It was taught in a baraita (Shabbat 21b): "The commandment to light is from the setting of the sun until the marketplace empties of people." This is half an hour after sunset (Rif, Rosh). Maimonides has written somewhat differently (4:5):
- The Hanukkah candles are not to be lit before sunset, but rather while it is setting, neither earlier nor later. If one did not light at sunset, whether unintentionally or intentionally, he may still light as long as the marketplace has not yet emptied of people. How long is this? About half an hour or more. After this he may no longer light. One must put enough oil in the lamp for it to burn until the marketplace empties of people.
These are his words.
From his language it is clear that if one lit after sunset, he need not use a quantity of oil sufficient for half an hour, rather only enough to last until the marketplace empties of people. The same thing is clear from the language of our teach the Beis Yosef in section 2, who wrote:
- If one didn't light while the sun set, whether unintentionally or intentionally, he may still light until the marketplace empties of people. This is about half an hour, when people still come and go, and the miracle will thus be publicized. Therefore one must use a sufficient quantity of oil for this period of time.
These are his words, following Maimonides (Magen Avraham has written the same in comment 2).
All of this is according to the opinion of Maimonides, that after the marketplace has emptied of people one does not light.
The Tur however ruled that if one has not yet lit "he may still do so all night, contrary to Maimonides"—these are his words. If so, one must always use a quantity of oil sufficient to burn for the appropriate period of time, which is why the Tur stated that amount [of half an hour] at the beginning of this chapter, in order to make clear that this same amount is always required.
Therefore nowadays as well, when we light at home, the same amount is required. And it is possible that even Maimonides would agree to this, since it is precisely his opinion that the lighting is meant to be seen by those in the public area. But after the marketplace has emptied of people it will not be seen by them, so why should oil be added for any later than this? Nowadays, however, when the lighting is meant to be seen by the members of the household, it makes sense to have them see it for half a hour. This is the accepted custom, and it should not be changed.
(It bears investigation why this was not discussed in the Shulchan Arukh; perhaps they considered it self-evident.)
Realize that Maimonides disagrees with the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch even regarding the basic time for lighting. For Maimonides wrote "as the sun sets", meaning as it starts to set. But the Tur and the Shulchan Arukh wrote "at the end of its setting", which means when the stars come out, as I explained in chapter 562.
The matter depends on a fundamental disagreement regarding the time of "sunset": Is it the beginning of the [sun's] setting or the end? It was explained earlier in chapter 261 that Maimonides holds it to be the beginning of the [sun's] setting, while the Tur and the Shulchan Arukh follow the opinion of Rabbenu Tam that it is the end of the setting, as I wrote there.
The general custom of people follows the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch, such that they recite the blessing of "the Hanukkah candle" after the evening prayer. But there are those who follow Maimonides, and they recite the blessing after the afternoon prayer at the beginning of twilight.
Even thought nowadays the lighting is in the home, whatever can be done according to the [original] decree of the Sages should be done. Also, even today when people light near the window, it is able to be noticed by those in the public area.
Tractate Soferim (20) seems to agree with Maimonides, as it states that the commandment to light begins when the sun sets: "But if people lit when it was [still] daytime they do not find it[s light] beneficial and do not recite a blessing over it, for the Sages said: A blessing is not recited until such time as the light would be beneficial." These are its words. It would then seem that after the beginning of the sun's setting they would find benefit in the light, thought this is obviously not an definite proof to the matter.
Our teacher the Beis Yosef writes in section one that "there is an opinion that allows one who is busy with his affairs to light from the time of Plag Mincha [1¼ halachic hours before sunset], providing that enough oil has been added to allow buring until the marketplace empties of people." Until here is the quote.
There seem to be a proof for this position: Do we not find that on Friday afternoon Hanukkah candles are lit well before sunset? Of course, one must be careful to put in more oil than on a regular day into at least one of the candles, so that there will be a candle lit until the time when the marketplace would empty.
On further reflection, the above proof suffers from a flaw in that it is the arrival of Shabbos that forces an earlier lighting, since it is impossible to act otherwise. For if this were not so [if the issue was instead purely based on the laws of lighting Hanukkah candles, ] how would one light at night after Shabbos according to Maimonides, who rules that one does not light after the time the marketplace empties? Rather, it is clear that on the night after Shabbos there is no other choice, [so lighting works around Shabbos' requirements], and the same would be true for Friday afternoon as well.
The Tur writes in the name of the Tosafos that we need not be particular with the timing as established by our rabbis, of blessed memory, as this only applied to lighting outside, where there is no longer a point after passersby have emptied from the streets. We, however, who light within the home are only doing so for the benefit of the household, and need only be concerned that we light at a time when the members of the household are awake, for if they are asleep the miracle is not publicized.
On this the Tur comments: "It appears that even we should be concerned with the decreed times since we do light by the entrance way, and there therefore is some publicity to those passing through the streets."
This was in the times of the "Tur". Now that we do actually light completely within the home we need not worry about the exact timing, as long as the members of the household are awake (Bach).
The Rema adds: "There are those who state that nowadays we do not need to be particular to light before the marketplace empties. Nevertheless it is a good practice to be careful about lighting in this time." Until here is the quote, and his intention is that the decree of the Rabbis should continue to be maintained. We do find that the majority of the population are careful to keep the Rabbis' enactment and light at the time they specified. There are even those who say that it is forbidden to learn Torah when this time arrives. If has not prayed the evening prayers (Maariv) yet he should light first and then pray (Magen Avraham, comment 5). This applies to those whose custom is to light after evening prayers. The preferred practice to light before evening prayers as per the words Maimonides that we previously mentioned.
It has already been explained that even during the Talmudic period one who did not light during the decreed time could light all night. So wrote the Tur. If so, nowadays all would agree that it would be permitted. Even so, some caution not to pronounce the blessing if the candles are lit after halachic midnight (Magen Avraham, comment 6, in the name of the RaShal). It does not appear that this caution is necessary, and as long as household members are awake one may recite the blessings. If, however, they are sleeping on should not recite the blessings (see there), since it does not remind any other person of the miracle, and publicity is required for at least one onlooker besides the one who lights.
As a result, if there is at least one man, woman, boy or girl who is of age to have understanding, blessings can be recited since there is publicity. Even if these people have already lit a Menorah for themselves they still serve for publicity's sake. Though this is so, the preferred practice is to light earlier in the night when all are gathered before having eaten, for that ensures the most publicity and commemoration for the miracle.
If the night has passed and one has not lit the Mitzvah is lost. There is no repayment by lighting during the day, for candle during the day is meaningless. Even if one were to light in a dark room there is no benefit, as the day time is not fit for lighting, and so this loss cannot be repaid.
If one had put much more oil in the lamp than was needed for a half hour he may extinguish the Menorah after this period of time. One may even use the Menorah's light for mundane purposes after the half hour, and it only retains its sacred Mitzvah status for the decreed half hour period.
There are those who dispute the above, and rule that extinguishing is permitted, but mundane use is forbidden (Magen Avraham, comment 4, in the name of the RaShal), for people will not be able to distinguish that he is engaging in mundane use after the half period period. In addition, there is even one who writes that there is a custom not to extinguish as well (there, in the Bach's name). Certainly, if one's custom is such he should not change change, however in our community we do have the custom to extinguish.
One should prepare handsome and proper wicks, and ensure that they are not too long. If candles are used instead of oil they should be long, for that appears more beautiful. It is also meritorious that the candlesticks (candelabra or Menorah ) used should be of beautiful design as well.