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Halakha for Daily Life; Chanukah - Where Should Students Light the Menorah? by Rabbi Kenneth Brander
Halakha for Daily Life; Chanukah - Where Should Students Light the Menorah? by Rabbi Kenneth Brander

Volume 3 , Issue 3


Should students residing in dorm facilities kindle Chanukah lights? Or, is the lighting done in a parent's or spouse's home sufficient to fulfill their obligation?


The Talmud (Shabbat 23a) relates to us the following incident:

?Rav Zera said: Originally when I was at the yeshiva, I shared the cost with my host, but after I got married I said, now certainly I do not need to join with my host, because they kindle on my behalf at home.?

Prior to marriage, Rav Zera had no one lighting for him. Therefore, he arranged to become a partner with the family he lived with. However, after he was married, even when he was away from home, Rav Zera fulfilled his obligation with the lighting that took place in his home. Indeed, Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yehavah Daat 6:43) states that since this incident is codified in the Sulkhan Aruch (Orach Chayim 677:1), it sets the parameters that will allow us to deal with our question.

The basic precept of Chanukah is ?Ner Ish U'baitoh? (each home should have candles lit), not that each person should light. Therefore, students away from home who are supported by parents or who have spouses are not obligated to kindle Chanukah lights in their dorm facilities. Their obligation is fulfilled by the lighting done in their respective homes. However, continues Rav Ovadya Yosef, those in the spirit of Chanukah who feel the need to light where they currently reside, are permitted to light without blessings.

However, Rav Moshe Feinstein of blessed memory (Igrot Moshe Orach Chayim 4:70, Yoreh Deah 3:14) disagrees with R. Ovadya Yosef's approach towards this issue. Rav Feinstein felt that dormitory students should light with the appropriate blessings. The issue for Rav Feinstein is not whether they should light, but rather where they should light.

Rav Feinstein does not explain why he never entertained the possibility that students may indeed be free from any obligation to kindle Chanukah lights. However, I believe the reason is obvious. While the major issue in regard to kindling Chanukah lights is the requirement for every household to be represented by the lighting of a menorah, the ultimate performance of the mitzvah requires every individual to light at his/her respective place of residence for that night. Thus, if one is interested in performing the precept in its ultimate form, not fulfilling one's obligation through the lighting performed by a parent or spouse, one is welcome to do so. Therefore, when a student decides not to fulfill his/her obligation through the lighting performed by a parent or spouse he/she would be required to recite the appropriate blessings before kindling the Chanukah lights.

Indeed, this idea is discussed in the responsa of the Maharil and is codified by Rav Moses Isserles in the Shulkhan Aruch (Orach Chayim 677:7).

Rav Feinstein, in dealing with this issue, attempts to designate an area which can be considered the domain of the student. Rav Feinstein asserts that it is appropriate to light in one's assigned dorm room rather than the public cafeteria. Parenthetically, the above discussion can also apply to a situation in which business demands that a person travel away from home on Chanukah.

Rav Feinstein is also concerned with the fire hazard involved, and, therefore, suggests that roommates organize themselves in a fashion that one student should be present for the duration of time that the lights will be lit.

Rabbi Kenneth Brander is the Assistant Rabbi at Lincoln Square Synagogue and Director of the Joseph Shapiro Institute for Adult Education. He is a graduate of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.



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