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The Shabbat Candles

Lighting of the Sabbath candles formally ushers in the Sabbath for the members of the household.

It is the obligation of the wife to fulfill this religious duty. Unless a woman had been living alone, she starts to observe it on the first Sabbath after her marriage.

Where two or more married women are in the same household, either on a temporary or permanent basis, it is customary for each to light Sabbath candles separately.

When the woman of a house is absent or is incapable of performing the ritual, or where a man lives alone, he lights the Sabbath candles himself. Although the woman is given priority in fulfilling this religious duty, lighting Sabbath candles is a requirement related to the general observance of the Sabbath and is a religious duty incumbent upon both men and women.

The Sabbath candles are lighted approximately twenty minutes before sundown. In the absence of a Jewish calendar listing candlelighting time for a particular geographic area, the time of sundown can be found in the daily local newspaper and the candlelighting time determined accordingly. Once the time of sundown passes, the candles may no longer be lit.

It is permissible for the candles to be lit somewhat earlier. This is often done in the summer months when the day is particularly long and the Sabbath might be ushered in an hour or so earlier.

The minimum number of candles lighted is two. They symbolically represent the two forms of the fourth commandment: Zachor–Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8), and Shamor–Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Deut. 5:12).

There are some family or local traditions where three or more candles are lighted or that call for an additional Sabbath candle for every child born. One is free to light more than the minimum if one chooses to do so.

White candles intended specifically for the Sabbath eve are generally available. If they are not available, any festive dinner candles of whatever shape, design, or color may be used instead. The only condition is that they be large enough to burn during the Sabbath meal and well into nightfall.

Although any candelabra are permissible, it is preferable to have a pair of candlesticks or candelabra reserved specifically for the Sabbath.

Although proper ritual procedure requires that the recitation of a blessing always precedes the performance of the mitzvah, in this instance the candles are lighted first and the benediction is recited afterward. The reason is obvious. Recital of the blessing formally ushers in the Sabbath after which it is forbidden to light a flame.

The procedure is to close one’s eyes or cover them with the hands while the benediction is recited. When eyes are opened after the blessing, the sight of the Sabbath lights brings forth the delight that is actually regarded as the culmination of the mitzvah.

The blessing recited for the Sabbath candles is:

Baruch ata adonai elohainu melech ha-olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel shabbat.

Blessed are Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Sabbath lights.

After the candles are lit, it is proper to greet the others in the household with the words Shabbat Shalom. Everyone responds like wise.

The Sabbath candles should be lighted on the table where the Sabbath meal is eaten. If this is impractical, it should at least be done in the same room.

(Under exceptional circumstances, as when staying at a hotel or resort, or when confined for illness, etc., this requirement is waived, and the candles may be lighted wherever it is most practical to do so.)