By Yosef Brecher
What are the various minhagim as to how many candles a woman should light for the mitzvah of hadlokas nairos?
The Shulchan Aruch (OC 263:1) writes that the basic obligation is to light one candle. The Shulchan Aruch adds that some are careful to light two candles: one representing zachor (Shemos 20:8, “zachor es yom hashabbos lekadsho“), and one representing shamor (Devarim 5:12, “shamor es yom hashabbos lekadsho…”). The Bach explains that the minhag to light two candles is actually based on a midrash. The midrash (Shachor Tov 92) points out that many aspects of Shabbos are paired: the korban on Shabbos consists of two kevasim; the mitzvah of Shabbos is presented with the double language of zachor and shamor; there is a mitzvah of eating double bread (i.e., lechem mishna). It is for this reason that we are nohaig to also perform the mitzvah of hadlokas nairos with pairs. Despite this minhag, the Mishna Berura (OC 263:1 s.k. 3) writes that if one is in a tight financial situation, then it is preferable for him to light one high-quality candle rather than two candles of lesser quality. Other minhagim brought by the poskim include lighting either three or four candles (Rama), seven candles, representing the days of the week (Rama), or ten candles, representing the Aseres Hadibros (Magen Avrohom).
The Rama also rules that a woman who forgets to light candles one week should add one candle to her hadlokas nairos every week for the rest of her life. The Mishna Berura (ibid. s.k. 7) explains that this halacha only applies to a woman whose failure to light was the result of her own negligence. In such a case, we obligate her to start lighting an additional candle as a way to motivate her to be more careful in the future. If a woman did not lit candles because of an onais, i.e., a situation beyond her control, then she does not need to light an additional candle. The Mishna Berura (ibid.) also writes that a poor woman who forgets to light candles one week does not actually need to add an additional candle the next week. Rather, she can satisfy this halacha by using a longer candle (or more oil) than she has used in the past.
Today, there is also a common minhag for a woman to add a candle for every additional child that is born (Sefer Likutai Mahariach). The Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchoso cites a possible explanation for this practice. In earlier times, a woman who had given birth was in an extremely weakened state and would often miss lighting Shabbos candles. This would in turn require her to light an additional candle every week from that point on (as we explained above). Eventually, the minhag became to add a candle for every new birth, regardless of whether the mother missed candle lighting or not. This explanation is problematic, however, because, as mentioned above, only a woman who misses lighting because of her own negligence must add an additional candle. Presumably, a woman who has just given birth and cannot light candles would not be considered negligent, but would rather be viewed as an onais (and therefore not someone who is obligated to light an extra candle).
Hadlokas nairos poses an interesting dilemma for a newlywed. Should she follow the minhag of her own family or that of her husband? In general, the halacha is that a woman follows the mihagim of her husband. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, OC chelek 1 siman 158) explains that this is because when a person moves to a new city he must take on the minhag hamakom i.e, the custom of that place. A woman who gets married is considered to be moving to the “place” of her husband and should therefore follow his minhagim. Rav Yitzchok Isaac Silver (Mishpatei Hashalom 4:4), however, writes that many are of the opinion that regarding mitzvohs which specifically pertain to women (such as hadlokas nairos) a different rule applies. When discussing these mitzvhohs, since primary responsibility for their fulfillment lies with women, a husband can be viewed – in this regard – as moving to his wife’s “place” and should therefore follow her minhag as to how to preform them. Moreover, there are poskim who feel that a minhag that does not pertain directly to halacha (such as whether a woman should light a new candle for every new birth) is certainly not included in the obligation to follow minhag hamakom. According to those poskim as well, for all such minhagim a woman is not bound by the practices of her husband’s family and may follow those of her own mother.
The purpose of this column is not to render halachic decisions, but rather to provide readers with a helpful overview of basic hilchos Shabbos. All specific halachic inquiries should be asked to a local halachic authority. General questions about the content being discussed, however, are welcome and can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2013 Yosef Brecher