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What is the reason for the candles or lights lit on the desk of the chazzan (prayer leader)?

In a shul today I saw candles lit on a table at least 6 feet from the reader. Does that fulfill the purpose of the lights?

  • I know that it is at least a Chabad custom-and possibly others as well-to light (I think six) candles when an avel is davening from the amud. – Daniel Aug 31 '12 at 14:22
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    How is a question about a specific Minhag (5 candles?) in a specific branch of Hasiduth the same as a question about a similar (generic light) custom in the broader swath of Jewry? – Seth J Aug 31 '12 at 14:41
  • @avrohom, can you specify if this is something you've seen generally, or if you're asking the same question as the one asked about the Lubavitch custom of lighting 5 candles for an Avel? – Seth J Aug 31 '12 at 14:42
  • @SethJ Well I was thinking that maybe this is what the OP was seeing. I personally have never seen such a thing in any other setting, but that's not to say that it does not exist. – Daniel Aug 31 '12 at 15:55
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    @AvrohomYitzchok, (1)I didn't think so. (2)Specifically 2 candles? I think it's a good question, and not a dupe. – Seth J Aug 31 '12 at 17:15
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As this article discusses, there are at least two reasons, one dating all the way back to the Gemara, and is mentioned in Seforim throughout the ages. (All the besides for the practical reason that the Chazzan should be able to see what he's reading).

Highlights:

  1. For honor. The Gemara in Brachot 53a mentions אור של בית הכנסת - the light in the shul, and Rashi says it was mainly for honor (assumedly shuls had plenty light without this extra one.)

אור של בית הכנסת. בדאיכא אדם חשוב לכבודו הדליקוה ולא שצריך לאור אלא לכבוד בעלמא ואין מברכין עליו

Tosafos explains that Rashi means to say that if no important person was present then it was for the honor of the shul, else it was in his honor. (Either way, it was not meant for illumination.)

  1. As this was how it was done in the Bet HaMikdash. As a reminder (of sorts) of the Menora that was light daily.

Either way, it doesn't have to be close to the Chazzan.

One of the first sources to mention lighting "honor lights" near the Chazzan was the Ba'al HaTanya in his ספר שולחן ערוך הקצר (ח"א ס"פ כד)‏.

The source for using light as honor comes from the verse in יְשַׁעְיָהוּ in 24:15 where the verse says: עַל כֵּן בָּאֻרִים כַּבְּדוּ ה'‏ - therefore with lights you shall honor Hashem.

The Malbim says that the verse means one should create illumination to herald the arrival of the redemption.

מלבי"ם - באור הענין על כן, מוסב לפסוק שאחריו מכנף הארץ זמירות שמענו, מכנף הארץ יזמרו לאמר על כן באורים כבדו ה', הדליקו אורים לסימן הישועה, כמו שהוא המנהג בהתחדש ישועה גדולה בארץ יאירו כל הלילה באורים גדולים להודיע הבשורה למרחוק (אילומנירען) ולא לבד בארץ יהודה רק גם באיי הים (כבדו באורים) שם ה' אלהי ישראל אשר הראה נפלאותיו ואותותיו אל ישראל ‏

Classically a Ner Tamid lamp was always left burning in a shul. In shteibles it's customary to light near the Chazzan, as he tends to have a stable flat surface near the front of the room. Many "fire aware" shuls now have a special fire-proof location to light candles that don't cause a fire hazard.

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  • The phrasing is confusing (borderline misleading). In reply to "what is the reason for the candles... [at the] chazzan" you open with "there are at least two reasons", then proceed to quote 2 reasons that as nothing to do with lights and a chazzan, and then you add "either way it doesn't have to be close to the chazzan". Even the linked article subtly hints to the fact that the whole practice started way after the Talmud. – Oliver Oct 2 '17 at 16:26

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