Lighting Shabbat candles is an essential element of Shabbat. The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) states that two candles are used to fulfill the mitzvah in order to recall the dual Shabbat mitzvot: shamor (guard) and zachor (remember). The Mishna Berura (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan’s 20th century elucidation on the Shulchan Aruch) notes that one candle is sufficient (although not ideal). At the same time, however, Rabbi Kagan writes that since bringing light to the house is part of the mitzvah, one can and should create as much light as possible.

Friday afternoon can be hectic. There’s work to complete, meals have to be prepared and, in the hustle and bustle leading up to Shabbat, it is possible that the candles may be forgotten. Once the sun has actually set, lighting a flame (and even transferring a flame) is prohibited. For this reason, the rabbis (as quoted in the Shulchan Aruch) declared that one who forgot to light candles one Friday night becomes obligated to add an additional candle each week thereafter.

It is interesting to note that this law might be the source for the custom to add a candle for every child born into a family. Until recently (mid-twentieth century), many women did not light candles on the Friday night after childbirth. They relied on their husbands to do so. And while the new fathers were halachically responsible for ensuring that Shabbat candles were lit that week, many added a candle as if they had missed lighting candles. Today, most women are able to either return home before Shabbat or light candles in the hospital. However, the custom of adding a candle after each delivery has taken hold and serves as a reminder that each child is a blessing.

Lighting candles may be part of the program at your local Shabbat Across America and Canada on March 9, 2018. Find a location near you and ask what time their program begins.

This Treat was last posted on February 19, 2010.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.