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Most wax Shabbat candles that I have seen tend to stay lit approximately 4 hours. Some, I've seen stay lit closer to 6 hours.

Is there a reason as to why these candles last for that time? Can one use Chanukah candles (which stay lit for about 30 - 45 minutes)? Or, is there a minimum amount of time for lit Shabbat candles?

Is that time limit a numeric, or is it based on some other activity that may occur in the room or home, e.g. it must be lit until the end of your meal. If it's based on the activity criterion, what if you won't be home?

5

There are a number of similar sounding questions to the one you posed which can be confusing, so while Alex's answer is indeed correct, it's helpful to understand the different issues so you can understand why some sources might "seem" to disagree. Here's the background:

The rabbinic command of kindling lights on Friday evening is to have enough lights for all your needs that night when you can't kindle new lights and, for purposes of household harmony, need to be able to see so you don't trip on or bump into things. So if your question is "what does one need to do" it's that. Everyone agrees to this.

The question dealt with in classic works is what happens if "as much as you need at night" is actually zero? Consider people who, living at extreme latitudes, would begin Shabbat early and go to sleep before dark in the summer. They would kindle lights for the duration of their meals and then go to sleep. Some Rishonim held that since the lights were never actually used to help see things (as you can already see everything in the daylight), any blessing on those lights was in vain since they don't accomplish any commandment. Other Rishonim held that since the lights add to the atmosphere of the evening meal or since they help a little bit with seeing things as it gets close to nightfall, the lights do accomplish the rabbinic command by serving your needs and thus the blessing recited on them was valid.

The Shulchan Arukh (OC 263:9) seemingly rules leniently, but Maharil (who is quoted in Matteh Moshe (421), who is quoted in Magen Avraham (263 sk 16), who is quoted in Mishna Berura (263 sk 40) that Jay cited) recommended being strict and staying up past nightfall with the lights so as to remove any doubt about the need to light them. This is all irrelevant though if you'll be staying up till dark anyway.

Now we have your basic answer:

  • Kindle lights for as long as you plan to need them.
    • If you'll be changing locations at night, you must have lights in the new location too for however long you plan to be there.
  • If you aren't going to use a particular light on Shabbat, don't recite a blessing when kindling it.
    • Not everyone thinks that use before darkness qualifies, so if you weren't planning on being up past dark, some recommend doing so anyway.

If your question is minimally upon kindling what lights can one say the blessing, the answer is any light which will be used for some of your needs that night. In that sense, a light provides minimal fulfillment if you use it even a bit. Everyone agrees to this. (If you have more needs than the one light can fulfill though, don't forget that you will still need to kindle other lights too.)


The final twist here is the modern phenomenon of electric lighting where we certainly depart from "everyone agrees to this" territory, so I'll just give you an example of one way to structure the issue.

For nearly everyone today, electric lighting already ensures you won't trip on anything at home and will be able to see and enjoy your dinner. Indeed many authorities allow using your electric lights to fulfill this obligation (and for the opinion that doesn't, then our situation is no different from the classical situation above where you have sufficient ambient non-candle light, and you can stop reading here).

According to those authorities who allow using electric lights, if you're anyway going to light candles too to add a distinguished character to the evening meal or do something extra to actively demonstrate intent to care about Shabbat, that's a great way to honor Shabbat, but there'd seemingly be no strict requirement for those candles to last any longer than you want (if you have sufficient electric lighting in place anyway to see) since they are essentially extra credit.

If you want to say the blessing on kindling that bonus candle (instead of the electric lighting which serves as the primary vehicle for your fulfillment of the commandment) be sure the candle lasts long enough to at least serve some of your needs on Friday night, subject to the dispute above regarding if that can take place before darkness.

Now we have your modern answer:

  • Turn on all relevant electric lights (don't forget the lights in the bathroom!)
    • For extra credit light candles to create an honorable atmosphere and do something noticeably special for Shabbat (or because you want to be strict for the opinion that electric lights don't count).
  • If you aren't going to use a particular candle or light later on (subject to the above dispute about nightfall), don't recite your blessing when kindling or turning on that one.
  • 1
    (If you've ever forgotten to turn on the lights in the bathroom Friday night, you understand right away what the Mitzva is about and how it's unthinkable that a moment of benefit is all Chazal wanted you to do.) – Double AA Oct 31 at 0:29
  • Interestingly, later in the teshuva I cited in my answer, R. Abadi seems to bemoan the fact that people make the beracha on the candles instead of the electric lights when the latter is clearly the ikar fulfillment. – Alex Oct 31 at 0:58
  • @Alex I hear, but a blessing being on the ikar fulfillment is not meakeiv, whereas if an electric light doesn't qualify then it is meakeiv. But anyway, the obvious solution is to say the blessing on both by lighting candles right before or after turning on the lights, as recommended by many poskim. – Double AA Oct 31 at 1:24
  • @Alex ,see the Eshel Avraham from Butchach who says we light candles since it was said by the Chachamim like a lo plug type of situation – sam Oct 31 at 15:20
  • @sam realize Chazal didn't say light candles. נר means something more like "lamp". They didn't use wax. You fill a Ner with Shemen and Petila and light the Petila – Double AA Oct 31 at 15:26
9

