The Lubavitcher Rebbe, ob’m, viewing worldwide public menorah lightings
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, ob’m, viewing worldwide public menorah lightings

By Rabbi Pesach Schmerling

In last week’s issue of the 5TJT, Rabbi Yair Hoffman wrote an article titled “The Parameters of Pirsumei Nisa” addressing the halachic validity of the public menorah-lightings ‘propagated’ by Lubavitch chassidim. He proposes that there are two issues involved: (1) whether or not there is a concept of pirsumeinisa for the general non-Jewish public, and (2) whether a menorah lit in a setting that is not a home would fulfill the mitzvah of pirsumeinisa.

Rabbi Hoffman then expounds at length, citing the differing views on the first issue, concluding that there is clearly a halachic debate about the issue. Some poskim held the view that there is a concept of pirsumeinisa for non-Jews, while other poskim held that there is no such concept.

This discussion in the context of public menorahs in cities around the world brings to mind the following anecdote: A woman once came to the rabbi in her town with a chicken which had just been shechted by the shochet and there was a question about one of the internal organs which might render the chicken treif. The rabbi looked at it and began a lengthy dissertation based on the various opinions in the Talmud and the poskim. After a while, one of the bystanders interrupted the rabbi and said, “Please excuse me, rabbi, but your pilpul, while brilliant, would be very fitting if the organ in question would indeed be the chicken’s heart. But it just so happens that the organ in question is the kurkevan (gizzard).”

I challenge Rabbi Hoffman to find one city or town anywhere in the world where a Chabad shliach lights a menorah on the street, in a mall, or anywhere else, where there aren’t any Jews present, justifying a discussion whether there is or isn’t a concept of pirsumeinisa for non-Jews. Wherever in the world Chabad shluchim light these public menorahs, there are Jews present, and there surely is a concept of pirsumeinisa for them.

As the issue of pirsumeinisa for non-Jews was raised, I would like to share a fascinating teshuvah of Rav Shimon Sofer, zt’l, grandson of the ChasamSofer and son of the KsavSofer, in his Sefer His’orerusTeshuvah (vol. I, 153): One who lives among non-Jews is obligated to light outside the door of his house or at the window facing the street, in order for the miracle to be publicized among the non-Jews who will ask what this is about and they will find out the story and the central point of the miracle. This is a clear verse (Yechezkel 38:23), “I will be exalted and I will be sanctified, and I will make Myself known before the eyes of many nations; they will know that I am Hashem,” as well as numerous other verses teach that Hashem cares about His Name’s desecration among the non-Jews and about His Name being sanctified among them. (See the source for more on the matter.)

While Rabbi Hoffman cites many sources when discussing the first issue, regarding the second issue he chose to replace that approach with mockery, comparing the public menorah lightings to someone reading MegillasEsther on Chanukah or placing a full-page ad in the New York Times saying that the miracle of Chanukah happened. Not one source in the poskim is cited for this position (except for Rambam Hilchos Berachos 11:2-3, which does not say anything at all about where Chanukah candles are supposed to be lit).

The implication is an obvious one: The shluchim and rabbanim who light these menorahs with berachos are saying berachos levatalah. Apparently the assumption is that thousands of Chabad shluchim are careless about the prohibition to say Hashem’s Name in vain, and that Chabad rabbanim either don’t know halachah or wouldn’t bother to address an issue like this.

Rabbi Hoffman writes, “It is clear that the obligation of Chanukah-lighting is within the dwelling of the house . . . there is no obligation outside of the venue of the home.” While technically this statement is correct (although the correct source would be the Gemara in Shabbos 21b, Rambam Hilchos Megillah VeChanukah 4:7-8 and 4:10, Tur and Shulchan Aruch 671), as this is what Chazal had instituted, he still errs in mocking the public menorah-lighting and implying that the berachos are berachosl’vatalah.

Anyone davening in a shul over Chanukah will see and hear how a menorah is being lit and berachos are recited on these lightings. This wasn’t what Chazal instituted, rather it is a custom which evolved later on. The Shulchan Aruch (671:7) writes that madlikinu’mevarchin–in a shul–mi’shum pirsumei nisa. The Rema there adds that nobody is yotzei with these candles, and everyone must light again in their homes. Why was this custom started? Is it limited to the shul setting or can it be done elsewhere as well, like in a hall where a Chanukah party takes place or on the street at a public menorah-lighting?

There are different reasons given in the Rishonim: (1) For the guests who don’t have a home, similar to Kiddush which was instituted for those guests who eat and drink in the shul (Tanya Rabosi 35). (2) To be motzei those who aren’t knowledgeable and careful to fulfill this mitzvah (Kolbo 44). (3) In order to publicize the miracle in front of the people, to say the berachos in their presence, which is a grand publicity of Hashem, blessed be He, and sanctification of His Name when He is being blessed within a congregation (Kolbo ibid). (4) ZecherLeMikdash (Kolbo ibid). (5) In a time of galus, we can’t light outside the door of our homes to properly fulfill the pirsumeinisa, and the lighting in shul is the pirsumeinisa (Rivash 111 and in RitvaShabbos 23a: in order to do pirsumeinisa in a public place).

It is clear that according to some of these reasons that it would be limited to the shul, while according to the others it can be expanded to other places as well. To properly analyze each of these, including the various nuances in how these are quoted by the Beis Yosef (671:7) and other poskim, and which are mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch etc. is beyond the scope of this article. Various Lubavitcher poskim have dealt with this issue extensively; some of the teshuvos are printed in various sefarim and Torah periodicals. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Raskin, shlita, dayan of the Lubavitch community in London, England wrote extensively on this topic in his “Nesivim bi’sdei hashlichus,” as have other Chabad rabbanim in various Torah periodicals (offering different approaches to the matter).

