Shabbat Candles – The Blessing

There is a famous halachic dispute whether or not a woman is to recite the blessing upon the Shabbat candles before or after she lights them.[1] Common Ashkenazi custom is for women to first light the candles and only then to recite the blessing. Most Sefardic women, however, reverse the procedure by first reciting the blessing and only then lighting the candles.[2] The blessing recited upon the Shabbat candles is "…..lehadlik ner shel Shabbat".[3] In some communities the custom is to say "…lehadlik ner shel shabbat kodesh", though it is not completely clear how and when this version evolved.[4]

The dispute on when to recite the blessing upon the Shabbat candles is the result of two seemingly conflicting considerations. The first issue is whether or not a woman automatically accepts Shabbat, along with its restrictions, immediately upon reciting the blessing over the candles. If she indeed does, then once she has recited the blessing she can no longer light the candles, as doing so is a forbidden Shabbat labor! The other issue concerns the well-known halachic principle that one must always recite the blessing for a mitzva before the mitzva is performed, not after. According to this principle, the blessing upon lighting the Shabbat candles should indeed be recited before lighting the candles and not afterwards as is customary among Ashkenazim.

The Sefardic authorities subscribe to the view that a woman does not necessarily accept Shabbat upon herself when she lights the Shabbat candles.[5] So too, Sefardic practice is to meticulously comply with the rule that the blessing must be recited prior to performing the mitzva. According to this approach, therefore, there is no halachic difficulty with a woman reciting the blessing upon the Shabbat candles before she lights them. In fact, according to some of the earliest halachic sources, this is the manner in which all women should conduct themselves.[6]

The Ashkenazi custom, however, follows the view that a woman must accept Shabbat upon herself once she recites the blessing upon the candles. [7] As such, all melacha, including striking a match and lighting the candles, must be completed before the blessing is recited. Nevertheless, there is no conflict with the rule that a blessing must be recited prior to performing the mitzva, either. This is because according to Ashkenazi custom, lighting the candles is only the first of two components to the mitzva of the Shabbat candles. The second component of the mitzva is the requirement to derive enjoyment and benefit from the candles. It is for this reason that Ashkenazi women cover their eyes immediately after lighting the candles. Doing so ensures that they don’t derive any benefit from the candles until after the blessing has been recited.[8] In this way, the blessing recited over the candles is still considered to have been recited before the mitzva has been completed. Only after the blessing is recited does the woman uncover her eyes in order to enjoy the light and thereby complete the mitzva.[9]

An Ashkenazi woman who accidentally recited the blessing before lighting the candles may proceed with the lighting nonetheless.[10] Similarly, a woman who forgot to recite the blessing when lighting the candles may do so whenever she remembers as long as the candles are still burning.[11] Many women observe the ancient custom to recite the blessing upon the Shabbat candles silently.[12] This custom originated out of a concern that those who might hear the blessing would be forced to accept Shabbat as a result of responding "amen" to the blessing.[13] Nevertheless, the halacha is not in accordance with this view and one should be sure to respond "amen" to the blessing over the Shabbat candles should one hear it recited.[14] One will not be subject to any of the Shabbat restrictions as a result of doing so.

It is especially auspicious for women to engage in personal prayer after lighting the Shabbat candles, especially on behalf of their children.[15] There are also those with the custom to recite the story of Chana[16] after lighting the Shabbat candles.[17] We are taught that lighting the Shabbat candles with olive oil is a segula for long life.[18]

[1] OC 263:5.

[2] Yabia Omer 9:24

[3] OC 263:5.

[4] Shaarei Halacha U'minhag, 1:137; Sdei Chemed, Berachot 3:4; Piskei Teshuvot 263:9; Rivevot Ephraim 2:115:86; Teshuvot Rabbi Akiva Eiger 7.

[5] OC 263:10. But see Kaf Hachaim, OC 263:22.

[6] Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 5:1; Yabia Omer 9:241,10:21.

[7] Rema, OC 263:10.

[8] Rema, OC 263:5.

[9] This is similar to the netilat yadayim performed before meals in which the blessing is recited after one has washed one's hands but before one dries them. See OC 158:11.

[10] Shulchan Shlomo 263:10:2. For much more on this issue see: Torat Chaim V'chessed, Hadlakat Neirot 1.

[11] Magen Avraham 263:11; Yeshuot Yaakov 263:2.

[12] Sefer Hayashar 48:6.

[13] Nitei Gavriel, Yom Tov II 16:11.

[14] Teshuvot V'hanhagot 4:59.

[15] Rabbeinu Bechaye to Shemot 19:3.

[16] Shmuel 1:10:2.

[17] Elya Rabba 263:1.

[18] Shabbat 24b; Sefer Chassidim 272; Elya Rabba 264:10. See also Tosfot, Shabbat 23a s.v. "m'reish".