Mehadrin Min Hamehadrin -The Preferred way to Light Chanuka Candles
Rabbi Yaakov Faham

The Gemara 1 enumerates three ways of fulfilling the obligation of lighting Chanuka candles. The minimum requirement is for every family to light one candle on each of the eight nights of Chanuka. The next level - mehadrin - is for those who want to beautify the mitzva. This requires one to light one candle for each family member, every night. The final level - mehadrin min hamehadrin - for those who wish to beautify the mitzva in the highest manner, involves lighting one 2 candle on the first night, and then lighting an additional candle on each subsequent night, culminating with eight candles on the last night.3 With this approach, the amount of candles demonstrate which night of Chanuka it is.4

The procedure for mehadrin min hamehadrin

The Rishonim, the medieval commentators, disagree as to the correct procedure for fulfilling the mitzva mehadrin min hamehadrin. The Rambam 5 explains it to be supplemental to the preceding level, mehadrin. One should light an additional candle for each family member, every night. For example, if there are ten family members, the head of the household would light ten candles the first night, add ten the next night and so on, ending with eighty.

Tosafos,6 however, rejects this interpretation, since on any given night an observer could easily mistake the number of candles as representative of the number of family members as opposed to the number of the current night. Instead, Tosafos explains mehadrin min hamehadrin as an extension of the basic requirement; one adds one candle per day, per household, without any individual representation.This view is upheld by the Shulchan Aruch 7 and is the Sephardic custom.

The Rema, 8 however, cites the custom of Ashkenaz, which is for everyone to light their own menorah, basing it on the view of the Rambam. 9 Nonetheless, there is an important difference between the Rambam and the Rema, as the Rema clearly states that all 10 family members light their own candle, whilst Rambam implies that the head of the household lights for everyone 11. However, there is another source for the Rema. The Maharil, another Rishon, clearly describes the Ashkenazic custom as later stated by the Rema. 12

Some Poskim 13 explain the rationale of the Ashkenazic custom as a fulfillment of both Rambam's and Tosafos' requirements. All family members participate, since each person has their own candle, but everyone lighting individually (as specified in Rema) avoids confusion as to which night it is.

Why then did neither Rambam nor Tosafos accept such an explanation? One answer is found in the following teshuva (responsa) of Rabbi Akiva Eiger.

R. Eiger discusses whether one can make a bracha when performing a hiddur mitzva - an addition to a mitzva made in order to beautify it. For example, if one forgot to make the bracha on the Chanuka candles until after he lit the first candle, the minimum requirement, would he be able to make the blessing before continuing to light the rest?

Although the Rema allows every family member to light his own candles with a blessing (even though doing so is hiddur mitzva), R. Eiger writes that one may not bring proof for saying a bracha on a hiddur mitzva from this. The reason is that the hiddur described by the Rema requires one to deliberately not rely on the head of the household, and thus obligating himself to light on his own with a blessing. Therefore, it cannot be compared with the hiddur of an individual who is lighting more than one candle on any given night. 14

This gives us an insight into the nature of mehadrin which is, according to the Rema, the addition of participants in the mitzva. The Rambam (and Tosafos) imply that the hiddur is that the family members are each represented in the mitzva, although they do not directly light themselves. These two views may have other halachic ramifications as will now be explained.

Lighting on one's own away from home

Rav Sheishes says that if one is away from home on Chanuka, he is required to light candles where he is staying.15 Rav Zeira adds that when he was a bachelor studying away from home, he would form a partnership with his host for the purpose of fulfilling his obligation by paying for part of the oil used for lighting. However, after marrying, he ruled it unnecessary, since he was now able to rely on his family lighting at home 16.

The Terumas Hadeshen 17 comments that although it is not obligatory, one may light on his own, when he is away from home, with a bracha, as a hiddur mitzva. (Just as there is a hiddur for each family member to light when they are at home, there is a hiddur for husband and wife who are in different places, to light separately.) He also brings another opinion that forbids making a blessing on such an act, since no such hiddur was mentioned in the Talmud. (Since husband and wife always fulfill their obligation together - ishto kigufo, man and wife are considered one entity - they are different to other family members. The concept of hiddur for each family member was not said in regard to a husband and wife. 18 The Terumas Hadeshen counters that the form of mehadrin mentioned in the Talmud - one candle per family member - was described only because it is a more common scenario than lighting away from home. But the latter is not thereby excluded. This opinion is upheld by many Poskim and is cited by Rema as being customary 19. However the Beis Yosef 20 writes that one should not rely on this to make a bracha sh'eina tzricha, an unnecessary blessing.

According to the Knesses Hagedola 21, the words of the Beis Yosef imply that although he agrees that this act would not constitute a bracha l'vatala (a wasted blessing - which is a forbidden act) however, he does consider it to be a bracha sh'eina tzricha (a blessing made unnecessarily). The gain from lighting alone is not enough to warrant making this blessing. But if there was another purpose served in lighting on his own, then one could reason that this is permissible. For instance, if one knows that his wife will be lighting much later in the night (which is considered a less than ideal fulfillment of the mitzva) he may light earlier by himself with a blessing. But according to the Beis Yosef, lighting by oneself is not, in itself, a hiddur.

