• Gabbai

Chanukah – The Saturday Night Dilemma

A question comes up each year at least once. At the conclusion of Shabbat, once it is dark outside and the stars have emerged we go through a peculiar routine. We raise a glass of wine, recite blessings over fragrant spices as well as the light of a candle and we conclude with the blessing marking the distinction of Shabbat from the week ahead. We do this each Saturday night, the ritual of Havdalah.

There is no other obligation on Saturday night other than washing the dishes – except for one Saturday (sometimes two). On Chanukah we perform the Mitzvah of the lights each night, including Saturday. We thus have two obligations on that Saturday night, we need to light both the Havdalah candle and the Chanukah candles. Which comes first?

It is a simple question. What takes precedence, the lights of Chanukah or the recitation of Havdalah?

Questions like this throw us off. Immediately we try and recall what we did last year, but we usually find our memory of last year to be foggy. Then we get defensive. What is the difference which one comes first? Just get on with things!

But it does make a difference, apparently. A debate has been raging over the past thousand year with major players in Torah scholarship backing both sides of the dispute. There are numerous bases for each position, using Talmudic principles and simple logic. We won’t get into the nitty gritty of the discussion and cite all of the positions. However a sample is in order.