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Why Can’t I Use an Electric Menorah?

Why Can’t I Use an Electric Menorah?

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Question:

While at the mall, I was approached by two young chassidic teenagers who asked me whether I was Jewish and if I had a menorah at home. I proudly replied that I had a nice big electric menorah in my window. They then proceeded to tell me that while an electric menorah is good for the window, I should still light a menorah with candles (which they then gave me). At the time I was in a bit of a hurry, so I didn’t get into it, but I would still like to know: what is the story with electric menorahs?

Reply:

Let’s start with why we light the menorah in the first place. Here’s what the Talmud has to say:

When the Hasmonean family overpowered and were victorious over the Greeks, they searched and found only a single cruse of pure oil . . . enough to light the Temple menorah for a single day. A miracle occurred, and they lit the menorah with this enough-for-one-day-oil for eight days. The following year they established the festival of Chanukah, in which we light the menorah for eight days, commemorating this miracle.1

Fuel, Wicks and Fire—Like the Temple Menorah

Since the miracle occurred with a menorah consisting of fuel, wicks and fire, we likewise use the same type of lamp for the Chanukah menorah. (Accordingly, it is preferable to use olive oil as the fuel.) Many are of the opinion that since electric lamps don’t really have any of these elements, one should not use them for Chanukah.2

Prerequisite Fuel

Additionally, even if the exact type of fuel were not an issue, there is still another potential issue. The mitzvah of lighting the menorah is the actual kindling of the flames; therefore, one is obligated to already have the required amount of fuel in the menorah lamp at lighting time (i.e., enough to burn for 30 minutes after nightfall). If one adds the proper amount of fuel only after lighting, he has not fulfilled his requirement.3

Since electricity is constantly being regenerated, or at the very least it isn’t all present at the time of lighting, it is similar to lighting the flame and only later adding the right amount of fuel, so one may not fulfill the mitzvah with it.4

(However, based on this reasoning alone, using a battery-powered light may indeed be permissible, since all of the “fuel” is present at the time of lighting.5)

Flame vs. Torch

Others, however, explain that (a) it can be argued that the electric wires of the menorah itself are perhaps the equivalent of “wicks,” and more importantly, (b) oil or fuel isn’t even a necessary requirement for the menorah. The main thing is just that it “burns.” After all, the halachah states that “all oils and wicks are acceptable for use in one’s menorah” (although as mentioned, all agree that olive oil is preferable).6

In light of this, they explain that there is not an absolute requirement that the Chanukah menorah be exactly like the one in the Temple, and the absence of actual fuel may not be a problem.7 However, there is seemingly a much more fundamental problem with using an electric menorah.

Even if there is no absolute requirement that the menorah be exactly like the one in the Temple, there is still a basic requirement that the Chanukah lights be similar to the Temple’s in that they should be a ner (single wick) and not a medurah (blaze of fire).8 Many electric bulbs, especially incandescent ones, have an arc-shaped filament that is lit up. This is similar to a medurah rather than a single flame.9 (Other types of bulbs, such as fluorescent ones, don’t necessarily even have the status of “fire” and definitely should not be used.10)

Extenuating Circumstances

In light of the various potential issues discussed, one should always endeavor to use a fuel-wick-and-fire menorah. This is no doubt the reason why those two young men gave you a conventional menorah. I would add, however, that in a situation in which there are some concerns about using a conventional menorah (for example, an elderly person living alone), one can simply light some tea lights placed in a tray (and the tray can even be filled with water). For more on that, see I am an elderly man and I am hesitant to use Chanukah candles . . .

Additionally, in extenuating circumstances, when lighting a fire just isn’t an option, then in consultation with your rabbi you may be able to use some sort of battery-powered light for the menorah. However, in such a situation, you would still not make the actual blessings for lighting the menorah.

Don’t Pack Away That Electric Menorah!

One of the most important themes of the Chanukah celebration is to publicize the miracle.11 So although there are issues regarding the use of an electric menorah in actually fulfilling the mitzvah, electric menorahs are still a great way to publicize the Chanukah miracle. So by all means, keep your electric menorah lit in your window—just be sure to also light a conventional one like they lit in the Temple during the story of Chanukah.

Footnotes
1.
Talmud, Shabbat 21b.
2.
Kaf ha-Chaim, Orach Chaim 673:19; Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Me’orei Eish 5:2.
3.
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 675:2.
4.
Responsa Har Tzvi 2:114; Mikra’ei Kodesh, Chanukah 20.
5.
See Halichot Shlomo 2, p. 283.
6.
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 673:1.
7.
Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 1:20:12.
8.
Talmud, Shabbat 23b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 671:4.
9.
Kaf ha-Chaim, Orach Chaim 673:19; Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 1:20:12.
10.
Shvut Yitzchak, vol. 8 (Ner Shabbat), ch. 3, fn. 11.
11.
See for example Talmud, Shabbat 21a–22b.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Donald Weinshank 48823 December 13, 2016

Chanukah vs xmas It turns out that the first candle this year is on erev xmas! This occurs -- many sources -- four times per century.

