Q. May I bake and cook while the Neiros Chanukah are burning?
A. Women have a custom not to do melacha (physical labor; see below) while the Chanukah lights are burning (Mechaber O.C. 670:1). While there are places where the men also have this minhag (Mishna Berura 670:3) it is mainly practiced by women. The reason for this is that women in particular benefited from the defeat of the enemy since they were released from an evil decree which specifically targeted women (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:3). In addition, the miracle of Chanukah came through the hands of Yehudis, the daughter of Yochanan the Kohen Gadol, who killed the evil Greek governor and caused his troops to panic and flee (Rama 670:2 and MB ibid).
Many poskim say that only work such as sewing and laundry may not be done but food preparation such as baking and cooking are permitted. Rav Belsky zt”l was of the opinion that the minhag includes work related to food preparation as well (Piskei Halacha, Vol. 1, p. 119). This opinion is shared by Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita (Shiurei Halacha Minhagei Chanukah p. 3 quoting Sefer Yimei Chanukah p. 39). His reasoning is that since this minhag is only practiced for the half hour the Chanukah lights are required to burn, it would only be apparent if there was a cessation of all physical labor during that short time period. Since we are only discussing a minhag, one who has no definite custom can rely on those who are lenient (Shiurei Halacha Minhagei Chanukah p.4).
This column comes from OU Kosher’s Halacha Yomis dedicated in memory of Rav Chaim Yisroel ben Reb Dov HaLevy Belsky, zt’l, Senior OU Kosher Halachic Consultant (1987-2016). Subscribers can also ask their own questions on Kashrus issues and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. These questions and their answers may be selected to become one of the Q and A’s on OU Kosher Halacha Yomis.