Is Chanukah A Good Time for Family Kiruv?

Scenario 1
Aunt Marcia, who lives in a town with a dwindling Jewish population informs you that she has proudly placed her electric Chanukah menorah in the front window. She has also made it clear that a friend of her said that you can use the electric menorah instead of candles.
Do you:
1) Politely tell her that she should also light candles
2) Give her words of encouragement for her public display of the menorah
3) Say something like “that’s nice”

Scenario 2
It’s the annual Chanukah party with you non-observant relatives. Although you’ve said some great Divrei Torah at these occasions in the past, your spouse has informed you that most of the guests eyes glaze over when you speak
1) Do you give another D’var Torah, reasoning that if not now, when
2) Just enjoy being with the family and celebrating Chanukah together and skip the D’var Torah this year

34 comments on “Is Chanukah A Good Time for Family Kiruv?

  1. Incandescent lights are considered aish for Shabbos Candles and Havdalah and you can say a brocha if you can see the filament in those cases according to many poskim.

    Chanukah light has a different law (ie it’s not just an aish requirement) and many poskim say that electric lights can not be used. Even those who say they can be used in specific situations, say that you should not recite a brocha.

    If you have found a written source that says that you can recite a brocha for an electric menorah, I would be very interested.

  2. It is quite clear l’halacha that an incandescent light is considered aish – there is burning, glowing metal which is considered aish in the gemara.

    R’ Chaim Ozer was quite right, and therefore the electric menorah is indeed a fulfillment of the mitzvah. It may not LOOK the way you want it to, but that doesn’t make it any less kosher.

    This was researched thoroughly in my family (with rabbinic consultation) as I have a disabled sibling who liked to play with candles. Though we never did it, we were interested in using electric lights for shabbat and chanuka candles to avoid the fire hazard.

  3. Mark-RHS once mentioned that when he was learning he and a chavrusa decided that they would learn thru a sugya from the Talmud and the Rishonim thru the Acharonim and then test themselves as to whether their understanding was in accordance with RMF’s understanding. When RHS and his chavrusa had gone thru all of what they thought was the huge amount of sources, they reached their conclusion and then opened the relevant teshuvah and saw that RMF had paskened from one sugya that they thought was not the most critical source. As RHS put it, it takes a long, long time before one is capable of rendering psak on any issue.

  4. With so many genuine poskim easily accessible either directly or through one’s own rav, it makes no sense at all for people like ourselves to try to wing it and derive new halachot for practical use by extrapolation from published responsa or stories.

    This is different from using a book (like Rav Neuwirth’s Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata, for example) to directly apply previous halachic decisions without venturing into new territory.

  5. I checked with Rabbi Welcher who said that you have to be extremely well versed in halacha to pasken from a teshuva, especially Rav Moshe’s teshuvas.

    Rav Moshe’s psak is unique in that he often bases it on his understanding of the sugya and does not rely as much on previous achronim as other modern day poskim.

  6. I am assuming that the question about how to respond if needed to Aunt Marcia’s proclamation is via telephone? If Aunt Marcia were present, a genuine, warm smile might do wonders!

    Dvar Torahs can be presented in so many ways and so brief that can be so enjoyable and understandable to almost any crowd. If someone has bigger kids or teens, they can present things that almost anyone can tolerate and appreciate. Brief musical performances by the kids, stories, so many ways to share Torah learning and Chanukah meaning. In our home, I always find a way to do this at most gatherings, does take some creative forethought though. My goals are multi-faceted: my own children should see that we share our beautiful heritage confidently, and they can assist in this regard; our guests should gain some inspiration in a way that they can understand; I(I/we) should have the right to what I find meaningful spiritually at holidays and family events, as well as providing others what they need. Can be a win-win situation.

  7. Of course a posek can pasken from a teshuva or a Maaseh Rav, but we (meaning you and me) shouldn’t pasken from a Teshuva. I’ll try to get you more details, but until then please refrain from using an electric menorah to fulfill the mitzvah ;-)

  8. Mark-I think that since BTs not infrequently have some degree of difficulty in maintaining such relationships, that in such a case, a Dvar Torah may very well be inappropriate. When a BT and family act in a manner at a neutral setting where they are not the focus and subject of discussion, one can argue very well that this an act of Kiddush HaShem Brabim that will lead others to admire the Torah way of life.

