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Why don't women work while the Chanukah candles are burning?

Why don't women work while the Chanukah candles are burning?

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Question:

In our family, we have a custom that none of us ladies do any work while the Chanukah candles are burning. Why is this?

Response:

This custom is indeed cited in the Code of Jewish Law.1 Here are two reasons for it.

a. Unlike Shabbat candles, which are lit in order to increase the light in the house, the purpose of the Chanukah lights is simply to remind us of the Chanukah miracle. In order for the special purpose of the candles to be noticeable, we do not use them for any other purposes whatsoever.2 3

As an added precaution, women do not do any work in the candles' presence, to avoid all appearances of using the light of the menorah. An additional concern is that if the regular light would go out, they would end up working by the light of the Chanukah candles alone.4

So why just the women? Since the miraculous victory came about through the heroic actions of Judith, the women of the ages felt a special affinity to the Chanukah lights and sought to honor them in the greatest way possible.5

b. Women are obligated to light the Chanukah candles, just like men are. However, in practice, most women do not light. Rather they fulfill their obligation through the menorah lit by their husbands or other family members. In order to show that they did not forget about the mitzvah or neglect it in any way, they do not work after the candles are lit.6

Happy Chanukah and enjoy the vacation!

FOOTNOTES
1.

O.C. 670:1.

2.

See Talmud, Shabbat 21b and Rashi ad loc.

3.

The fact that an additional candle, called a Shamash, is also kindled does not entirely mitigate this issue since people often lit a number of candles in order to brighten up a room (Magen Avraham 673:4).

4.

Mishna Brurah 670:4, Ta'amay Minhagim 852.

5.

Mateh Moshe 994, quoted by the Magen Avraham 670:1

6.

Nitei Gavriel, Chanukah, 38 footnote 1.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org. He lives with his family in Montreal, QC.
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