Some Quickie Halachos of Chanukah
Although one might think that there is not much to think about in observing this holiday, almost always questions come up. I thought I would address a few of the more common ones.*
1. If one forgets to say Al Haninsim after Modim in the Shemoneh Esreh and has already said Baruch Atah HaShem at the end of V’Chol HaChaim (the very next bracha in the Shemonah Esreh) continue until the Yehi Ratzon at the end of Elokai Nitzor and say it there. If one forgets to say it then - do not say it at all and do not repeat Shemoneh Esreh.
2. Because of the requirement of publicising the Mitzvah (Persumei Nissa) the Menorah should be lit in a window that faces the street during a time when people normally traverse it.
3. All members of the household (men and women, boys and girls) should light their own Menorah. A wife should not because of the concept of Ishto K’Gufo. A married couple is considered a single unit in Judaism. If her husband is out of town she should light the Menorah. Women are as obligated to light the Menorah as men. The Brachos are to be completed before the actual lighting.
4. If for some reason one will not be able to light a Menorah and sees a lighted Menorah in a window from the street – the 2nd Bracha of SheAsah Nissim should be made upon seeing it.
5. On weekdays other than Friday one should light the Menorah immediately after nightfall with enough oil or a candle large enough to last at least a half hour. The primary Mitzvah is the lighting itself. So if the candles or oil are in any way extinguished one need not re-light them. If one cannot light the Menorah at that time, they may light the Menorah all night long with a Bracha - preferably with someone else in the room.
6. On Friday nights one should light immediately before Shabbos candle lighting time and certainly no later than Shkiyah (sunset) which in Chicago tonight is 4:20pm). Even though the Mitzvah is the actual lighting and should be done at night – it would be impossible to do that without violating Shabbos. So we do it before Shabbos.
Candles or oil should have the ability to last at least until a half hour after nightfall which begins at Tzeis HaKochovim - i.e. when the stars come out. There are various opinions about what that means - most commonly it is either 42 minutes after sunset or 72 minutes after sunset.
The following is the reason for the title of this post.
One should certainly not light the Menorah before Plag HaMincha. Plag HaMincha is defined as one and a quarter hours of Sha’os Zemanios before sunset. (Shah’os Zemanyios – are the number of daylight hiurs divided by 12. During the winter months those hours are shorter than 60 minutes and during the summer they are longer thhan 60 minutes.)
The reason for this is that we light the Menorah after Plag is because of a Machlokes in the Gemarah about when the Zeman Ma’ariv is. Ma'ariv may only be said after nightfall. There is one opinion in the Gemarah that nightfall actually begins at Plag. We therefore light the Menroah so that is is considered nightfall at elast according to that opinion.
There is a slight problem here of something called Tarti D’Sasri - contradictory factors. If we light the Menorah after Plag (nightfall) and then Daven Mincha afterwards, we are in effect negating that it is in any way nightfall - since Mincha must be said before nightfall. So if possible one should Daven Mincha before Plag HaMincha. Many Shuls now offer Mincha Minyanim before Plag on Erev Shabbos Chanuka for this reason.
But if one cannot attend an early Mincha, one should preferably Daven after Plag with a Minyan rather than without one. It is just a custom and in this country of recent vintage. It is more important to Daven with a Minayn than to daven before Plag on Erev Shabbos Chanukah.
7. After Shabbos Havdalah should be made before lighting the Menorah. There a legitimate Minhag to do the reverse but it is best to do it this way. However if one has an established custom to light the Menorah before Havdalah they should do so.
*As always in matters of Halacha, if one has any questions about any of these Halachos one should consult with their local Orthodox rabbi.