightings , I don’t see any reason to for you to get offended. Rabbi Hoffman in his usual phenomenal manner only brought the different Halachic views RE: pirsumei Nissa to goyim , without C’V offending any Manhig or group…..

  5. great article and Chabad still does great work.

    It must be obvious that the Chabad lighting may or not be for the gentiles, but it does not harm to light if it brings back one Yid…

  6. also, when those menoras go on the cars, what kind of kiyum mitzva is that? A) they’re electric, B) hadlaka oissa mitzva, you can’t move your menora

    as far as the Ran/Rashi (possible) machlokes, the gemora openly states that נשים עם בפני עצמן הן, meaning, that you can have groups of jews being called an “Am”, and it doesn’t mean goyim, as in nation

  7. What about the Minhag of lighting a Menorah in Shul which doesn’t necessarily fall within the parameters of Halacha, yet is brought down in The Poskim and we even make a Bracha on?

  8. Nicely explained, but missed the point that the lighting are specifically to remind Jews of the holiday and mitzvah, And not 1, rather thousands of menorahs are distributed each night (literally. Ask any 10 year old lubavitcher..)
    So if there’s someone out there (not referring to Rabbi Hoffman) who is still spending yet another year to find problems with these lightings, perhaps you should miss your connection flight in turkey, and need to get a menorah from chabad, maybe it’ll hit you then.. And you’ll look for better things to criticize..

  9. happyjewish:

    It is halachically unacceptable to make a b’racha in a situation where a b’racha is not warranted

    Bentch Kvetcher:

    Lighting in Shul is a special exception, and I believe many poskim struggle to give a good reason why we make a b’racha, but the accepted minhag is to light with a b’racha. I don’t believe there is any basis to apply that exception to any other situation other than in shul.

  10. Chazal knew exactly what they were doing when they established the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah. If they wanted it to be done in the street, they would have said so.

  11. There were two powerful kings from the Chashmonoyim, King Yanai and King Hordohs. They both killed all the Talmidei Chachamim of their time.
    So we need to counter that by eating Sefganiyot.

  12. Chill put. Rabbi Hoffman discussed the topic from a halachic viewpoint of whether it is technically persumei Nisa, not whether it is or is not a good thing to do from a kiruv viewpoint. Even from a halachic viewpoint he laid out a variety of opinions on either side. Give the Rabbi a break.

  13. Meno:
    I understand that, but wouldn’t that be a good enough basis to say that Pirsumai Nissa need not necessarily fall within the exact parameters of Halacha?

  14. For all those concerned about the permissibility of making a brocha on public lightings, see Teshuvot Oz Nidberu (5,35 & 6,75) who rules that if there are non-religious Jews observing the lighting who do not light on their own then one can make the blessing.

    (BTW – This is the intention of the lightings, not for non-Jews as Rabbi Hoffman assumes)

  15. Bentch Kvetcher:
    I hear what you’re saying, but I think the minhag of lighting in shul itself is kind of a “fuzzy” minhag – the reasoning/source behind it isn’t clear. We keep doing it because it’s been the minhag for many years. I don’t think we can extrapolate from there to any other case.

  16. The Baal Hatanya also rules one may make a bracha even when not lighting at home to be yotzei, and I assume this is what Chabad relies on. As for why Rabbi Hoffman completely ignores that in all the major (and not so major) metropolitan area where chabad lights publicly, there are non (not yet) religious jews who will see it is something one needs to ask him directly.

  17. Ok, so Rabbi Hoffman knows better than the Lubavitcher Rebbe Zt”l and yibodel lechaim the Toldos Aharon Rebbe Shlit”a. Who’s next?

  18. There were and are many Gedolei Yisroel ZT”L and shlit”a who were, are and remain opposed to these public lighting ceremonies.

  19. GohrAHeimishe, years ago, Yidden were very noticeable as Yidden. We lived separate, dressed different, didn’t mingle with the goyim. Can you say that now? How many Yidden look and act like goyim? Even their names sound goyish of the mother r’l married a goy. How many Yidden is Chabad reaching because of public lighting campaigns? The number is countless! I don’t presume to know better. I think we can all agree that the Lubavitcher Rebbe did not just make this up in his own. His Torah knowledge was obviously tremendous. He knew what he was doing and who to rely on.
    To come out with an article like this simple strokes the flames of divisiveness. We have enough of this amongst ourselves. We don’t need articles to bash another derech. One person lights menorah publicly, one lights for his family. Is one wrong, going against halacha? This article seemed to imply that Chabad is. So yes, I get personally offended. Our derech is different, but we are all trying to reach the same goal. Why can’t the yeshiva world just accept it without trying to divide us? Do you want Moshiach or not? Just accept us, and love us for the fact that we have chosen a different derech.
    I came away from this article with the impression that rabbi Hoffman feels he is wiser than the Rebbe.

