Shabbat candles

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A Jewish woman reciting the blessing over Shabbat candles while covering her eyes (Ma'ale Adumim, 2011)
Shabbat candles
Lighting the Sabbath lamp (1657)

Shabbat candles (Hebrew: נרות שבת) are candles lit on Friday evening before sunset to usher in the Jewish Sabbath.[1] Lighting Shabbat candles is a rabbinically mandated law.[2] Candle-lighting is traditionally done by the woman of the household but, in the absence of a woman, it is done by a man. After lighting the candles, the lighter covers their eyes and recites a blessing.[3]

In Yiddish, lighting the candles is known as licht bentschen ("light-blessing") or licht tsinden ("light-kindling").

History[edit]

1723 illustration of a Shabbat lamp

The practice of lighting an oil lamp before Shabbat is first recorded in the second chapter of m. Shabbat. The purpose of lighting of Shabbat candles is to dignify the Sabbath; before the advent of electric lighting, when the alternative was to eat in the dark, it was necessary to light lamps to create an appropriate environment.[4]

The blessing is first attested in a fragment in the St. Petersburg national library (Antonin B, 122, 2) dated to the 2nd century CE; it also appears in a plethora of Gaonic material, including the Seder of Amram Gaon, the responsa of Natronai Gaon, the responsa of Sherira Gaon, and others. Every source quotes it with identical language, exactly correspondent to the modern liturgy. Rashi's granddaughter, Hannah, describes her mother lighting candles and reciting the blessing.[5]

Ritual[edit]

Shard from a stand for a Shabbat oil lamp etched with the word שבת (Shabbat) in Aramaic script, c. 4th century, from the Horbat 'Uza excavations east of Acre

Many light two candles, following the custom of one candle for each commandment, (1) to remember; and (2) to observe Shabbat. Some single women light only one candle and when they get married, start lighting two. In some families, two candles are lit plus an additional candle is lit for each child.[6][7]

Time[edit]

The candles must be lit before the official starting time of Shabbat, which varies from place to place, but is generally 18 or 20 minutes before sunset. In some places the customary time is earlier: 30 minutes before sunset in Haifa and 40 minutes in Jerusalem, perhaps because the mountains in those cities obstructed the horizon and once made it difficult to know if sunset had arrived.

Blessing[edit]

Hebrew Transliteration English
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל שַׁבָּת. Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melekh ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat. Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the Shabbat lamp.

In the late 20th century, some apparently began to add the word kodesh ("holy") at the end of the blessing, making "... the lamp of holy Shabbat", a practice with no historical antecedent. At least two earlier sources include this version, the Givat Shaul of Saul Abdullah Joseph (Hong Kong, 1906)[8] and the Yafeh laLev of Rahamim Nissim Palacci (Turkey, 1906)[9] but authorities in the major Orthodox traditions were solicited for responsa only in the late 1960s, and each acknowledges it only as a new and alternative practice. Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Moshe Sternbuch endorsed the innovation[10] but most authorities, including Yitzhak Yosef, ruled that it is forbidden, though it does not nullify the blessing if already performed.[11] Almog Levi attributes this addition to misinformed baalot teshuva.[12] It has never been a widespread custom but its popularity, especially within Chabad, continues to grow.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Shabbat Candles, Feminine Light
  2. ^ Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 263:2
  3. ^ Jewish Virtual Library, Shabbat
  4. ^ "Rashi on Shabbat 25b:3:3". www.sefaria.org. Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  5. ^ When Chanukah Falls on the Sabbath Jews Double the Light Archived 2013-11-12 at archive.today
  6. ^ Westenholz, Joan Goodnick (2004). Let There Be Light: Oil Lamps from the Holy Land (PDF). Jerusalem: Bible Lands Museum. p. 17. ISBN 9789657027141.
  7. ^ "Archaeological Find Shines Light on Shabbat Innovation". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. July 26, 1996.
  8. ^ p. 251
  9. ^ p. 127
  10. ^ Igrot Qodesh of 5735 p. 208; Tshuvot v'Hanhagot 1:271
  11. ^ Yalkut Yosef 263:51
  12. ^ M'Torato shel Maran p. 80

Further reading[edit]

  • B.M. Lewin, The History of the Sabbath Candles, in Essays and Studies in Memory of Linda A. Miller, I. Davidson (ed), New York, 1938, pp.55-68.