There is no question that, except for Shabbat, there is no problem with watching someone light menorah over Zoom. In fact, it’s a great idea to do so.

The real question, however, is whether or not you can fulfill your obligation to light the menorah by watching someone in another location light the menorah via Zoom.

To answer this, we first need to clear up a common misconception.

Obligation to Light the Menorah

The Talmud describes the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles as follows:

The basic mitzvah of Chanukah is each day to have a light kindled by a person, and his household. And the mehadrin (i.e., those who are meticulous in the performance of mitzvahs) [kindle] a light for each and every one [in the household]. And the mehadrin min hamehadrin (who are even more meticulous) [adjust the number of lights daily] . . . Beit Hillel says: On the first day one kindles one light, and from there on, gradually increases.1

In other words, there is an obligation both on the person and “the house” (or household) to light a menorah. Thus, although observing a person from a different household lighting the menorah or attending a public lighting fulfills an important aspect of Chanukah called pirsumei nisa—publicizing the miracle of Chanukahone generally does not satisfy his own obligation, and must still light a menorah at home.2

So, if you don’t fulfill your obligation through witnessing a public menorah lighting in person, it follows that you definitely don’t do so when you’re merely joining over the phone or Internet.

A Messenger to Light

There are, however, certain situations, when someone else can light for you. The Talmud relates:

Rav Sheishet said, “A guest is obligated [to light] the Chanukah light.” Rav Zeira said, “Initially, when I was in yeshivah, I paid my host a coin to include myself in his Chanukah light. Now that I am married [but am still occasionally away in yeshivah for Chanukah], I said, I do not need to [pay my host] because [my wife] kindles on my behalf in my house."3

Thus, for example, when the husband is traveling for business, he can fulfill his obligation to light the menorah through someone else lighting the menorah back home.4 In this situation, you can certainly watch over Zoom, but you’re not fulfilling your obligation because you saw or heard it over the phone or Zoom, but rather because a messenger is lighting for you in your own home.

However, the custom among Ashkenazic Jewry is that each man lights his own menorah, so it’s ideal that you light the menorah where you’re staying (for more on this, see Menorah on the Road?).5

Furthermore, even one who follows the Sephardic custom that only one member of the household lights, if there is no one else lighting the menorah where you currently are, then you should light the menorah yourself regardless. So having your family light for you would only help if you were a guest in a Jewish home or with a fellow Jewish traveler who was lighting the menorah.6

If you are a guest at someone else’s house and no one is lighting for you back home (and you yourself aren’t lighting your own menorah), then you may “partner” with the host by giving some money for the candles or oil, whereby you are purchasing joint ownership.7

So although watching a Zoom menorah lighting doesn’t fulfill the mitzvah, it’s a great way to spread the holiday spirit and bring the family together. Take the opportunity to invite the faraway friends and relatives who don’t ordinarily have a chance to come to your Chanukah celebrations. Instead of just one person lighting, you can have each family watch as the different households around the country light their own menorah, bringing some badly needed light into the world!