This article contains clear and detailed answers, according to an Orthodox Jewish perspective, to a number of frequently asked questions about lighting Shabbat candles on Friday night, including who, when, where, and with what materials to light them. Written for the lay person, one can also learn such things as if single men should light Shabbat candles (traditionally lit by women) and what to do if fire safety is a concern. This source is part of the ongoing FridayLight campaign instituted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1974 to encourage Jewish women and girls to bring more light into the world by lighting Shabbat candles every Friday night.
Why do we light the candles 18 minutes before sunset?
A very important element in candle lighting is the timing. Shabbat candles are intended to be lit before sunset, which is the time at which Shabbat technically begins. In order to ensure that the candles are not lit after Shabbat has already begun, a “buffer” zone of 18 minutes was added. It is also considered an endearment of Shabbat by welcoming it a little earlier than the actual time it arrives.
How early on Friday can I light the Shabbat candles?
One shouldn’t light the candles too early on a Friday – not more than roughly 1 ¼ hours before sunset – since it needs to be apparent that one is lighting in honor of Shabbat.
Can I use any candle or does it have to be a certain kind?
Any kind of candle can be used, scented or unscented, colored or white, tea lights, votive candles, olive oil with floating wick….
Do I light right to left or left to right or does it matter?
Candles may be lit in either direction.
If I’m an unmarried man, should I light Shabbat candles or do I have to wait until I’m married for my wife to light them?
The honor of lighting Shabbat candles applies equally to men and women. Since the woman is considered the mainstay of her home, she is the one to whom the honor is first bestowed. Single men though who do not live with their parents, or whose mothers’ don’t light Shabbat candles in their homes, should ensure that there is at least one Shabbat candle adorning their home.
If I am divorced or widowed, how many candles do I light?
A woman who is divorced or widowed should continue lighting the same amount of candles as when she was married.
How long do I keep the candles lit. Can I blow them out before we go to bed?
The candles should stay lit until they extinguish on their own. They may not be blown out before bed, nor moved from their original location. If safety is a concern, be sure your candlesticks are steady and placed on a fire-retardant surface, such as in the tin tray of your FridayLight starter kit. Alternatively, if you can not find a suitably safe location, away from the cat or young children, some people place the candles in the kitchen sink to protect from any potential accidents.
Where in the house should I place the Shabbat candles?
The Shabbat candles should preferably be lit in a location where their light can be appreciated and used. This could be in the dining room where you will enjoy the Shabbat dinner, or in the living room where you are relaxing, wherever you find yourself most comfortable to linger by your candles and embrace the warmth and peace emanating from them.
What do I do if I’m at work or another location other than home during candle lighting time?
The ideal location to light Shabbat candles is in your home in order to bring the light and peace of Shabbat into your personal space and personal life. If this is not possible, the best alternative is to light the candles wherever you are, at the designated candle lighting time for your area. One is not meant to light candles after the designated time, as Shabbat has already begun.
What if my work or other location, such as a hospital room, dorm room, etc. do not permit open flames?
If you are in a location where you may not light a flame, the ideal option would be to seek an alternative location where you are able to light the Shabbat candles. If this is not possible, you can purchase an electric light and then turn on the light and recite the usual blessing. The electric light should remain lit until after Shabbat ends.
When does Shabbat end?
Shabbat ends at “nightfall” on Saturday night, which takes place about one hour after sunset, once three stars are visible in the sky. This is considered the time of “Havdalah,” in Hebrew, or “separation” in English. Havdalah times in your area can be found here by inputting your zip code and viewing the printable calendar.
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