Lighting Shabbat Candles

February 28, 2014

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, February 28, 2014.

Lighting Shabbat Candles

What more iconic image is there then that of someone lighting Shabbat Candles? It was so important to the Rabbis 2000 years ago, that it was one of only three positive (“Thou Shalt”) commandments that were REQUIRED of women, who are exempt from time bound commandments! In every observant Jewish home today, two or more candles are lit. However candles themselves have only been used for the Sabbath in Jewish homes for about 150 years!!! If you think about it, the blessing says “Lehadlik NER shell Shabbat”… we are commanded “to light the Sabbath light.” Light (singular), not lights! The word NER actually means lamp, not light, or candle (although it is used in modern Hebrew to mean candle).

Candles in the middle ages were an unpleasant, messy concern. They were made of animal fat and other animal products – the oil from sperm whales figuring in many of them. They smelled awful and smoked horribly. Candles that were less noisome, such as those from beeswax, were far too expensive to be used. In a typical Jewish home in the Middle Ages, people used what came to be known as a Judensstern, or “Jewish Star.” This was a star shaped lamp with five to twenty points, an oil reservoir in the center, and wicks in the points. It typically hung over the table where it illuminated the home on weekdays. On Shabbat it was pulled down closer to the table. Finally in 1834, candles started being mass produced and therefore cheaper, and in the 1850’s they developed using the scent free and smokeless Paraffin wax. It was only then that Jews started using candles for this central Shabbat ritual.

A Sabbath Lamp

Shabbat Shalom