BET MIDRASH VIRTUALI
of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel



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Bet Midrash Virtuali

SHULĤAN ARUKH, ORAĤ ĤAYYIM: The Rules of Shabbat

263:2-3


Both men and women must have a light burning in their homes on Shabbat. Even if one would not have food to eat one must go begging at doors to buy oil to light the light, for this is part of the 'delight of Shabbat' [Oneg Shabbat].

Women are warned about this more [than men] because they are around the house and occupied with the needs of the household. If one cannot afford to buy both a light for Shabbat and [wine for] Kiddush the Shabbat light gets preference. Likewise, if one cannot afford to buy both a light for Shabbat and a light for Ĥanukah the Shabbat light gets preference because of domestic harmony [Shalom Bayit], for there can be no domestic harmony without a light

EXPLANATIONS:

1:
I find it rather strange that Rabbi Karo has divided these two paragraphs as he has. It seems to me that a more logical division would be something like this:

Both men and women must have a light burning in their homes on Shabbat, but women are warned about this more [than men] because they are around the house and occupied with the needs of the household.

Even if one would not have food to eat one must go begging at doors to buy oil to light the light, for this is part of the 'delight of Shabbat' [Oneg Shabbat]. If one cannot afford to buy both a light for Shabbat and [wine for] Kiddush the Shabbat light gets preference. Likewise, if one cannot afford to buy both a light for Shabbat and a light for Ĥanukah the Shabbat light gets preference because of domestic harmony [Shalom Bayit], for there can be no domestic harmony without a light.

2:
The requirement to have lights lit in the home for Shabbat applies equally to all Jews. The question remains who is responsible for ensuring that this requirement is met. The strict answer is that everybody is so responsible, both men and women, both husband and wife, both married and unmarried. However, from the practical point of view the sages recognized that in most households - at least until very modern times - it was the woman of the house who was most engaged in the housework, therefore it was natural that she would see to it that there would be light in the home on Friday night. From that relatively simple origin time has remodelled what was a prosaic matter of household management into a most spiritually meaningful act for millions of Jewish women. Perhaps it was because women were not actively involved in so many of the rituals that this ritual about which "women are warned more than men" came to be so cherished and imbued with passionate meaning.

3
The Mishnah [Shabbat 2:6] mentions three mitzvot that are particularly associated with women. The duty of observing the rules of Niddah, accompanying her menstrual cycle, is now largely neglected; these days most people buy their Ĥallah already baked, so the mitzvah of taking Ĥallah is obviated for them. That just leaves the lighting of the Shabbat lights as a mitzvah that has been enthusiastically embraced by the women of Israel.

4:
Even though the womenfolk of Israel have taken this mitzvah upon themselves for millenia, the lights must be lit even in the absence of a woman. If the housewife is unable to perform this duty then her husband should do it instead. As we shall see when we reach paragraph 6 of this Section, men who have no woman in their household must light the Shabbat light themselves.

5:
The rest of the two paragraphs of Section 263 quoted above deals with a situation that is now almost inconceivable: that a person is in such dire economic straits that they cannot afford all that is necessary for Shabbat. The sages were always concerned that because people know that a certain ritual derives from the sages and not from the Torah itself they might take that ritual less seriously. Therefore often they give the rabbinic requirement extra emphasis. In our present case they emphasize that even if one has to go begging for the money needed to buy fuel to light the Shabbat lights this must be done. If one only has enough money for the Shabbat lights and cannot also afford to buy wine for Kiddush then preference must be given to the former: Kiddush may be recited over the Ĥallah if needs be. Similarly, if the choice is between lights for Shabbat and lights for Ĥanukah then preference must still be given to the former (even though both mitzvot are of rabbinic origin). If anyone is ever in such dire straits I would suggest that they light but two lights: one for Shabbat and one for Ĥanukah. (Remember, that the lighting of two lights - or more - on Shabbat is only a custom [See Shabbat 016], as is also the lighting of more than one light each night during Ĥanukah. Therefore, over one light the Ĥanukah blessings may be said and then, over the other, the Shabbat blessing.)

