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A Burning Question

Rabbi Rafi RankDear CyberRav,

With Shabbat beginning as late as it does these days, and my lighting candles on time, I am reminded of a winter question. During the winter months, my husband returns from work after sundown, as do my children given their many extracurricular activities. When I light Shabbat candles, I prefer to do it as a family, though I've heard it is a sin to light candles after sunset and Shabbat has already begun. Is it better to skip lighting the Shabbat candles after sunset, or should I continue as I have, lighting them as a family, knowing full well that Shabbat began two or three hours earlier?

Enlighten Me

Dear Enlighten Me,

What an interesting dilemma.  There is something inherently beautiful, if not sacred, about lighting Shabbat Candles together as a family.  So first of all, let me applaud your desire and intent to light Shabbat candles, as a family, on a regular basis.  But should you do so after sunset, which as you so bluntly and honestly pointed out, is actually a violation of Shabbat?  It is a violation precisely because one of the Shabbat rules, a rule which comes to us directly from the Torah, is not to create fire on Shabbat.  And by lighting candles, we do just that—a clear violation of Shabbat if ever there was one.

Conservative Judaism is a Judaism based on Halakhah or Jewish law.  When some action is asur or forbidden it should resound as a big veto in our consciousness.  By the same token, many Jews who are connected to Conservative Judaism and are thus sympathetic to the laws and regulations of the tradition, are nevertheless caught up in a very secular world which neither recognizes nor appreciates the authority or power of Halakhah.  My sense is that your family, like so many Conservative families, is somewhere in that secular world.  Your choice here is not whether to abide by Halakhah or not, because that is not the issue that is complicating your life.  What is complicating your life is the question of whether we should make Shabbat or not, given the fact that we are not beginning it when it is supposed to begin.  And to that question, my answer would be to make Shabbat when you can, even if it means beginning it two or three hours after it has already begun.  Your Jewishness as a family rests on the Jewish traditions that become a part of your family, and the more traditions you welcome into your family, the more solid a Jewish foundation you create.

Having answered your question to me, let me pose a challenging question to you.  In a world which guarantees us religious freedom, why allow the secular world to impinge on something as sacred as Shabbat.  Is it really impossible for your husband to make it home earlier on Fridays, or for your kids to forgo the extracurricular activities on Friday afternoon?  It is clear that you understand and appreciate the power of candle lighting and the welcoming of Shabbat into your home.  Is it possible for you and the family to take that next step and say—our commitments to ourselves as a family and to God as Jews take precedence over all else?  In following God’s clock rather than our own, in beginning Shabbat at sunset rather than at our convenience, we actually deepen the sanctity of the day.  As I have said on countless occasions before, it is indeed an odd era when soccer games or ballet classes enjoy a greater power in our lives than God!  And how did our superiors at work come to enjoy a voice more commanding than that of the Supreme being?  You know, it is not that God in the contemporary world is silent, but rather we have become deaf and it is an auditory shortcoming that is self-imposed.

As sure as I encourage you to make Shabbat when you can, I’m also challenging you to rethink your Jewishness.  Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Rafi Rank


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