In some apartments and dorm rooms, people are not allowed to have open flames [by regulation or by law, usually for safety considerations]. I have seen many electric Shabbat candles, but not havdalah candles. What does one do to properly end Shabbat if they are not able to light the havdalah candle? Or are there electric havdalah candles available?
Thank you for your question. I love havdalah. It is my favorite ritual in the entire Jewish year-cycle. I remember havdalah rituals from my youth as a camper as Jewish summer camps. Later on as a camp counselor, song leader and now as a rabbi – the power of this quite simple ritual still amazes me. I am glad that you are working through how to perform this ritual in a way that feels authentic to you and respectful of the rules of your living circumstance.
At least according to a traditional interpretation of Jewish Law, a light bulb is in fact a flame. In fact, there are halahic commentaries which argue specifically that using a light bulb is acceptable for lighting candles – instead they argue over whether a blessing should be recited since this method is not preferable. Another commentary argues that you should recite the blessing, but turn the light switch off first for a moment to designate the light bulbs as candles now.
To me, this halahic work around is not the best solution because it takes something which is ordinary and makes it sacred. We ought to carve out sacred space in the world to help us appreciate sacred time, like Shabbat and havdalah. The reason that experience at camp was and remains such a powerful influence for me is because the entire community made an effort to sanctify that time and space. And now my daughter, just 4 years old, gets excited each Saturday night when we light the havdalah flame to perform this ritual…you simply cannot replace that moment – or the sound of the candle sizzling out in the grape juice – with anything else. In fact the havdalah candle is already an accommodation to Jewish Law. The Shulhan Aruh argues that we should really use a torch for havdalah and that a candle may be used if a torch is unavailable.
I would argue that there are many methods to make havdalah. You should pick one that infuses that moment with holiness and joy – something that helps you discern God’s presence in the world and prepares you for the week ahead. Perhaps that is a candle. Maybe if the regulations of your housing do not allow for candles in doors you can have havdalah outside in the night air. Alternatively, perhaps setting aside a special light that you use only for havdalah as a reminder of the special nature of that moment might be appropriate.
In the end, there is no right or wrong way to make havdalah. What we should be looking for are ways in which we can experience moments of transcendence and where we can discern paths of holiness. I think if we do that, what kind of flame we use or how bright it shines will be the furthest thing from our minds.
The difference between a Shabbat candle and an Havdalah candle is that the latter is supposed to be an avukah, a torch, which is defined as having two wicks rather than one. For that reason, I don't think there are electric Havdalah candles (I haven't seen them). In any case, I will note that within Orthodox circles, there is some debate as to whether electric lights fulfill all the purposes of lighting Shabbat candles (so that some people will rely on them, some will not, and some will insist on lighting both wax candles and electric lights when they are lighting Shabbat candles). For Havdalah, though, the torch aspect makes it more complicated.
That being said, I am not sure I understand the regulating. For Shabbat candles, which are left lit for several hours, I know what a rule against open flames means. But an Havdallah candle is used for perhaps two minutes (and, in a pinch, you could light it when you get up to that blessing in Havdalah, make the blessing over the light, and then extinguish it). How will that be different than striking a match to light a cigarette, for example? I find it hard to imagine that there's a rule against open flames even for 30 seconds, even while someone's there watching it.
Assuming there is such a rule, and that there are no electric Havdalah candles, you can also make Havdalah outside the building, for example (there's no rule that Havdalah has to be said in your home). Or, you can make Havdalah at home and then go outside just for the blessing of "borei me-orei ha-esh, who created the light of fire." While we group together the four blessings of Havdalah, the blessings on spices and on fire are, in fact, independent ones which you can, if you have to, recite separately. Good luck with the apartment!
In some apartments and dorm rooms, people are not allowed to have open flames [by regulation or by law, usually for safety considerations]. I have seen many electric Shabbat candles, but not Havdalah candles. That being said, what does one do to properly end Shabbat if they are not able to light the Havdalah candle? Or are there electric Havdalah candles available?
One of the principles of Jewish law that we try to respect is Dina d’makhuta dina, “The law of the land is the official law.” This is particularly true when the purpose of the law is not spurious but a way of protecting the safety of others. After all, pikuach nefesh, or saving a life, takes precedence over most other commandments in the Jewish tradition. Fires in public places and dorms are all too frequent occurrences, often with devastating results; it is important to honor and observe these rules.
Unfortunately, an electric light cannot really be used to usher in or conclude the Shabbat. The electric Shabbat candles may look nice but they are not a replacement for the Shabbat candles. They are especially useful in hospitals and other settings where candles cannot be lit and being unable to usher in the Sabbath would be distressing to the patient. I would suggest that for the rest of us, the appropriate way to welcome the Sabbath is by reciting the Kiddush, the blessings over the wine and acknowledging the sanctity of the day. In Talmudic times the Kiddush was the way that people acknowledged the transition from week day to holy day, just as Havdalah was the way one marked the transition from holy day to week day.
For Havdalah, there is a simple solution. When reciting the blessing over the fire (borei m’orei ha’esh) in the Havdalah service, one can look up at a light bulb and hold one’s hands up to the light as one would have done with the Havdalah candle. This would serve the same purpose as lighting a candle.
Having said that, I would suggest that you talk with whoever is in charge of safety in the dorm or in the apartment building. Since the Havdalah candle is only lit for a few minutes and is under constant observation, this might not be seen as a problem. For Shabbat candles, some people place their candle sticks in the sink to prevent fires. You might discuss other strategies with whoever is in charge so that you can find innovative ways to observe our traditions.
Thank you for such a fascinating question! In order to find an answer, I’d like to approach this in three different ways. First, many Rabbinic authorities have equated electricity with fire – and therefore have legislated that turning an electric light on or off is equivalent to starting or putting out a fire. For this reason, electric candles can be substituted for Shabbat candles in locations where an open flame is prohibited.
If this were the only basis for understanding the question then it would seem that an electric Havdalah candle could also be substituted in places where, for safety reasons, open flames are prohibited. However, there are other considerations and together they make up the second way to approach the question. The Shabbat candles are qualitatively different from the Havdalah candle in function, design and use. Shabbat candles contain a single wick, whereas the Havdalah candle must have multiple wicks to create a light more like a torch than a candle. Also, Shabbat candles are allowed to burn down whereas the Havdalah candle is generally extinguished after a few minutes in a Kiddush cup filled with wine. (I would not recommend doing this with an electric light!!)
Finally, the blessing over the Shabbat candles is qualitatively different than the blessing over the Havdalah candle. Among the differences are the use of the key words “ner” (light) for Shabbat and “ha-eish” (the fire) for Havdalah. In the blessing for Shabbat candles we praise G-d for commanding us to kindle the light of Shabbat. However, in the Havdalah blessing we acknowledge G-d as the creator of the lights of fire. Despite the correlation between electricity and fire by many authorities, the use of the word “ha-eish” seems to apply to an open flame here.
So where does this leave us? I would advise you to try to use a candle rather than an electric light whenever possible. You might consider observing Havdalah outside if the weather permits. I would also recommend approaching whoever has established the rules prohibiting the use of open flame in your building to ask for an exception – especially as the flame is extinguished so quickly and will not be left unattended. That said, there are examples of rabbis from every flavor of Judaism who have used light bulbs when a candle could not be found and at least one posek went out of his way to use a light bulb to establish the connection between electricity and fire. As for an electric Havdalah candle, I have never seen or heard of one. However, in my opinion, if you are not able to use a candle you could substitute a light bulb and look for the reflection of the light in your fingernails (just as you would with a candle).
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