Guide to the Laws of Shabbat Chanukah

OU Kosher December 5, 2017

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Chanukah coincides – literally and symbolically – with three particular mitzvot. The Syrian-Greeks, in their attempts to assimilate the Jews banned three mitzvot: brit milah (circumcision), Rosh Chodesh (the sanctification of a new month) and Shabbat – the Sabbath. To symbolize our continuing adherence to God’s mitzvot despite such decrees, Chanukah is eight days long (a brit milah being performed on a baby boy’s eighth day), Chanukah always includes Rosh Chodesh (the month of Tevet always starting during the course of the holiday), and Chanukah includes at least one Shabbat, sometimes two. In this article we will examine the issues that come into play around the Shabbat (or Shabbatot) of Chanukah.


Lighting Shabbat Candles and Chanukah Candles

In general, it is advisable to prepare one’s menorah during the afternoon so that there will be no delay in lighting at the proper time. This is especially true on the Friday of Chanukah because things tend to get hectic as Shabbat approaches.




Some have the practice to prepare the menorah in the morning for use in the evening (except, of course, on Shabbat morning). This not only serves the practical purpose of being ready to light on time without delay, it also commemorates the practice in the Temple in which the kohein prepared the Menorah in the morning for lighting at the end of the day. Since our lighting on Chanukah commemorates the lighting of the Menorah in the Temple, this practice provides an additional layer of symbolism to the mitzvah of Chanukah lighting.


It’s also a good idea to set up another menorah to light Saturday night. This will enable one to light after Shabbat without any unnecessary delay, which is especially important since Saturday night lighting is already delayed until after Shabbat ends. Depending on how early Shabbat falls in the week of Chanukah, one might even fill the same menorah with enough oil or candles for both nights. (This is easy to do when Shabbat is the first night and Saturday night is the second.)


On the Friday of Chanukah, one should try to daven mincha before candle lighting. This is because mincha is a mitzvah for Friday and lighting candles is a mitzvah for Shabbat (even though it must be performed while it is still Friday). Additionally, the lighting of the Menorah in the Temple was performed after the afternoon Tamid sacrifice. However, if doing so means not davening mincha with a minyan, it is better to light and then go to shul for mincha and maariv.


The rule is that Chanukah candles are lit before Shabbat candles. Shabbat-candle lighting is commonly 18 minutes before sunset (though local customs can vary widely); the usual time for Shabbat lighting should not be tampered with. Chanukah candles should be lit a few minutes before Shabbat candles, even when different people are lighting. Preferably, they should not be lit a lot before Shabbat candles and in no case may they be lit before plag hamincha (1.25 “halachic hours” before sunset). Lighting for Chanukah on Friday will require longer (or fatter) candles or more oil than usual in order to ensure that the lights will last for half an hour after the stars appear. This is about 95 minutes from the time one lights in a place where one lights 18 minutes before sunset. (Only one candle must last that long to fulfill one’s obligation.)


One must very careful not to get too close to sunset without lighting, otherwise one runs the risk of encroaching on Shabbat. If one is late and in doubt, it is better not to light Chanukah or Shabbat candles than to risk violating Shabbat.


In Jerusalem, where the practice is to light Shabbat candles 40 minutes before sunset, there is an accepted custom to delay 15 to 20 minutes so that one’s Chanukah candles need not be lit so early. (If this pertains to you, consult your own rabbi for guidance in the matter.)


If a man forgot to light Chanukah candles before Shabbat candles were lit, he may do so until sunset or until he recites Mizmor Shir l’Yom HaShabbat (Psalm 92) in the Friday night prayer service, whichever comes first. Since women accept Shabbat by lighting the Shabbat candles, they may not light Chanukah candles after Shabbat candles unless they had specific intention to not yet accept Shabbat in order to perform some act of labor. If a woman was confused about the order of things and intended to light Chanukah candles after Shabbat candles, she may do so. She may perform other acts of labor until she lights Chanukah candles but must stop immediately once the Chanukah candles are lit. A woman who forgot to light Chanukah candles before lighting Shabbat candles may recite the bracha of She’asa Nissim on another person’s menorah.