Mishna Brurah 263 s.k. 40 writes that the candles must remain lit at least until the meal has begun so that he derives benefit from them during his meal, otherwise the blessing on the candles is considered to be in vain (see Shulchan Aruch 263:9 which he is commenting on). He adds that it is preferred for them to remain lit until nightfall if that is later:

דאם אוכל בבית אף שאין דולקת עד הלילה סגי ולא הוי ברכה לבטלה שאף שעדיין יום יש לו הנאה ושמחה בשעת אכילה מן הנרות. ומצוה מן המובחר שיעשה נרות ארוכות שיהיו דולקות עד הלילה אף שרוצה לאכול מבעוד יום

It seems that the criterion for fulfilling the mitzvah minimally is deriving some benefit and enjoyment from the candles, either by having them enhance your meal or by benefiting from their light after nightfall. So if you are going out for the meal they should last at least until you come home and benefit from them. The Mishna Brurah adds in the next s.k. that if it was a bit dark when you lighted and you used the light to prepare for the seudah, that is enough to avoid a blessing in vain, so if you are going out for a while but eating at home later, you may want to consider that.

  • This answer, while containing some truths, appears to be answering a different question from what the OP asked. At the very least, even if I'm wrong about the OP, the whole situation is very misleading. See my answer for proper context – Double AA Oct 30 at 19:10
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In a responsum (Shu"t Ohr Yitzchak 2:108) R. Yitzchak Abadi writes as follows:

ומה שיש מדקדקים להדליק נרות ולהשתמש לאורם מיד או לאחר קצת זמן כדי שלא תהא ברכתם לבטלה הם טועים בדין דהנה מצות הדלקה היא כדי שיוכל להשתמש לאור הנר כל הזמן שצריך לו ואין זה כהדלקת נר חנוכה שקבעו לה זמן וכבתה אין זקוק לה אלא בנר שבת הוא חייב שיהא דולק כל זמן שאפשר שיצטרך לו בלילה והוא פשוט והעולם לא נזהרים בזה

And that which they are fastidious to light candles and use their light immediately or after a bit of time in order that their blessing should not be in vain, they are erring in the law. For the commandment of lighting is in order to be able to use the light of the candle as long as it is needed. This is not like the Hanukkah candle where they set a time, and if it gets extinguished he is not bound to it; by the Sabbath candle he is obligated that it be lit as long as he might need it at night. And this is obvious, yet the world is not careful about it.

  • I forgot what he holds regarding second day of yomtov to light without bracha or not to light at all because of electricity lights . I always had a question on this based on the Eshel Avraham since it shouldn't matter ,but I guess he held it's not a lo plug – sam Oct 31 at 15:22
  • I think he holds you do nothing. @sam – Alex Oct 31 at 20:13
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There is no minimum time required by Halakha, but as others have mentioned one should benefit from these candles by enjoying their light, often this is done by using the light for the meal. It's noteworthy that many people light Shabbat lights and then put them somewhere that they are not taken advantage of, which kind of defeats the point of lighting them to begin with. Other people light the candles very early before sunset and so their light can't be discerned from sunlight and again don't take advantage of their light. One should endeavor that these lights last long enough for you to make use of their lights. So if one lights Shabbat lights very close to sunset and uses them for the meal 30 minutes later and the meal is over within 20 minutes then the light needs to last for less than an hour. If someone lights long before sunset and doesn't eat until coming back from synagogue services hours later then the candles should last until that person has made use of them, even if it's 4 or 5 hours later.

I was staying with an observant Sephardic family in Israel and was shocked to discover Shabbat lights on the dining room table, but also in all the bathrooms. They used shot glasses filled with olive oil and floating wicks. When I asked why there were lights in the bathroom, they said the bathrooms are too dark and so light is needed and they don't want people to turn on the lights, and the oil allowed the wick to stay lit until morning. This logic seemed very in line with the purpose of having lights for Shabbat.

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