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Shabbat Parashat Vayeshev| 5764

Ask the Rabbi



Question: We, in the community of Judaica artists, are confused about the “kashrut” of chanukiot? Do they really have to be in a straight line in and be the same height?
 
Answer: The source of the “fact” which most people subscribe to, that a chanukia (Chanuka menora) must be straight is not well known. It is not a fundamental description of the required formation of a chanukia, but is intended to prevent problems.
 The gemara (Shabbat 23b) says that one can put two wicks into one oil cup (ner), and it can countfor more than one person. However, if one puts several wicks around the circumference of a bowl and leaves it uncovered, no one fulfills the mitzva because it looks like a medura (torch rather than a flame). It follows from the gemara that when you solve the problem of looking like a medura, it is not a problem that the candles are in a circular position (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 671:3,4, that this is also so for one who is lighting more than several candles according to the number day of Chanuka).
 How does one ensure that there is not a problem of medura? Several rishonim say that it is sufficient that there be a finger’s breadth between the wicks, but others require that the wicks should be in different cups (see Beit Yosef, OC 671). The Rama (671:4) is even more stringent. He says that even if the wicks are in different cups, they should still not be in a circular configuration because it could still look like a medura. The Magen Avraham (ibid.:4) extends this to a zig-zag pattern. This is the source of the common practice that the candles should be in a straight line. However, the Rama himself continues that it is fine to put the candles in a candelabra, because they are not only separate nerot but they are also far away from each other (see Trumot Hadeshen 105 and Pri Megadim, MZ 671:2). If so, zig-zags of different types, which are just an extension of the stringency of a circle, should not be worse than a circle. Thus, there shouldn’t be a problem if the candles are far enough from each other that they do not resemble a medura by any stretch of the imagination.
 Regarding the other “fact,” that wax candles must be of the same height and the candles’ bases must be on the same level, this is also perplexing. Apparently, the first source to require it is the Chayei Adam (154:10), who lived in the early 19th century. He mentions it in a matter of fact manner, when discussing the need for a straight line. It is unclear if it too is somehow related to the medura issue, or if it is for a different reason. (Maybe it’s hard to see that they belong to the same lighting- but remember that according to the letter, one candle per household is sufficient). Several modern poskim (Kaf Hachayim, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch) bring his opinion without arguing (the Mishna Berurah does not mention it).
 If an individual were to ask whether he should light a standard shaped chanukia or a more innovative one, we would suggest that he conform to the standard practice and not try to make a point of how halachically bold he can be. But you are coming from the point of view of an artist. Most observant people who buy an artistic chanukia use it for decoration, not lighting. A G-d-fearing artist, though, would not want to cause anyone who might use his chanukia to forfeit proper performance of his mitzva. But one who follows the letter of the law in designing the chanukia need not be concerned that some purchasers may not want to be as conservative on the matter as most of us like to be.
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Dedication

This edition of Hemdat Yamim is
dedicated to the memory of R’ Meir  ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.

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