  20. “I came away from this article with the impression that rabbi Hoffman feels he is wiser than the Rebbe.”

    I came away thinking that he wrote an essay based on a wrong assumption. As the saying goes, don’t assume because when you do you make an a** out of u and me.

  21. I’m not sure what to make of it, but it sure bothers me when I hear them make a Bracha!.. (which I’m surprised was not addressed in this article).

  22. I think they do much of what they do for their own personal glorification.

    Chabad is often given credit for “all the good they do”, and I see noone talking about how they are in a big way often botching things up.

    First off fail not to mention many of the Poskim of our times who have said one is forbidden to learn Torah from them. I personally disregard people going on about “The Rebbe” and his greatness for the following. For all ones greatness and good deeds, in the end of the day, if you tell Jews, ANY Jews to not sleep in The Sukkah, you are telling Jews to disregard a Torah Mitsvah. No small matter. If you tell Jews not to eat Seudah Shelishit, you may have maasim tovim and think as highly of yourselves as you so wish, but you are apikores. Dont sleep in The Sukkah because of makif debinah. Yet absolutely no Mekubalim or actual Hassidim disgregard a Torah Mitsvah by refraining from sleeping in The Sukkah. Chabad is on their own, and I think that does not bother them since they have mastered porush min hatsibbur. About not eating Suedah Shelishit on Shabbat, they outdo themselves by excusing themselves, by darshoning the very Pasukim Hazal use to show a hint at Seudah Shelishit in The Torah, to go completely contrary to Hazal! Seudah SHelishit is either Halakha L’Moshe MiSinai or a Takana of the first Sanherdin Hagadol, of which it is a Torah Commandment to follow their rulings!!!!!

    Fry Jews are not completely friers. Many are put off by the Rebbe shenanigans, and it is telling that in smaller more flung out communities, the “shaluchim” often play that down or knock it off the menu altogether.

    Over’all if it was about reaching out to distant Jews, they show only interest in bringing them to Lubavitch.

    In some communities they have turned off as moany or more Jews than the handful they have reached out to. Many fry Jews would be far more attracted to outreach done without the black and white funeral garb. All would be better off being brought in with Israeli pronunciation of Hebrew. All would be better off if being brought in by folks who have a Kesher to our living Sages and Poskim!

    Chabad makes Lubavitchers, and it is very few who actually get involved with them, that graduate and move on.

    About lighting publicly, it is a stunt, it is done for the glory of Chabad. It seems to be an invention of what a few decades, to parallel public christmas tree lightings.

    When I lived in Toronto, whenever a Lubavitcher would ask me to come learn Hassidus with them (Tanya and their stuff), I would ask them to name a few of our Gedolim. Not a one could tell me even one name of one Gadol.

    They glorify themselves, they have removed themselves, they have their own thing going. Own dress, own names, own language = own people.

    What Torah does anyone have to teach a Jew, who ignores enmass with their buddies, Torah Commandments and Hazal? I have to say I can see the rulings of Rav Shach ZL, Rav Aharon Kotler ZL and Rav Aharon Feldman Shlita, to not hear Torah from them to be most valid and appropriate.

  23. Rav ovadia yosef brings many sources who hold we make a brocho in shul because of pirsumei nissa. He also brings sources which say that if you are traveling you need not light if someone in your home lights for you but if you are in a place where no one else lights you light and make a brocho because of pirsumei nissa. I’m sorry rabbi Hoffman I’ll take the rebbe and Rav yosef on my side any day of the week and eight times on channuka.

  24. To aww

    First You sound like a real bal machlikes, don’t hide behind your so called halcha problems,
    In regards to sukkah there is a long history in regards to the issue firstly you your self probably don’t sleep in the sukkah albeit for a different reason ( this is a assumption ).if you just bothered to look you find no halachik problem

    I don’t know where you get this but lubavitch does eat seudas shlishis we just don’t wash,

  25. I just want everyone (specifically pinhsa erez) to realize who we are talking about over here Were are discussing the lubavitcher Rebbe and his chassidim we don’t even have to mention the countless of times that ppl said what they think against and were thay ended up in the end r”l so obviously the Rebbe felt that this is an important thing for our generation. Happy Chanukah

  26. Rabbi Hoffman:

    This whols sugya is discussed in great detail in the Sefer Nesivim Bisdeh Hashlichus vol.1 p.242-257.

    Lehoir..Nowadays in Eretz Yisroel many kindle the menora outside. This raises the question whether to say a brocho when lighting Menora in Shul in a community where everyone lights at home, and the Pirsumei Nisa is on the streets too. In this scenario, the Menora in Shul seems superfluous. Merely ‘zecher lamikdash’ doesn’t wash, because that should have been mentioned in the Gemoro.
    The above is more problematic than the brocho upon kindling a Menora in a public place that is frequented by people who would not light at home

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