Can I use artificial lights in my Hanukkah menorah?

Answered by
Rabbi Julie Zupan

While the custom is to fulfill the mitzvahmitzvahמִצְוָהLiterally, “commandment." A sacred obligation. Jewish tradition says the Torah contains 613 mitzvot Mitzvot refer to both religious and ethical obligations. of Hanukkah by lighting a hanukkiyahhanukkiyahחֲנֻכִּיָּהNine-branched candelabra used during Hanukkah – eight branches for each night of the holiday, plus another branch (often taller, central, or more prominently displayed) for the shamash (helper) candle, which is used to light the others. with either candles or oil, some people, citing safety concerns and convenience, choose to also use electric lights.    

Lighting the Hanukkah lights with a real flame remains preferable for several reasons. Using oil or candles fulfills the mitzvah of Hanukkah as understood by our spiritual ancestors and connects us to those ancestors. For many people, the flickering lights of real flames feels more evocative. In the modern period, when we most often use electricity for light, using candles for Shabbat and holidays elevates and distinguishes those sacred times.

Because the lights burn for a finite period – customarily around 40 minutes – that period often becomes a special time each night of Hanukkah, when work and chores are temporarily set aside, and friends and family members enjoy each other’s company, exchange gifts, and share holiday foods like latkes, sufganiyotsufganiyotסֻפְגָּנִית"Jelly doughnuts;" traditionally eaten in Israel during Hanukkah; singular: sufganiyah. , bimuelos (fried dough puffs), keftes de prasas (leek patties), and other types of Hanukkah cuisine.

In settings where open flames are not permitted, including hospitals, nursing homes, and dorm rooms, an electric menorah is an excellent substitute. Using an electric menorah allows residents to symbolically fulfill the mitzvah of Hanukkah. Both an electric menorah and a hanukkiyah with unlit candles are good choices for holiday displays in communal settings, where displays are up for days, if not weeks, and where unattended flames would be unsafe.

One of the teachings of Hanukkah is to “publicize the miracle,”, which has been understood by our sages as displaying the Hanukkah lights where they can be seen by others, such as in the front window or doorway of the home.