    Here is a good example in point. Last Sunday, we went to a pre Channukah party catered with a 100% acceptable hashgacha that was thrown by some relatives. One of my cousins, who knows very little about Judaism at all, simply asked me what was the Torah, as opposed to the Bible- a question that comes up not infrequently this time of the year. I explained to him very succintly what Chamishah Chumshei Torah and Nach were as well as the TSBP. He liked the answer and told me that it was very helpful. I think that that conversation was far more helpful than engaging in a Dvar Torah with people who may have hostile or ignorant POVs.

    As far as the Maaseh Shehayah with R Chaim Ozer ZTL, I have heard that RCO viewed an electric menorah as not constituting the required kind of candle, which is quite different than a Shabbos candle. FWIW, there are scores of cases within the Talmud, Rishonim and Poskim as well as countless seforim full of examples whereby we do in fact Paskin from a Maaseh Rav. A teshuvah may have been written for one and only one case, but the facts are that Teshuvos are cited all the time as evidence of a Gadol’s Psak on a particular issue, not just the case presented to the Gadol.

  9. have you ever read the teshuva? I have. It wasn’t written for a specific situation.

    and honestly, rav moshe and rav soloveichic are the only two poskim I really care about in the past 100 years.

  10. I’m not exactly how Rav Moshe’s teshuva on Cholev Yisroel proves your point given the wide disparity of Rabbinic Rulings after the teshuva, which was in fact written for a specific situation.

    Have a Freilichen Chanukah!

  11. nah, most teshuvot state the specific general rule that goes in to the question, and are not usualy restricted to specific cases.

    a case in point would be rav moshe’s teshuva on cholov yisroel where he litteraly states that the klal is in america, under any circumstances (now it is slightly different, some practices done with cows mean you need a hechsher) something labled as cows milk is kosher, for anyone for any reason.

    he states that a baal nefesh will refrain anyway.

    and this, in my experience, is the rule for halachic teshuvot.

  12. Yoni

    You’re right that a Teshuva gives a basis for a qualified Rav to make a decision on similar questions. But since a Teshuva is applied to a specific case, we (lay people) don’t pasken from it. I’m pretty sure that rule is generally accepted, but ask your local Poseik next time you see him.

  13. “I remember one of my Rebbeim saying in regards to Rav Moshe’s teshuvas, that we don’t pasken from a teshuva. Kal V’Chomer that we don’t pasken from an anecdote.”

    halachicaly this isn’t correct at all, infact I’m surprised he could say such a thing. In the gemorah, sukkos around daf 5 or so it states clearly and unmistakably that all maises of a rav are a psak halacha, and it therefore proceeds to try and prove a point on the mishna using just that, a maisa about a queen who kept halacha, and the rabbanim who visited her.

    Likewise we of course pasken from teshuvot, because otherwise we would have nothing, most of the material in the shulchan aruch is hopelessly out of date (becuase all are cases from the talmud) and the way we find out what is current halacha is by asking a shaila, which then applies the halacha from the situation in the shulchan aruch to the situations in modern times (which is called a teshuva). To say anyting else is gross apologetics.

    teshuvot are not about writting heterim. They’re about giving you clear practical halacha for our everyday lives.

    oh, and btw, a devar torah at any occasion is excellent, you just have to know what to talk about, and what to push.

    Pushing the A tikkun olam kind of thing works great, like encouraging tzaddakah, stuff like that. The non-frum jews are crazy about tikkun olam. Likewise underscoring the importance of being good to your fellow with a midrash or mikra, goes for miles with them.

    Take for instance the maisa about avraham concerning “all your wife shall say to you, thou shalt do.”

    Quote that in the context of a semi-serious joke and the whole crowd will burst out it laughter. (being that the strong jewish mother is a bigtime stereo type that will bring plenty of wry smiles.)

    you just have to know what to say, and you have to know to make it a light kind of thing, nothing real difficult.

  14. Answers:

    S1: 1 and 2 both
    S2: 1, but try to make it interesting and relevent to them (might mean going to beginners level) If you have children, have them deliver one as well, the “aw that is so cute” factor often works.