As I tell Xtian friends, our lunar calendar is rock steady, while the secular, solar calendar jumps all over the place. Reply

Rabbi Yossi Grossbaum, for Chabad.org December 12, 2016

RE: What if no other option? Ideally you should have a family member light the Menorah for you at home. You can light some sort of battery operated Menorah on the plane but no blessing should be said. Reply

Aaron Leib Dukes MN December 7, 2016

What if no other option? My wife and I will be flying to Israel from before sunset until after sunrise on the second night of Chanukah. Should we light a battery-operated menorah on the plane? What bulbs would be best? With or without the blessing(s)? How does this impact whether we light the subsequent nights and how many lights on each? Reply

Scott September 16, 2016

Battery Operated Candles For those who are unable to use open flame candles or lamps, you can purchase battery operated candles from your local Dollar Tree Store for $1.00 USD.

Depending on which one you purchase, you may also need to purchase AAA batteries which are also available at Dollar Tree Store.

The candles I purchased are about 10 inches in length, have an LED bulb, is designed so that the flame appears to flicker and takes two AAA batteries.

FYI: I'm not an employee of Dollar Tree.

Take care! Reply

Anonymous Ronkonkoma December 28, 2015

I notice schools and public places leaving the electric menorah lit after hanukkah is over and leaving it up until Christmas. Shouldn't it be turned off until next Hanukkah? Reply

A. H. 28607 December 9, 2015

I read that one can contribute to the expenses of another's menorah and still fulfil the mitzvot of lighting Hanukah candles. Reply

Anonymous December 5, 2015

Electric Menorah Under your extenuating circumstances, you should specifically mention those that are on continuous oxygen to breath, such as myself. It is extremely important to keep live flames away from those that use oxygen to breath otherwise an explosion could occur that could/would kill those in the presence o the oxygen and live flame.

Finding a battery operated menorah has not proven successful and I'm left with the only option, electric.

Now, maybe there is something incorrect with my Jewish Education, and I am in my mid 60's, but I do recall learning that there where medical exceptions to any/all situations when it is/was needed. That would include the use of an electric menorah in place of a live flame when necessary and no one should be made to feel they are doing something wrong by using one when necessary. Reply

mike US December 5, 2015

Thanks Always interesting! Thanks! Reply

Liya Tova Western NC December 4, 2015

Electronic shabbat lights My kitten was fascinated by the flame and almost burnt his nose. In a house with pets, I cannot light candles for long. Even this time, I was near the candle yet the kitten got close. Do you have any suggestions (like electronic vs. Light and immediately extinguish )? Shabbat Shalom Reply

Hillel December 4, 2015

"Can't use electricity on Shabbat because that's kindling a flame"
"Can't use electricity on Hanukkah because it isn't kindling a flame"
Thanks Shammai. Reply

Anonymous Delray Beach, FL December 4, 2015

The festival of fear Should Chanuka be a time for fear? I live alone, with a couple of cats. I'm over 80 and partially disabled. I will not have live candles burning in my home because I cannot move fast enough to put out a fire if a candle is knocked over. So it's either the electric lights or none at all. Reply

Jay New England, USA December 3, 2015

We will use both this year... For our family we decided to use both an electric and candle menorah. The reason was we have a young children, one in particular who touches everything, so for safety reasons we will kindle the electric menorah all night. However we will also kindle the traditional candle menorah because there is something beautiful about a dancing flame in the window on Hanukkah night. I don't think it's "wrong" for people that are concerned about open flames or that can't have open flames for some reason (a nursing home or assisted living maybe), they are still celebrating and enjoying Hanukkah! Happy Hanukkah everyone :) Reply

Chabad.org Staff December 2, 2015

To Anonymous Chabad of Den Haag can help you obtain a Menorah, you can contact the rabbi and rebbetzin at this link Reply

Anonymous Den haag December 2, 2015

Where in Den Haag can I buy candles for my menorah.Can anyone tell me please. Reply

Fara C. Valdes florida December 2, 2015

There is a greater blessing when we light the candles and ponder on the miracle. But yes, having a menorah displayed on our window will announce each year that we are greatful for the Eternal's goodness. Chag Sameach and Sh'lom! Reply

Miriam madison WI December 1, 2015

What I think.. It seemed to me that the miracle of Chanukah was that the light burned for eight days straight. In that sense, an electic menorah is more in keeping with the spirit of Chanukah, as its lights too never go out. Reply

Don Weinshsnk 48823 December 1, 2015

electric chanukah where no flame permitted Unless you live in a dorm or a housing project where using a live flame will get you tossed out on your ear.

That is precisely the problem at my university. Reply

Diane Albuquerque, NM & Maine December 1, 2015

Sometimes there is no alternative to using electric menorah My husband and I travel a lot and stay in motels and hotels. Rules state no candles allowed in the rooms for safety reasons. So, I light our electric menorah and says the blessings.
Someone once mentioned getting permission to light a candle menorah in the lobby or breakfast room, but not every motel or hotel is accommodating. Also, I don't want to have to explain to outsiders why I have to light candles in the lobby even if permitted.
At home, I use the electric menorah in the window and light candle menorah on the kitchen table. I say the blessings over the candle menorah.

We encounter the same problems when we stay in motels/hotels over Shabbat. I have an electric Shabbat candle that I light and keep lit until havdallah. I'm sure that it's not considered proper, but even tea lights aren't allowed in the rooms of th hotels/motels where we stay.

As I see it, it is better to observe Chanukah and Shabbat with electric candles than no candles at all. Reply

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