Where to Light the Chanukah Menorah
Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah
Question: There seem to be many variations in terms of where to light one’s Chanukah lights, with some people lighting in their window, some in their doorway, and some at the entrance to their yard. How does one determine where to light?
Discussion: Indeed, this is one of the most frequently asked questions – and is subject to much debate spanning many generations down to our time. We will present the basic rules that govern most practical scenarios, and then address their applications in practice. The principle behind these rules is that the basic goal of the Chanukah lights is to achieve pirsumei nissa – publicizing the miracle – ideally to the public, and in some cases just to one’s household members.
The basic rules are:
Rule #1: The ideal is for one to light at the entrance of one’s property where it opens out to the public street.
Rule #2: One who lives on an upper floor with no opening out to the public street, lights in a window facing the public street.
Rule #3: If this is not possible (defined by the Gemara, Shabbos 21b, as “in times of danger”), one simply places the Chanukah lights inside the house, on the table.
Rule #4: The Chanukah lights must not be placed higher than twenty amos from the ground.
Let us approach this in practice.
Rule #1: The ideal is for one to light at the entrance of one’s property, where it opens out to the public street.1
Question: How would this work in the case of a house that opens into a yard, which in turn opens into the street?
Discussion: The essential halachah, as taught by Shulchan Aruch (671:5), is that in a case of a home or homes that open into a courtyard, which in turn opens into a street, one lights at the entrance to the yard where it opens to the street. Theoretically, this means that in the case of a home that opens into a garden, one lights at the entrance to the garden, rather than at the entrance to the house. Indeed, this is the opinion of most Poskim.2 However, some note that the courtyard of the times of Chazal was used for many domestic uses, such as laundry, cooking and many other household purposes. These Poskim thus argue that the teaching that one lights at the entrance to the courtyard, refers specifically to a courtyard that is indeed used as an integral part of the house.3 But it does not apply to our gardens or the like, which are not a true part of one’s living area – the Chanukah lights must always be adjacent to one’s actual living area. According to this approach, one does not fulfill the obligation by lighting at the entrance to the garden – it is the same as lighting in some other remote location that is not associated with one’s home.4 Rather, if the doorway of the house is visible from the street, one lights in the doorway. If the doorway is not visible from the street, one lights in a window facing the street.
According to this approach, in any case where one’s actual home does not open directly out to the street, but to some outdoor area (such as an enclosed yard) or a commonly owned area (such as a lobby, stairwell, etc.), then if the entrance to one’s actual house or apartment is visible from the street, one lights in the doorway. Otherwise, one lights in a window facing the street.5
This dispute bears on more common scenarios, as we will discuss.
Question: Where should a person living in an apartment building light?
Discussion: The essential halachah is that even in a case where a number of homes open to a single courtyard, which in turn opens to the street, one lights at the entrance to the commonly owned courtyard, rather than at the entrance to his private home within the courtyard. According to the approach that our yards have the same status as those of the time of Chazal, the halachah regarding a number of homes that open into a courtyard, would similarly apply in the case of a number of apartments that open into a jointly owned stairwell, hallway, or lobby, which ultimately opens out to the street: One lights where the commonly owned area opens out to the street, namely at the entrance to the building.6
However, according to the opinion that our yards are dissimilar to the yards spoken of by Chazal (since they are not used for household purposes), such areas as stairwells, lobbies, and the like would not either be appropriate places for lighting, since they are not either a part of one’s household use. Lighting at the entrance to one’s apartment, which leads out to the stairwell or lobby, is not either proper, because the pirsumei nissa is fulfilled by lighting in a place that is visible to the public, and the stairwell or lobby is not considered a public area. Rather, in this case, one must resort to the second principle mentioned above, that when one has no entrance to the public street, one lights in a window facing the public street.7
Question: If one lives on a high floor which is well above 20 amos from street level, where should he light?
Discussion: According to the approach that we light at the entrance to our yards (or lobbies) as in the times of Chazal, one would light at the entrance to the building, etc. just as in the previous cases of apartment buildings.
According to the approach that nowadays we do not light in such areas as yards, lobbies, etc., but rather in a window facing the street, this case will present a problem, as lighting in the window will leave the Chanukah lights above the maximum permitted height. Therefore, in this case, since there is no valid way to light in a way that will achieve pirsumei nissa to the public, one may simply light indoors, and this suffices.8
Yet, some Poskim hold that one should still light in the window, to achieve albeit minimal pirsumei nissa to the public.9 Others maintain that one should rather light in the doorway, opposite the mezuzah, so as to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting in a doorway opposite a mezuzah.10
Note: even if one has a window that faces other buildings of equal height, such that the window is within view of many nearby apartments of equal height, most Poskim maintain that lighting in the window is still not considered as lighting within twenty amos.11 This is because the requirement of pirsumei nissa must be fulfilled by publicizing the miracle to the public domain, and not by publicizing it to many private domains.
