ARE AMERICAN JEWS LIVING IN A ‘TIME OF DANGER?’

If you have had the zechus of being in Eretz Yisrael during Chanukah, you might have noticed that the menorah is not lit in the same place as it is lit in America. In the United States, we usually light our menoros inside our houses in the window facing the street. In Eretz Yisrael, however, many people light in the doorway of their building.

The difference is not insignificant.

The Gemara Shabbos 21b states very clearly, “It is a mitzvah to place the neiros of Chanukah at the entrance of the door of one’s home on the outside.” Tosafos (“Mitzvah L’hanicha”) explains that the Gemara refers to a case where the home lies adjacent to the public street. If there is a yard between his door and the street then he must put the neiros at the door of the yard next to the street.

The halachah is, in fact, like Tosafos. Harav  Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, therefore, paskens that if one lives in an apartment house he must light his neiros within a tefach of the main door of his house facing the street. He is very forceful in his psak and rules that anyone in Eretz Yisrael who lights in the window of his house is not yotzei and his brachah is a brachah l’vatalah. He must light again in the proper place (at the doorway to the street).

Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, on the other hand, feels that the mitzvah is to light the neiros in the doorway only when it is attributable to the home of a particular family. Since the many families who live in an apartment house would have to be lighting together, Rav Auerbach feels that it is preferable to light at the door of one’s own apartment, or if they live on an upper floor, to light at the window that faces the street. To deal with this debate, my posek in Eretz Yisrael, Harav Avrohom Steinfeld, ruled that if I want to be yotzei l’chol hadei’os, I should light in my apartment by the window and then, without a hefsek, light another menorah in the doorway of my house.

One might wonder, what might Rav Elyashiv  hold that we should do in America? Interestingly enough, he says that although he still thinks it is preferable to light outside, in America we are permitted to light inside the house. The reason, however, should alarm us. In America we live in galus and can apply the other ruling of the Gemara, “In the time of danger, we may light on the table in our house and it is sufficient.”

“In a time of danger?” Rav Elyashiv was asked. Rashi explains that the Gemara was referring to situations similar to when the Jews lived in Babylonia during the Sassanid Persian rule. The Sassanid Persians celebrated a holiday on which kindling a light was permitted only in their pagan temples. If Chanukah coincided with that holiday, the neiros were kindled in the privacy of the home.

We, however, are talking about the United States of America in 2014. This is a country that prides itself on a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that guarantee freedom of religion. Why is it not just as incumbent upon Jews in America today to light on the outside as it is on Jews in Eretz Yisrael?”

Rav Elyashiv explained, “A Jew who lives in galus has a right to feel that any day things can change. He has a right to light inside his home.”

It is interesting that at a time when Jews in America are concerned about the safety of the Yidden in Eretz Yisrael, Rav Elyashiv was more concerned about the long-term safety of Jews in America.

Although this lenient ruling makes things easier for us at this time, as we can light in our homes and as late as people are awake in our homes (Rav Elyashiv holds that in Eretz Yisrael one cannot light more than about an hour after shkiah with a brachah), it also gives us cause to ponder.

I remember a Jew who met me in San Diego at the time that I represented Agudath Israel. He urged me to organize a campaign to see to it that every Jew has a passport. “As comfortable as things seem,” he said, “You never know in galus how quickly things can change.”

The message of Chanukah seems to be telling the bnei chutz la’aretz not to be comfortable in the growth of the local Torah community. We cannot be complacent and think that we are living in the new Yerushalayim. Until we return to Eretz Yisrael with Moshiach Tzidkeinu, we cannot think that we have arrived.

Whether we live in Eretz Yisrael or the United States, we live in dangerous times. We must understand that it is only with the return of Kvod Malchus Shamayim that we truly have the end of galus. May it come soon in our days.


 

The author can be reached at rabbisbloom@gmail.com.