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When I was leading the conclusion of the Shabbat service yesterday, I asked someone to light the Chanukkah candles, who asked me if we rather did havdalah first. I know that in a synagogue setting we start with the Chanukkah lights and only after that we do havdalah. However, how can we light the Chanukkah candle, a seemingly forbidden work, before the havdalah? Why is this reversed order in the synagogue?

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    Technically, every week you light a fire before saying Havdalah, when you light the Havdalah candle just prior to the blessing. – Salmononius2 Dec 29 '19 at 14:00
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    Havdala is almost never the first act of weekday. People drive home before saying Havdala all the time (often married men waiting to say for wives), for instance, or any other melakha as needed, like Salmononius2 said. What you describe might be your emotion feeling but it's clearly not a halakhic principle that havdala is the first weekday thing. I don't know if this is a sufficient answer for you since it's not clear what you are asking. – Double AA Dec 29 '19 at 14:10
  • Are you interested in learning about all the different opinions about the order for havadala and chanuka candles (there are many different practices) or finding out why your feeling is inaccurate/inconclusive according to your local practice? – Double AA Dec 29 '19 at 15:00
  • Counting Omer is done before Havdala. Kiddush of Yom Tov is done before Havdala of Shabbat. Reading Megillah is done before Havdala (in many rites). And of course Arvit and Shema. Your principle seems simply false. Both Melakha (as above) and thematic elements of the next day are standard practice before Havdala (whatever your principle was meant to include; it's not clear from your wording). – Double AA Dec 29 '19 at 15:12
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The key issue in the question is that by saying the words:

וַתַּבְדֵּל ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ בֵּין קֹדֶשׁ לְחֹל, בֵּין אוֹר לְחשֶׁךְ, בֵּין יִשְׂרָאֵל לָעַמִּים, בֵּין יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לְשֵׁשֶׁת יְמֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה.‏

You have distinguished Hashem, our God between the sacred and the secular, between light and darkness, between Israel and the peoples, between the seventh day and the six days of labour.

Artscroll Ashkenazi version with their translation

in Ata chonantanu, one performs havdalah on a level that work is permitted after that (Orach Chayim 294:1 and 299:10). After this one may use transportation to leave before the havdalah at the synagogue or light the Chanukkah candles. Another concern is that out of havdalah and Chanukkah the former is the more frequent, and therefore it should have a priority. However, as a general principle, we try to elongate the sanctity of the Shabbat (Orach Chayim 293:1), and this is one reason, why many people light the Chanukkah candles before the havdalah. The other one is that by lighting the Chanukkah candles in the synagogue the miracle is further publicised (see Mishnah Berurah 2 to Orach Chayim 681:2, but R' Ovadia Yoseif strongly supported this practice too).

Thanks to rosends and DoubleAA for the sources!

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    Related to the "elongation of Shabbat" reasoning is the concept that Havdallah may be postponed until the beginning of the 4th day of the week (i.e., Tuesday after nightfall.) Whereas, Chanukah lighting cannot be postponed to another day. The same logic applies to reciting the Omer count before havdallah. – DanF Dec 30 '19 at 2:28

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