Question: Why do many people, especially in Chutz La’aretz, light indoors?
Discussion: The Gemara (Shabbos 21b) teaches that if it is not possible to light outside (defined by the Gemara as “in times of danger”), one may light inside the house, on the table (Rule #3 cited above). Throughout the generations, in many places, it was indeed dangerous to light outdoors, and so it became customary to light indoors.12 Although today, it is generally not dangerous, it is still often practically difficult to light outdoors in Chutz La’aretz, both because Chanukah time can be very wintry and stormy,13 and also because of concern of thieves and vandals.14 Some defend the custom further, stating that since in earlier times it was indeed necessary to light indoors, it has become an accepted practice and we continue to do so even if it is now possible to light outdoors.15
Question: If one lights in the doorway, where in the doorway should he light?
Discussion: One should light on the left side of the doorway, opposite the mezuzah which is on the right. The reason for this is so that one who enters the house will be surrounded by mitzvos. The menorah should either be placed in the doorway itself, or within a tefach (hand’s breadth) of the doorway.16
Question: If someone else has already lit Chanukah lights on the left side of the doorway, is it better to now light on the right?
Discussion: The correct place to light is still on the left side of the doorway, even if there is already a different menorah there.17 Yet, if there is no room on the left side, one may light on the right side.18
1 If the entrance to one’s property does not face the street, but a window does, one should light in the window (Orchos Rabbeinu, III:24; Az Nidberu V:39).
2 Brisker Rav (cited in Shevus Yitzchak, V, p. 6); R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Chanukah, 14:4); R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (cited in Shevus Yitzchak, V, 1:2); Ohr LeTziyon IV, 42:4; Moadim Uzemanim II:143.
3 This is the opinion of Chazon Ish; see Dinim Vehanhagos, Chanukah 21:1; Shevus Yitzchak V, 1:2; Orchos Rabbeinu III, Chanukah, 8-9, 23-24, 26-28.
4 R’ Chaim Kanievsky (Doleh Umashkeh page 232). Hilchos Chag BeChag (Chanukah, 5, footnote 3) and Az Nidberu (V:39) suggest the following added rationale: Chazon Ish reasons that the instruction to light at the entrance to the courtyard (rather than a the entrance to the home) was not intended to negate providing pirsumei nissa to the residents of the home; the intent is rather to provide it to both those in the home and those in the street. Now, if a yard is used for domestic living purposes, lighting there indeed provides pirsumei nissa to both the household members (as the lighting is indeed adjacent to their living space) and the public. However, if the yard is not used for domestic living purposes, lighting outside at the entrance to the yard does not provide pirsumei nissa to the household members. Such a case, reasons the Chazon Ish, is not included in the teaching to light at the entrance to the courtyard.
5 If one has neither a window or a doorway facing the street, one lights in the doorway (Orchos Rabbeinu III:27). See, further, Sha’ar Hatziyun 671, note 42.
6 Halichos Shlomo 14:6; Shevus Yitzchak, Chanukah, Chapter 9, p. 34. Cf. Hilchos Chag BeChag, Chanukah, Chapter 5, footnote 4.
7 See Teshuvos Vehanhagos II:342.
8 This is an example of Rule #3 cited above. Since it is impossible to light in a way that will provide pirsumei nissa to the public, this case is deemed similar to the “dangerous times” described in the Gemara. In such cases, the object of the pirsumei nissa changes from the public to the members of the household.
9 R’ Moshe Feinstein (Shmaitsa D’Moshe 671:4); R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo 14:5).
10 Chayei Adam 154:16; Sha’ar Hatziyun 671:7 note 42; Teshuvos Vehanhagos II, 342:12; Orchos Rabbeinu III:26.
11 Orchos Rabeinu, III:26; R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Chanukah, 14:22); Chut Shani, Chanukah, 19:3; Teshuvos Vehanhagos II, 342:12. Cf. Shevet Halevi IV:65; Even Yisrael, Hilchos Chanukah.
12 Note that in many cases, the technical set up is such that one has no choice but to light inside, e.g., if the door to one’s home is at the side of the house and does not face the street, while one has a window at the front of the house facing the street (see footnote 1). In these cases, Chutz La’aretz is no different than Eretz Yisrael. However, we are addressing the common scenario in Chutz La’aretz where it is technically possible to light outside, yet it is still not done.
13 Aruch Hashulchan 671:24.
14 See Darkei Moshe 671:9.
15 Ba’al Ha’ittur, Aseres Hadibros, Chanukah 114. Note: In some communities, especially in Chassidic circles, it is customary to light indoors even in Eretz Yisrael today. For an explanation of this custom, see Minchas Yitzchak VI:66; see also Piskei Teshuvos, 671:3, with footnote 11.
16 Shulchan Aruch 671:7 with Mishnah Berurah note 33.
17 R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Chanukah, 14:3); R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (Ashrei Ha’Ish, Orach Chaim III, 35:15).
18 Mishnah Berurah ibid.