Following are the opinions of various poskim (not Chabad):

Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, zt’l (Shevet Halevi Volume I, siman 185) [in his discussion of the Vilna Gaon’s explanation as to why a berachah should be said on this minhag] writes that “pirsumei nisa has no limit or measure at the maximum, but only at the minimum. Whatever one adds in this mitzvah–which at its root is pirsumei nisa–is by definition included in the TakanasChachamim, just that they only obligated us to do something limited. This explains why we find here a concept of mehadrin and mehadrin min hamehadrin, as pirsumeinisa has no limit, and is all inclusive in the takanah.” While he rules (Shevet Halevi volume IV, siman 65) not to say a berachah outside of a shul setting as the original minhag was, his explanation of the concept still stands, namely that there surely is pirsumei nisa in such lightings.

Rav Wosner there also testifies that there was a custom in various countries to light with a berachah at public gatherings on Chanukah (it is known that this was done in prewar Europe at weddings during Chanukah and other mesibos), but he still rules not to do so as we don’t know if this was done with the agreement of rabbanim.

The Tzitz Eliezer (volume XV siman 30) and the MinchasYitzchok (volume VI 65:3) also are of the opinion that one should not recite a berachah, as even the recitation of the berachos on lighting in shul is difficult to explain–how much more so that which isn’t even an established minhag.

On the other hand, we have other renowned leading poskim, both Ashkenazim and Sefardim, who clearly ruled that there is no problem whatsoever in reciting berachos on these public lightings:

Rav Binyomin Zilber, z’l writes (Az Nidberu volume V, siman 37 and volume VI, siman 75): Although there is no established minhag of lighting at every public gathering . . . one can recite a berachah without any reservation, and it’s even more appropriate than in a shul, as while there are other reasons for the lighting in shul mentioned, the main reason is for the sake of pirsumeinisa outdoors.

Rav Ovadia Yosef, z’l ruled that a berachah can be recited. Initially he held that a minyan should davenMinchah and Ma’ariv nearby (Yabia Omer volume VII, siman 57), but he later ruled that this is not needed and one is allowed to recite the berachos regardless of a minyandavening there or not (Yalkut Yosef Hilchos Chanukah, Orach Chaim 671:9 and footnote 10 there).

Rav Yaakov Nisan Rosenthal, z’l writes (Mishnas Yaakov, Hilchos Chanukah 3:4) that one can recite berachos on public menorah-lightings. He also makes the point that there is oftentimes more pirsumei nisa at public lightings than in the shul, as everybody attending shul lights at home later on anyway.

Rav Shalom Mashash, z’l writes in his haskamah on Imrei Eliyahu that he disagrees with the author on this issue, and that he himself lit the public menorahs with Chabad and recited the berachos.

One can argue that being faced with such a machlokes, one ought to err on the side of caution, in accordance with the rule of “safek berachos lehakel,” when in doubt, don’t say a berachah. To counter this approach, we find an interesting argument made by Rav Yaakov Emden, zt’l in Mor Uketziah (Siman 672), that this rule does not apply to the berachos on lighting the menorah, because without a berachah there is no pirsumei nisa, as one might think that the person needs the light for personal reasons. When reading the megillah, if one doesn’t recite the blessing due to a doubt, he is still publicizing the miracle by the actual reading of the megillah, whereas lighting candles without a berachah does not publicize the miracle at all.

With all due respect, Rabbi Hoffman is not an authority to decide which poskim’s rulings are the final halachah that is incumbent on all of Klal Yisrael to follow (see Rambam’s introduction to his Mishneh Torah).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s opinion. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt’l never addressed this question outright, neither in his writings nor in his public talks. It is nevertheless clear that he also was of the opinion that one can and should say the berachos on these public lightings, while at the same time ensure that people should know that they are not yotzei with that (like one isn’t yotzei in a shul) and must light their own menorahs in their homes.

Rabbi Hoffman probably didn’t know, or else he would have thought better than to write what he did. I am referring to the fact that the Rebbe participated in global Chanukah events in 5750, 5751, 5752, and 5753 (1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992) during which public menorah-lightings around the globe were being broadcast via satellite. I had the merit to be present in the Rebbe’s shul on three of those occasions. There was a screen set up in front of the Rebbe’s lectern as well, and the Rebbe watched as the menorah was lit in Yerushalayim, Paris, London, Moscow, and other places around the world. The Rebbe’s care that everything must be in accordance with halachah was well known. If there would have been an issue, the Rebbe would have commented to that effect as he did in other instances. Case in point: On Shabbos ParashasVayeishev, the first day of Chanukah, 5747 (1987) the Rebbe encouraged us “to endeavor that in every place where Jews live, Chanukah candles should be lit, both in a central location in a manner of pirsumei nisa, as well as in each and every home; better yet–to announce [at the public lightings] that one is not yotzei with the public lighting, rather everyone needs to light Chanukah candles in their house, as the Rema rules (671:7) that one is not yotzei with the candles lit in shul and must light in his home.” At the same time, the Rebbe knew and witnessed time and again how shluchim and other rabbanim say berachos when lighting these public menorahs and didn’t comment on it at all. The rule that when chachamim don’t protest a certain practice it implies that they agree with said practice (this rule appears numerous times in Bavli and in Yerushalmi and in poskim) would obviously apply here as well.

One can also argue: Why would there even be a consideration that one is yotzei with those public lightings if no berachos are recited? This talk of the Rebbe therefore implies that it is a given that berachos are indeed recited at these public lightings.

This leads us to conclude that the Rebbe most certainly was in agreement with the opinion of those renowned poskim who unequivocally allow one to recite berachos on these public lightings.

Rabbi Pesach Schmerling leads the Chabad of Far Rockaway.

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