By Rabbi Daniel Roselaar, Rav of Kehillat Alei Tzion
1. When is the best time to light the Chanukah candles?
The Chanukah candles should be lit as soon as possible after nightfall. However, pirsumei nisa (publicising the miracle) is an important dimension of the mitzvah and one should wait until all the members of the family are home from work and school before lighting in order that they will be able to participate in the mitzvah.
2. What about on Friday night?
On Friday night the Chanukah candles must be lit earlier than usual since they cannot be lit once Shabbat has commenced. They should be lit immediately before lighting the Shabbat candles and one should make sure to use longer candles than usual so that they will burn until half-an-hour after nightfall. (Keeping the candles in the freezer helps ensure that they will burn longer!)
3. Which member of the family should light the candles?
Ashkenazi practise is that all the members of the family should light their own set of Chanukah candles each evening. Even though women are not usually obliged to participate in positive time-bound mitzvot this is an exception because they shared in the events of the Chanukah story. However, in many families a husband and wife will fulfil the mitzvah jointly. Sephardim generally light just one Menorah per family.
4. If a person is in shul when the Chanukah candles are lit do they still have to light the candles at home as well?
Yes. The lighting in shul is more of a public reminder than an actual fulfilment of the mitzvah. The same is true if one goes to a wedding or bar / bat – mitzvah celebration where the candles are lit – Chanukah candles still must be lit when returning home, even if it is very late.
5. Is Chanukah a Yom Tov?
Not in the most formal sense. Even though Hallel is recited there is no prohibition against working on Chanukah. However there is a custom that women do not do any serious work during the first half-hour that the candles are burning each evening.
6. Some shuls have electric Menorahs. Are they kosher?
Such Menorahs are not kosher for fulfilling the mitzvah but work well to remind people that they need to fulfil the mitzvah. A kosher Menorah is based on the Menorah that was used in the Temple and needs a fuel and a wick. Nowadays most people tend to use candles but some people enhance the mitzvah by using olive oil which was what was used in the Temple Menorah.
7. What should people who are away on holiday do for lighting Chanukah candles?
If a person is staying in a hotel they should light the candles in their room and obviously they should make sure that they keep a careful watchful eye on the candles during the whole time that they are alight. (They can be blown out after the first half hour.) If there is a concern that a Menorah full of candles is going to set off the fire alarms and cause the hotel to be evacuated then one would be allowed to light just one candle instead of the full compliment for that night.
8. What if a person is on a long distance flight through the night. Is there any way that they can light the Chanukah candles?
No – is the short answer. But if other members of the family are at home they should light the candles with the traveller in mind.
9. Where should the Chanukah candles be placed?
Ideally they should be lit in a place where the members of the family, as well as passers-by, can see them. The windowsill of a front room is often a good place to put them, provided that the family will watch them there for a while.
10. When should the candles be lit at the end of Shabbat?
The candles should not be lit until after the conclusion of Shabbat. In shul they are always lit before Havdalah but at home different families have different traditions – some families light them before Havdalah and some afterwards. Some families that light them afterwards use the Havdalah candle to light the Shamash candle so as to achieve two different mitzvot with the same candle.