It all depends on how we view the nature of mehadrin. If the hiddur is having more participants, lighting away from home is a hiddur. This is the Rema's opinion. If, however, we view the hiddur of mehadrin as adding a candle to represent each of the family members, then the reluctance of the Beis Yosef is understandable: the mandatory requirement (one candle per household) only requires the participation of the head of the household. Unless one has some additional reason for lighting - such as his wife lighting only later in the evening22 - the hiddur of lighting on one's own away from home is no hiddur. The Beis Yosef upheld this interpretation of mehadrin in following the understanding of Tosafos.

Nonetheless, some authorities do not accept the reasoning of the Beis Yosef in this matter. The Taz 23 agrees with the Terumas Hadeshen about lighting away from home, that it was unnecessary for the Talmud to mention the candle lighting of someone travelling as a form of mehadrin. The reason is that it is no different to any other mitzva where one can either fulfill it alone or fulfill his obligation through someone else's blessing.

The Chida,24 however, rejects this proof. With all other mitzvos, one needs the intention to rely on someone else's blessing. This contrasts with Chanuka lights where one automatically fulfills his obligation - even without the intention - since the mitzva is on the household not the individual. In such a case one does not have the ability to exclude himself from the blessing even intentionally. One's blessing is thereby rendered an unnecessary blessing, which, in effect takes on an aspect of bracha l'vatala - a wasted blessing25.

This reasoning would therefore be applicable when one's wife will be lighting at a less preferred time. Even in such a case one may not make a blessing. This is common practice among Sephardic Jews.

This applies only for the Shulchan Aruch who does not recognise more participants as being hiddur mitzva. The Rema considers this to be a hiddur and sides with the Terumas Hadeshen, as is the Ashkenazic custom.

Although Achronim26 support the custom for a traveler to light on his own, they nonetheless do not permit him to make his own blessing based on the principle of safeik brachos l'hakeil27 - not to make a blessing where there is doubt of its necessity. They add, however, that one should try to listen to someone else's blessing and then proceed to light alone28. The Mishna Berura 29 offers another possibility: where, if a traveler is certain he is lighting earlier than one's household, he may make the blessing himself 30.


1 Shabbos 21b.
2 According to Beis Hillel, ibid.
3 "Heker yamim", see Tosafos ibid.
4 This is the prevalent custom as stated in Shulchan Aruch O.C. 671:2. One only relies on the basic requirement if he cannot afford more candles Mishna Berura 671:4.
5 Hilchos Chanuka 4:1.
6 Shabbos 21b. s.v. Hamehadrin.
7 O.C. 671:2.
8 Ibid.
9 The Taz remarks that this is a rare occasion when the custom of Ashkenaz is based on the view of Rambam, a Sephardic Posek, while Sephardic custom is based on the Baalei HaTosafos of Ashkenaz. The Sdei Chemed, however, points out that Rambam himself conceded that the custom is for the head of the household to light only one more each night, notwithstanding the number of family members. This shows that this was customary among Sephardic Jews even before the time of Tosafos. Also, adds the Sdei Chemed, the Rema does not follow Rambam's view exactly, as will be explained.
10 All male members of household. Female members however, do not light, even though they are obligated in this mitzva, relying on their husbands and fathers. See M.B. 671:9. Chasam Sofer, Chidushei Shabbos 21b s.v. Vehamehadrin.
11 Sdei Chemed, Chanuka 9:4.
12 Responsa 145, and Drashos LeChanuka.
13 Sdei Chemed ibid, in the name of Rav Shlomo Hakohen Mi Vilna. Alfasi Zuta, Shabbos, Chapter two. Another difference may be that according to Rambam the head of household lights candles to represent female members too, as opposed to the Rema.
14 Teshuvos R' Akiva Eiger 2:13. Nevertheless he concludes that one can make a bracha on a hiddur mitzva.
15 Shabbos 23a.
16 See Shulchan Aruch O.C. 677:1 regarding the law of "Chashada".
17 Responsa 101.
18 See Pri Megadim, Mishbetzotz Zahav 677:1. The language of the Terumas Hadeshem implies that he agrees with the concept of ishto k'gufo when one is home. However, he reasons that when one is away from home in regard to his wife, he has the same status as any other family member.
19 O.C. 677:3 see full discussion there regarding "Birkas Ha'Roeh".
20 O.C. 677.
21 In his notes on the Beis Yosef O.C. 677
22 See Shulchan Aruch 672:1,2
23 O.C. 677:1.
24 In Birkei Yosef O.C. 677, see also Ma'amar Mordechai.
25 See Responsa "Yabia Omer" Vol. 5 O.C. 17:6. Torat Hamo'adim ,Laws of Chanuka 2:6.
26 See Chayei Adam 154:33.
27 Chayei Adam ibid. M.B., 677:17 however, leans more towards allowing a blessing to be recited, but suggests listening in on someone else's blessing to be safe.
28 M.B. ibid.
29 Ibid.
30 The Chayei Adam however, gives no such option, saying to the contrary that if one is alone and cannot listen to another's blessing, he should light without a blessing.

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