As we begin Chanukah, we encounter a problem that occurs every year – what to do on Shabbat. As Chanukah is eight days long, some years we have two Shabbatot to worry about.
With Shabbat approaching quickly during these short Friday afternoons, when and where do we light the Chanukah candles? What do we light first – the Shabbat candles or the Chanukah candles? When do we pray Minchah on Friday? After Shabbat, do we light Chanukah candles first or make Havdalah first?
The Chofetz Chaim wrote in the Mishnah Berurah (679:2) that it’s proper to pray the Minchah prayer on Friday afternoon first, before lighting the Chanukah candles. The Sha’ar Hatzion (679:7) explained that this is because the Minchah prayer is the third prayer said on Friday, while the Chanukah candles are part of Shabbat Chanukah. By lighting the Shabbat candles first, the appearance is that the subsequent Minchah prayer would be a part of Shabbat, rather than an element of Friday.
Nevertheless, the Mishnah Berurah determines that it’s better for one to light Shabbat candles first and then to pray Minchah, if no early Minchah minyan is available. The importance of praying with a minyan is paramount.
The Chanukah candles must be lit first, before the Shabbat candles. This is because once the Shabbat candles are lit, the prohibitions of Shabbat go into effect and creating or transferring fire in any way – even for the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles – is forbidden.
Since the Chanukah candles must burn for a minimum of one half hour after three stars become visible in the night sky, lighting on erev Shabbat has an additional challenge.
Most commercially made Chanukah candles do not burn long enough to fulfil this requirement when lit before Shabbat. As Shabbat candlelighting takes place 18 minutes before sunset, and three stars do not become visible for about 45 minutes after sunset (and the Chanukah candles must burn for one half hour after three stars appear), the Chanukah candles should be large enough to burn a minimum of one hour, 45 minutes (Biur Halachah 672:1). When lighting with candles – as opposed to oil – the preferable method is to use regular Shabbat candles in one’s menorah.
When using oil, obviously one should add enough oil to last the requisite amount of time. If one lights the Chanukah lights, and has mistakenly used insufficient oil, he should extinguish the flames immediately, add more oil and relight the candles. The blessings should not be repeated (Shulchan Aruch 675:2).
On motza’ei Shabbat, the custom in most shuls is to light the Chanukah candles first and then say Havdalah. There is no violation of Shabbat – even though the Havdalah ceremony follows the Chanukah candles – because one officially ends Shabbat with the recitation of Atah Chonantanu in the Ma’ariv Amidah prayer.
However, upon returning home from the synagogue, the accepted practice is to make Havdalah first and then light the Chanukah lights. Where one is pressed for time and can only do one immediately, the lighting of the Chanukah candles takes precedence, and Havdalah may be said later in the evening.
As we approach this joyous holiday, we should concentrate our efforts on increasing our Torah study and our mitzvah observance. In this way, may we merit the coming of Mashiach, bimhera b’yameinu, speedily and within our days.
You can reach Rabbi Stavsky at [email protected]