Well it’s the last day of Chanukah and I have yet to share with you any insights on Chanukah and Ketuboth. I hope you are not all Chanukah-ed out.

I recently read a halakhic responsa, the Dvar Yehoshua by a former chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, who argued that it is actually wrong to light your Chanukah candles outside, as so many Israeli’s do. He explains the following: In our past historical times of danger, when lighting candles outside would provoke pogroms and other communal hazards, we didn’t simply dump the mitzvah and hide the candles indoors. As a community an alternate minhag was formed. The new minhag to light candles inside, near a door or near a window, then took on legal status. It is important to the halakhic system that an alternate setting fills the void, and that every individual family does not make their own decision, relocating the candles wherever they see fit.

He learns this from the opening sugya Ketuboth, which I have been beating to death on this blog. The Jews had a minhag to marry on Wednesday but in time of danger the minhag was changed to Tuesdays. First off, says the Dvar Yehoshua, the minhag was changed uniformly and a unified alternative date was chosen. Though interestingly, from the text itself it seems that the community uniformly changed the minhag, and the Rabbis gave it their stamp of approval afterward. Secondly, says the Dvar Yehoshua, according to the Braita on daf 3b, after the time of danger passed the minhag remained in place because the change of date had acquired a halakhic status of it’s own. Hence he claims we should continue to light our candles inside, even after the time of danger has passed.

Interesting, in the Dvar Yehoshua’s discussion he brings up the question asked by the Gemarah and many Rishonim, what was exactly the danger that caused the Jews to change wedding dates from Wednesday to Tuesday. One possibility is that it is a time of shmad- religious persecution- where the very purpose of the prowling governors who came to rape brides on their wedding night was to force the Jews to abandon mitzvoth- any and all. Therefore it is very significant, according to the Dvar Yehoshua, that the Jews picked a new date for weddings and stuck to it.

By choosing Tuesday, the Jewish community may save some women from rape (though not all because the governor might catch on to the new wedding day), while still not surrendering their right to have a religious system that they adhere to. Similarly with candle lighting, if we remove our candles from outside, without mandating a new location for the mitzvah, then the threats of our enemies are stopping us from keeping our religious rites. But if the system mandates a new location, then we –as a community, as a religion- are simply outsmarting the potential pogrom.

I think this is an important comment on change in religion. These cases show a dynamic relationship between, tradition, community action, and Rabbinic/halakhic sanction. On the one hand the Gemarah displays distaste for change, both because we don’t believe in being submissive to religious persecution and because we have a strong faith in the need to have a stable system of laws that accompany us through the generations. On the other hand if the system can’t change, then the religion is in danger of collapsing. How many people would marry off their daughter’s on Wednesday if they knew it meant she would be raped? How many people would put their Chanukah candles outside, if it was a sure fire invitation for pillage. If the Rabbis and the institutions want the Jewish people to be faithful to the halakhic system, then laws need to change based on community reality. The transformation can occur within the Batei Midrash and Batei Din, or else they surely will be overrun by the power of the community. If the Rabbis don’t sanction some of the changes, we are more likely to have disparate and dis-unified solutions to problems facing Jews worldwide.  

What about our Chanukah candle ritual, which in Israel is increasingly moving outside? I think this is a powerful communal response to the State of Israel. In the US where people proudly light their candles in their windows and have no worries (in most cities) of anti-Semitic attacks, they still light indoors. In Israel the invention of the glass box that sits outdoors and protects candles from blowing out in the wind, is a statement about a fundamental change in reality. Now that we have our own state, where the official National Holiday includes Chanukah it is time perhaps for one more communal change in halakha. We are not reverting to the “correct” halakha in times when there is no danger; this is an actual change. We are not simply no longer afraid of pogroms, but we are positively asserting that the reality of galut - of being a minority whose safety fluctuates with the whims of others - has changed, and so have we.

(Thanks to Rav Ariel Holland for bringing the Dvar Yehoshua to class at Matan)





Leave a Reply.