  15. produced by the WZO I was pleasantly surprised at how even handed it was.

    I’m screening it tonight @ 8 PM @ the Young Israel of Sunnyside Queens

  16. So re: the original post:

    Scenario 1 I would definately give her all the encouragement possible. This doesn’t sound like a need to get into halachic issues. I suspect that what she’s doing is already a relatively big deal.

    Scenario 2 is a tough one. My wife regularly kicks me under the table. Knowing that my wife is smarter than me in such matters, and knowing that I think that some Torah is always appropriate; I would defer to her. My routine is to ask her bluntly “are you saying I shouldn’t say anything, or I should make it really short?”

    Maybe setting up the TV/DVD to show Lights or The Eighth Day would be good. Dont’ know. Maybe just make it a real nice celebration of a mitzvah, without an in-your-face d’var Torah.

    In the haftorah for Shabbat Hanukah, the navi sees the satan standing at the right of the Kohen Gadol. The Hafetz Haim explains left is usually the side of confrontation and judgement. So the Hafetz Haim says that when the yetzer hara/satan can’t get us to sin directly, he gets us to do so by doing a mitzvah (at the wrong time, wrong manner, etc.) Maybe that applies to this question?

    Grasping for much may lead to no success at all.

  17. All three of the films listed in the link for “The Eighth Day” are Yehuda Wertzel (sp?) films. He was a professor of mine in Yerushalayim (Media in Jewish Education, or some such), and his trigger films are excellent. He was also involved in the making of “Lights” back then, which is a great animated Hanukah film for any age.

  18. Chaim G

    I remember one of my Rebbeim saying in regards to Rav Moshe’s teshuvas, that we don’t pasken from a teshuva. Kal V’Chomer that we don’t pasken from an anecdote.

    I just want to point out that there is a difference between using electric for Shabbos Lights and Chanukah. For Shabbos lights, the normative halacha is that if you can see the filament of the bulb, you can make a brocha.

    For Chanukah, it is doubtful whether you fulfill the mitzvah and you definitely shouldn’t say a brocha.

    Havdalah is a question in it’s own right.

  19. Mark-

    I recall an anecdote about Rav Chaim Ozer z”l trying to convince skeptical Vilna Maskilim that turning on electric lights constituted chilul Shabbos by either doing havdala or kindling a Chanukiya using electric lightbulbs.

    that’s why I asked the question.

  20. @ the JHC we once did a “Heritage Films” series. I discovered a gem of a “trigger film” that is only 24 minutes long and could be used to trigger a thoughtful discussion about topics such as, Jewish identity, rationality vs. faith and the natural and the miraculous. For anyone who can get their hands on a copy I would highly recommend it for parties with non-observant relatives over a straightforward d’var Torah. It is called “The Eighth Day” and is available here:

    http://www.jewishvideo.com/cgi-local/shop.pl/page=TRAD_5.HTM/SID=1196796018.1754/

    For anyone interested I could email a word file of a questionnaire to help moderate the discussion about this film.

  21. With Aunt Marcia, I would probably do a combination of #1 and #2.

    In the family party situation, if I knew that my divrei torah were not being well received, then I would stop. I like Ora’s idea of saying something short and sweet.

  22. Chaim G,

    When I pose a question to my Rabbi Welcher like you did above (according to all opinions?) he points out that you can almost always find an opinion if you look hard enough, but that is not how we determine normative Jewish Law.

    So if you look on the Internet you will find a few Shomer Shabbos Jews who opine that you can light an Electric Menorah. I haven’t found one who says you can make a brocha, but if you look hard enough, I’m sure you could even find that.

  23. Are electrics definitely posul acc. to all opinions or are they just a lack of “hidur”?

  24. This Shabbos (in the middle of Hanukkah) we’ll be having my wife’s whole family visiting, so I was joking with my wife that between all the Shabbos candles and menorahs that will be lit, and all the little kids who will be running about, we need to keep the fire extinguisher handy. (G-d forbid…)

    Our joke, the year we had extended (frum) family together for a Shalom Zachor on Chanukah, was that with all the candles burning, we wouldn’t need the heat on :) – in Boston in mid-December, so definitely only a joke, but the kids like to light their own, so there were easily 5 (6?) menorahs plus 3 women lighting Shabbos candles.