If a person has only one candle to light on Friday, he should light it inside and not recite a bracha over it. If he has one candle plus an incandescent bulb, he should use the bulb as light for Shabbat and light the candle for Chanukah. (Electricity cannot be used for Chanukah lights, which must contain a certain volume of fuel rather than having it continuously delivered as in the case of electricity.)


A practical suggestion is to hold off singing Ma’oz Tzur until seated at the Shabbat table because, as soon as candles are lit, it’s off to shul. Remember, while Chanukah does not require that a festive meal be held, any meal with songs, stories and relevant divrei Torah is credited as a special Chanukah meal.


Torah Reading on Shabbat Chanukah

On Shabbat Chanukah, we read from two Torah scrolls. When Chanukah inclides two Shabbatot, the first is parshat Vayeishev and the second is parshat Mikeitz. The weekly portion is read from the first Torah, and the reading for Chanukah is read for as maftir from the second. The reading for Chanukah comes from parshat Naso (Numbers chapter 7) and describes the dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the gifts brought by the heads of the Tribes. When Shabbat Chanukah is also Rosh Chodesh, three Torah scrolls are used; the weekly portion is read from the first, the portion for Rosh Chodesh from the second and the portion for Chanukah from the third. In all of these scenarios – one Shabbat Chanukah, two Shabbatot Chanukah, and Shabbat Chanukah Rosh Chodesh – the Torah reading is followed by the special Chanukah haftarah.


Saturday Night

Which comes first – havdalah or menorah lighting?

On Saturday night, we have two mitzvot to perform: havdalah and Chanukah candles. According to the standard operating procedures, we should perform the more common activity first, which is havdalah. This also makes sense in that one would conclude Shabbat first and then light the candles for the next day of Chanukah (Saturday night being the start of Sunday in halachah). Accordingly, many authorities are of the opinion that one should first recite havdalah and then light the Chanukah candles. However, there is a strong dissenting opinion.


Shabbat ends for a person when he or she has recited the brachah Atah Chonantanu in Shemoneh Esrei or the phrase, “Baruch HaMavdil bein kodesh l’chol” (“Blessed is the One Who divides between the holy and the secular”). The havdalah we recite over a cup does not end Shabbat, it honors the departing Shabbat. The time for lighting Chanukah candles, however, has already been necessarily delayed in order to wait for Shabbat to end and it should be delayed no longer! According to this position, it is more appropriate to delay havdalah than to further delay lighting the menorah. (In such a case, one must be sure not to use the Chanukah candles for havdalah as we are not permitted to benefit from the Chanukah lights, while we are specifically supposed to use the light of the havdalah candle.)



The practice to perform havdalah first is more prevalent but either is halachically efficacious. If in doubt as to which practice to follow, consult your own rabbi for guidance. For those who follow the first practice (havdalah first), the havdalah candle may be used to light the shamash; for those who follow the second practice (menorah first), the shamash may be used to light the havdalah candle.


In shul, the universal practice is to light Chanukah candles before reciting havdalah. This is done to maximize pirsumei nisa (publicizing the miracle) by ensuring that everyone in the minyan is still present when the menorah is lit. V’yiten L’cha is recited after Chanukah candles are lit.


As with lighting before Shabbat, one must make sure to light Saturday night’s Chanukah candles only at a permissible time. In our haste to perform the mitzvah, we must not cut Shabbat short and light too early. Our ancestors were willing to risk their lives fighting the Syrian-Greeks over the right to keep Shabbat. It would be counterproductive for us to violate Shabbat while commemorating their sacrifice!



Read more about the halachot of lighting Chanukah candles

Check out more Chanukah learning with OU & You.


Adapted from “Hilchos U’minhagei Chanuka” by Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski with permission from our partner OU Kosher.