The Mitzvah of Lighting Shabbat Candles- Part II

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June 20 2005
Last week's issue discussed the dual nature of the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles. There is an aspect of kavod Shabbat, preparing for the Shabbat, and an aspect of oneg Shabbat, enjoying the Shabbat. One element of oneg Shabbat is shalom bayit, tranquility in the home (Gemara, Shabbat 25b). Rashi, Shabbat 25b, s.v. Hadlakat, explains that when there is darkness and people are stumbling, there is no tranquility. The other element of oneg Shabbat is use of the light for the various activities one performs to enjoy Shabbat. Either way, the candles serve a practical purpose in illuminating the home. It would stand to reason that one may fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles with anything that can provide sufficient light in the home. Therefore, use of electric lights would be acceptable for the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles.

There are a few objections raised by contemporary poskim to the use of electric lights for the purpose of the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles. Before exploring these objections, some background information is required. There are two categories of electric lights. The first category includes bulbs that illuminate due to the heating of metal to the point that it glows. The most common forms of light bulbs in this category are incandescent bulbs (the standard light bulb) and halogen bulbs. The second category includes bulbs that illuminate without any heat. This category includes fluorescent bulbs, neon bulbs, and light emitting diodes (LEDs).

What Type of Light is Valid for Lighting Shabbat Candles?
Many poskim (see Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata ch. 43 note 22) write that an incandescent light bulb is comparable to a gachelet shel matechet, a glowing hot piece of metal, which most Rishonim (see Teshuvot Avnei Nezer, Orach Chaim no. 229) consider to be a fire for halachic purposes. Therefore, they permit use of an incandescent bulb for the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles. However, R. Yitzchak Shternhel, Kochvei Yitzchak 1:2, disagrees and rules that one may not use a fire that has no fuel. An electric light which doesn’t run directly on fuel but rather through resistance of electrons is not considered a ner for these purposes.

A further question arises regarding fluorescent bulbs that do not provide light in the form of fire. R. Shmuel A. Yudelevitz, HaChashmal Le'Or HaHalacha 3:6, rules that since the light is not derived from glowing metal, it is not considered fire, and is therefore not suitable for lighting the Shabbat candles. However, Encyclopedia Talmudit, Chashmal, note 308, comments that one can question the requirement for fire based on the comments of Moshav Zekeinim MiBa'alei HaTosafot, Vayikra 24:2. Moshav Zekeinim discuss the dispute regarding whether one recites a beracha on lighting the Shabbat candles (as discussed on last week's issue). They quote Rabbeinu Meshulam who claims that if one has a shiny stone that provides light there is no need for a candle. Therefore, one does not recite a beracha even when one does light a candle because the candle is not inherently obligatory. Moshav Zekeinim then quote Rabbeinu Tam who states that even if one has a shiny stone that provides sufficient light, there is still an obligation to light the Shabbat candles. Encyclopedia Talmudit claims that this dispute is limited to whether there is an active requirement to light Shabbat candles. If there was some way to actively "light" the shiny stone, even Rabbeinu Tam would agree that its use for Shabbat candles would be sanctioned. The implication is that there is no requirement for fire, and any light would suffice. Therefore, fluorescent lights, which can be actively lit, may be used for Shabbat candles.

Reciting a Beracha on Electric Lights
R. Tzvi P. Frank, Har Tzvi 2:114, quotes R. Yosef Rosen (The Rogatchover) that one may not recite a beracha on lighting an electric light because turning on a light is not considered a sufficient enough action to warrant saying "l'hadlik" (to light). Ostensibly, R. Rosen considers lighting an electric light to be gerama (an indirect action). [R. Frank notes that completing a circuit is not considered gerama for the purpose of permitting melacha on Shabbat. R. Rosen's concern is that one should consider it gerama as a matter of stringency to prohibit reciting a beracha on electric lights.] R. Frank addresses the issue of gerama regarding lighting Shabbat candles, and states that since Maharam (cited in last week's issue) allows recitation of a beracha on a candle that was not lit for the purpose of Shabbat, (i.e., one may recite a beracha on oneg Shabbat without fulfilling the kavod Shabbat aspect of lighting Shabbat candles) one may also recite a beracha on a light that was lit through gerama. R. Shmuel A. Yudelevitz, op. cit., adds that even if one requires that the beracha is recited on a light lit for the purpose of kavod Shabbat, an electric light would fulfill that requirement even if it is considered gerama.

R. Chaim Y.A. Halberstam, in Teshuvot Yerushat Peleitah no. 7, contends that even if one can fulfill the requirement of lighting Shabbat candles using electric lights, one may not recite a beracha on that lighting. His opinion is based on a ruling of Rashba, Teshuvot HaRashba 1:18, who rules that one does not recite a beracha on a mitzvah that requires the assistance of other people in order to perform that mitzvah. With regards to reciting a beracha on electric lights, R. Halberstam suggests that since one must rely on the electric company in order to provide power, one does not recite a beracha on such a mitzvah. Rav Shlomo Z. Auerbach (cited in Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata ch. 43, note 22) notes that if the concern to refrain from reciting a beracha is the reliance on the power company, one may recite a beracha on a battery-powered light (such as a flashlight with an incandescent bulb). It should be noted that R. Moshe Feinstein (cited in The Radiance of Shabbos, page 12) was of the opinion that one should not recite a beracha on electric lights.

Combining the Use of Candles and Electric Lights
Under normal circumstances, most women opt to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles with actual candles or oil rather than electric lights. Nevertheless, the presence of the electric lights in the room does impact the mitzvah in a number of ways. First, the purpose of the Shabbat candles is to provide light for activities that are going to performed on Shabbat. Maharil, Teshuvot Maharil no. 53, questions whether one may recite a beracha on lighting candles in a room in which other women have lit their Shabbat candles. He writes that although there are opinions that maintain that one does not recite a beracha in such an instance, there are grounds to recite a beracha as the additional candles provide added light to corners of the room that the original candles do not illuminate sufficiently. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 263:8, rules that one may not recite a beracha upon lighting candles in a room where there are other lit candles. Rama, ad loc., rules that one may rely on the opinion of Maharil. R. Shlomo Z. Auerbach (cited in Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata 43:171) questions whether Maharil's leniency is applicable to lighting candles in a room in which there are electric lights, as the candles are not going to provide any additional light. Although R. Auerbach does provide justification for this practice, he notes that it is preferable to either turn off the electric lights prior to lighting the candles (and then have someone else turn on the electric lights), or to incorporate lighting of the electric lights into the candle lighting service.

Second, Mishna Berurah 263:38, notes that if one is in a situation where a few people in the same house must light Shabbat candles, it is preferable for the guest to light in her private quarters rather than the dining room in order to avoid relying on Maharil's leniency. By incorporating electric lights into the candle lighting service, one can follow Mishna Berurah's ruling by lighting an electric light in one's private quarters and then lighting actual candles in the dining room (after the hostess has lit her candles).

Third, there is a certain element of danger in lighting actual candles, especially when left unattended. Incorporating electric lights into the candle lighting service provides a means of minimizing the danger. By incorporating electric lights, one can use a candle or oil that will only burn for a short amount of time, and the electric lights will fulfill the task of providing oneg Shabbat after the candles are extinguished.


References: Shabbat: 25b  

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