6:
The glow of the Shabbat lights endows the observant Jewish home with two blessings: Oneg Shabbat and Shalom Bayit. The Shabbat candles generate an atmosphere of peace, wellbeing, happiness and domestic joy that is no less present and felt because it is imperceptible. The Shabbat candles must be the vehicle through which Queen Shabbat bestows her blessings, through which the Bride Shabbat enters into her Ĥuppah, the Jewish home.

DISCUSSION:

Jerry Langer writes:

I guess I'll ask the obvious question that arises regarding lighting for Shabbat. It is clear from what you (and the Rambam) say that lighting shabbat "lights" is a duty or requirement, rather than a mitzvah, per se. It is perhaps curious, therefore, that the b'rachah that is said includes the wording, "v'tzivanu" (as does the b'rachah for the other 6 actions that you list). Perhaps I don't completely understand the meaning of "v'tzivanu". Or, despite a desire to maintain the formal and intellectual distinction between a Torah mitzvah and these other seven actions, did the rabbis simultaneously want to blur the distinction in everyday practice? Can you elaborate?

I respond:

Let me answer Jerry's last question first: No - at least not now! You will note that in last week's shiur I wrote:

In all these cases we recite a berakhah before performing these religious tasks, just as we do when performing a mitzvah that is written in the Torah. (We shall expatiate on this when we reach paragraph 5 of this Section.)

Obviously I was referring all seven of the Mitzvot that were instigated by the sages; but since lighting candles on Shabbat is one of these seven clearly I shall explain the point that Jerry raises when we reach paragraph 5. Meanwhile, I beg your patience.


In our last shiur we discussed the lighting of the Shabbat candles. Concerning the fuel that may be used to light these candles Michael Lewyn writes:

Because I am in a "one-shul town" where the only service is on Friday nights (nearly always after candle-lighting time, especially this time of year), I feel rather uncomfortable lighting candles and leaving them to burn while I am outside my apartment. Is there any reason one cannot use battery operated lights (e.g. flashlights) or electric lights (e.g. lamps)?

I respond:

Firstly, let me respond to a question that Michael did not ask but that many might find implied in his situation. One may not light the Shabbat candles after Shabbat has already begun. The prohibition on lighting a fire is, as we have seen, derived directly from the Torah and is therefore considered to be what our tradition calls mi-de-orayta - a mitzvah commanded in the written Torah itself; the requirement to light candles for Shabbat (and not "on" Shabbat!) is, as we have seen, a rabbinic institution. There is no logical justification to ignore a direct rule of the Torah just to fulfill a rabbinic requirement. If one has failed to light the Shabbat candles before Shabbat begins they must remain unlit! However, let me clarify that "before Shabbat begins" here does not necessarily mean the exact time that one finds indicated in the newspapers and on calendars: in an 'emergency' the candles may be lit any time up to the start of sunset.

We saw last time - and above - that the reason for lighting lights for Shabbat is Oneg Shabbat, so that the celebration of Shabbat will be a pleasurable experience. The mishnah [Shabbat 2:1-4] gives indications as to which fuels and wicks may not be used for this purpose. What is required is that the lamp give a clean and steady light, with no unpleasant 'additions' such as smell or excessive smoke. Electricity certainly is a power source that will give a clean and steady light with no smell or smoke. The sages required us to try and have a light burning in every room which might be used on Shabbat, and from this the 'utilitarian' purpose of the custom is clear. Nowadays, we have no hesitation in fulfilling this request by the use of electric lights in all rooms, and we have 'relegated' the lighting of candles (or oil) to a special ritual in addition to the electric light.

The only problem that I can see in using electricity for the Shabbat lights is an aesthetic one: I doubt that the lighting of electric lights will afford that spiritual uplift that almost invariably accompanies the lighting of candles. So, as far as I can see, the problem is aesthetic rather than halakhic. The aesthetic problem might be reduced if one were to use candle-shaped lights powered by a battery, but from the halakhic point of view one can even use the electric lights in the chandelier in the living room to fulfill the requirement to light lights for Shabbat. In such circumstances one must turn on the electric power that fuels these lights and recite the blessing (which will be detailed when we reach paragraph 5) just as one would when lighting candles. However, these lights must remain alight: they may not be turned off during Shabbat - not even by an automatic device. In the case of battery operated lights they must remain alight until the battery runs out.

Everything that I have written here is theoretic halakhah. For a practical answer, please consult your local rabbi. That's what he or she is there for!