  25. Mark,

    As I mentioned “If I still felt that someone would gain from a dvar torah, I might try something short or use a game or something fun as a means of sharing some torah.”

  26. Bob–
    If your parents or others are interested in lighting a candle or oil menorah, maybe the facility could set aside a common space where everyone can light? I know that’s what they do in hotels in Israel, and I believe it’s also done in many of the assisted living homes in our area. That way the menorahs can easily be supervised until they burn out.

  27. Here’s another wrinkle. My parents now live in a Jewish assisted living facility (complete with small shul and Star-K supervised dining room) that limits the elderly residents to using electric menorahs in their apartments because of possible fire hazards from the lit kind.

    Also a reminder from last year: Not all prepackaged oil/wick or hardened-oil/wick modules are necessarily safe to use at home. Unfortunately, the package only contains the number of units needed, so how does a user run a safety test in advance?

  28. Scenario 1:
    I would definitely go with #2, although since Aunt Marcia is presumably older + has probably been keeping Chanukah for longer than I’ve been alive, I’d have to be careful not to sound patronizing. As for the electric menorah, I’d probably say something just so I didn’t appear to be agreeing (through silence) that it’s kosher. Probably something like (cheerfully) “Oh really? I hadn’t heard of that.” Of course, I’m good at playing (?) stupid, but this wouldn’t work for everyone.

    Also, if I thought she wouldn’t be offended, I would say something along the lines of “You know, we actually have an extra oil-burning menorah here, so if you ever want to use that as well I can drop it off/send it over.” If she agreed, I would buy her a menorah.

    Scenario 2:
    It depends on many things. How many people are at the gathering, where is it, does anyone else get up and speak, is anyone else there traditional/religious, etc. If it was a party with 35 people and nobody else planned to speak, I wouldn’t give a dvar Torah. If it was 15 people and other people were giving toasts, I would give a dvar Torah. If the dvar Torah’s been boring people it clearly needs to be revised. IMO if most people aren’t observant a short story or inspirational message is more appropriate than a five-minute talk. Anything involving a family member (ex. Chanukah story involving deceased grandparent) is probably best. Also, I wouldn’t try to gently push Jewish observance in my dvar Torah, but rather to make the listeners feel good about whatever it is they’re already doing.

  29. “keep the fire extinguisher handy”

    This is not a joke. In my neighborhood a family lit Chanukah candles and Shabat candles, left them burning when they went to shul. When they got home from shul they found that their house was in the process of being burned completely to the ground. Why don’t shuls have a late Friday night service on Shabat Chanukah so that families can watch the candles burn out completely?

  30. A big difference between the two questions is that in the dvar torah question, someone already expressed that your actions don’t seem to be productive. In fact, they may be counterproductive (especially if a family member goes home and groans to another about what you had to say). If that were me, I would likely skip the more formal dvar torah. If I still felt that someone would gain from a dvar torah, I might try something short or use a game or something fun as a means of sharing some torah. My answer would also depend upon whether the gathering was at my home or in someone else’s home.

  31. I really do have an Aunt Marcia who lives in a town with a very small Jewish population. She gave us a beautiful Lenox menorah for our wedding. She often asks if we used it this particular year for Hanukkah. We have told her that it’s so beautiful, we don’t want to have the wax dripping all over it, so it’s for display, not for use. (plus with the kids around, we don’t want it to shatter should it fall) We didn’t mention the fact that the candles are all different levels, and are also not all in a row, so it’s not really a “kosher” menorah.

    As for if she used an electric menorah (and knowing her, I wouldn’t be surprised if she does), I would probably point out the fun and beauty of using candles as well. I love watching the candles burn, the way the flames flicker, and trying to figure out which candle will last longest. This Shabbos (in the middle of Hanukkah) we’ll be having my wife’s whole family visiting, so I was joking with my wife that between all the Shabbos candles and menorahs that will be lit, and all the little kids who will be running about, we need to keep the fire extinguisher handy. (G-d forbid…)

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