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What Are Shabbat and Holiday Candles?

What Are Shabbat and Holiday Candles?

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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.

Footnotes
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Lisa m Georgia September 25, 2017

Do we light separate candles this Friday for Yom Kippur, in addition to those for Shabbat? Or, do we light two and recite the bracha over those with lehadlik neir shel Shabbat v'shel Yom Hakipporim? Reply

Chana Benjaminson September 26, 2017
in response to Lisa m:

We light one set of candles (two if that's what you light on a regular Shabbat) and recite the combined bracha of shel Shabbat v'shel Yom Hakkipurim. Gmar chatima tova. Reply

Lora Thomson Lauderhill September 29, 2017
in response to Lisa m:

Please answer this question for me also. I decided to light one for holiday,two for Shabbat, and three for deceased parents and brother . Reply

Lisa Mallis September 27, 2017
in response to Chana Benjaminson:

Thank you!
I'm not sure why I thought we lit 2 for each, but now I know for certain. Gamar chatima tovah! Reply

Janet Springfield, Missouri September 6, 2009

I wanted to do Shabbat blessings I was told by someone that Shabbat candles and candlelighting was a newer custom and that it branched from people lighting their lamps, etc before electricity so they could celebrate Shabbat. I just find that hard to believe. Someone else told me that it came from the time of the 2nd temple. Another said the blessings are in the Siddur so they came from the men of the great assembly. What is the answer? Reply

Anonymous Portland, OR June 25, 2009

Learning about Shabbat I wanted to express my gratitude for your posting the Shabbat rituals on this site! I am a spiritual Jewess who desires to honor G_d on this most Holy Day, and being not from a Jewish family of origin; have been looking for the traditional way in which I can honor His Holiness on this day. I can't begin to thank you enough, and can't wait to receive your weekly mamgazine via Email! You have blessed my heart and soul today! Thank you and bless you! Reply

Welcome to our candle-lighting section, where you will find the details and practicalities of lighting Shabbat candles, along with the meaning, spirituality and power of doing so . . .
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