Lighting of the Sabbath candles formally ushers in the Sabbath
for the members of the household.
It is the obligation of the wife to fulfill this religious duty. Unless
a woman had been living alone, she starts to observe it on the first
Sabbath after her marriage.
Where two or more married women are in the same household,
either on a temporary or permanent basis, it is customary for each
to light Sabbath candles separately.
When the woman of a house is absent or is incapable of performing
the ritual, or where a man lives alone, he lights the Sabbath
candles himself. Although the woman is given priority in fulfilling
this religious duty, lighting Sabbath candles is a requirement related
to the general observance of the Sabbath and is a religious duty
incumbent upon both men and women.
The Sabbath candles are lighted approximately twenty minutes
before sundown. In the absence of a Jewish calendar listing candlelighting
time for a particular geographic area, the time of sundown
can be found in the daily local newspaper and the candlelighting
time determined accordingly. Once the time of sundown passes, the
candles may no longer be lit.
It is permissible for the candles to be lit somewhat earlier. This
is often done in the summer months when the day is particularly
long and the Sabbath might be ushered in an hour or so earlier.
The minimum number of candles lighted is two. They symbolically
represent the two forms of the fourth commandment:
Zachor--Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8),
and Shamor--Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Deut. 5:12).
There are some family or local traditions where three or more
candles are lighted or that call for an additional Sabbath candle for every child born. One is free to light more than the minimum if one
chooses to do so.
White candles intended specifically for the Sabbath eve are
generally available. If they are not available, any festive dinner candles
of whatever shape, design, or color may be used instead. The only
condition is that they be large enough to burn during the Sabbath
meal and well into nightfall.
Although any candelabra are permissible, it is preferable to have
a pair of candlesticks or candelabra reserved specifically for the
Although proper ritual procedure requires that the recitation of
a blessing always precedes the performance of the mitzvah, in this
instance the candles are lighted first and the benediction is recited
afterward. The reason is obvious. Recital of the blessing formally
ushers in the Sabbath after which it is forbidden to light a flame.
The procedure is to close one's eyes or cover them with the hands
while the benediction is recited. When eyes are opened after the
blessing, the sight of the Sabbath lights brings forth the delight that
is actually regarded as the culmination of the mitzvah.
The blessing recited for the Sabbath candles is:
Baruch ata adonai elohainu melech ha-olam asher kidshanu
b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel shabbat.
Blessed are Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who
has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us
to kindle the Sabbath lights.
After the candles are lit, it is proper to greet the others in the
household with the words Shabbat Shalom. Everyone responds like
The Sabbath candles should be lighted on the table where the
Sabbath meal is eaten. If this is impractical, it should at least be
done in the same room.
(Under exceptional circumstances, as when staying at a hotel or
resort, or when confined for illness, etc., this requirement is waived,
and the candles may be lighted wherever it is most practical to do so.)