Quick answer: Shabbat candles are lit by Jewish women and girls (or men, when there are no women present) 18 minutes before sunset on Friday afternoon or on the eve of Jewish holidays, often in the dining room where the festive holiday meal will soon take place. Read how to light Shabbat candles here.

Why We Light Them

The Torah enjoins us to “honor the Shabbat and call it a delight.”1 Now one element of this “delight” is to have candles lit. In addition to creating a bright and cheery ambiance, the candles ensure that we don’t spend the evening stumbling around in the dark. The Torah clearly tells us that we may not kindle fire on Shabbat. So the key is to light the delight-giving candles before the onset of the day. Lighting Shabbat candles is one of the seven rabbinic commandments. Read: Where Does the Torah Say to Light Shabbat Candles?

The mystics explain that Shabbat is the day that brings illumination to our world, which so often seems to be dark and negative. Furthermore, candles are a metaphor for Torah and for the human soul. The Shabbat candles represent the light we introduce into the world through studying Torah and observing its precepts. And they also represent the additional soul that our sages say we are given on Shabbat.

When We Light Them

Candles are lit to honor Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, Passover and Shavuot.

In order to be sure that we do not kindle fire on Shabbat, the standard practice is to light the candles 18 minutes before the sun sets and the holy day begins (some communities do so even earlier). On holidays, when it is permitted to light one flame from another flame that was already lit, the candles can be lit even after sunset, provided that we do not strike a match and create a flame. When a holiday follows Shabbat or another holiday, the candles must be lit after nightfall. Read: Why Are Shabbat Candles Lit 18 Minutes Before Sunset?

Find Shabbat candle lighting times for anywhere in the world.

Who and How Many?

The basic custom is that the woman of the house lights two candles. Many women have the custom to add an additional candle for each child. A woman who neglected to light the candles one week also adds an additional candle from then on. Read: Why Light Two (Or More) Shabbat Candles?

The age-old custom was that young girls also lit candles. This custom was all but lost in the poverty and displacement that followed World War I. In 1974, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, encouraged all Jewish girls (from approximately three years of age) to light their own Shabbat and holiday candles with the consent of their parents.

Until marriage, girls light one candle. And the Rebbe encouraged parents to purchase a special candlestick just for them.

How to Light Shabbat Candles

Here is the basic candle-lighting procedure:

● Before the candle-lighting time, set up the candles. Tapers, oil lamps, tea lights, and most other standard candles are acceptable, provided that they burn long enough for you to enjoy their light after night has fallen.

● Put some money in a charity box and set the box aside.

● Light the candles (young girls light first, so that their mothers can assist them as needed).

● Don’t blow out the match. Instead, drop it onto a fireproof surface.

● Bring your hands to your face, and cover your eyes with your palms.

● Say the blessing

o Baruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ha-olam A-sher Ki-de-sha-nu Be-mitz-vo-tav Ve-tzi-va-nu Le-had-lik Ner Shel Sha-bbat Ko-desh.

o Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the light of the holy Shabbat.

● Glance at the candles and then whisper silent prayers for yourself, for your family, your community and for anyone and everyone in the world.

● Uncover your eyes and wish those around you, “good Shabbos” or “Shabbat shalom”!

● At this point you have accepted Shabbat upon yourself and no fire may be kindled or handled.

Read the complete procedure here.

How Long Have We Been Lighting Them?

The first woman to light Shabbat candles was our matriarch Sarah. According to Jewish tradition, Sarah would light the Shabbat candles on the eve of Shabbat in the tent she shared with Abraham, and the candles would miraculously burn from one Friday to the next. Thus the pleasant sight of Sarah's candles greeted the many guests that visited Abraham and Sarah's tent throughout the week.

When Sarah passed away, the flames of her Shabbat candles were extinguished. A few years later, when Isaac saw that the Shabbat candles of his prospective wife, Rebecca, had the same miraculous ability to continue burning throughout the week, he understood that she was Sarah's righteous successor, and he wed her happily.

Shabbat Candle Terms

Licht: Yiddish for “light,” this can refer to the candles, the flames or the light they produce.

Leichter: Yiddish for “candlesticks,” which were traditionally made of brass or silver but can be of glass, ceramic or any other fire-safe material.

Licht Bentschen: Yiddish for “candle-lighting.” This refers to both the act of lighting candles and the time at which they are lit. So when someone asks you, “When is licht bentschen?” you can look it up on Chabad.org or refer them to the App.

Techinah (Pural: techinos or techinot): These are the personal prayers that Jewish women recite during candle-lighting (and at other opportune times).

Neshek: An acronym for “neirot Shabbat kodesh,” Hebrew for, “candles of the holy Shabbat.” This acronym refers to the Rebbe’s campaign to encourage candle-lighting, and to the ubiquitous candle-lighting kits and brochures that are distributed to Jewish women and girls everywhere.