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Chanukah in the IDF
How does a soldier light Chanukah candles? There is an important rabbinic commandment to light Chanukah candles (really, flames) for all eight nights of Chanukah. Normally, we light in our homes, either in the window or right outside the door. When a soldier is at an army base, he can light there without worry. But what does a soldier do when he is out in the field, whether on an extended exercise or on the battlefield? At the time of this writing, there are thousands of IDF soldiers encamped on the Gaza border while hundreds are inside Gaza engaged in battle. How do those living in tents fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles and how do those inside Gaza fulfill the mitzvah?

The primary mitzvah of Chanukah is to light one candle for each home (Shabbos 21b). Those who want to do extra (mehadrin) have each member of the household light a candle and those who want to do even extra (mehadrin min ha-mehadrin) light an additional candle each night. Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Chanukah 4:1) explains that the highest way is that each member of the household lights an additional number of candles each night. In contrast, Tosafos (Shabbos 21b s.v. ve-ha-mehadrin) believe that the highest way is for one person in each home to light an increasing number of candles each night. In one of the ironies of halachic history, most Ashkenazim follow Rambam and therefore, in their homes, everyone lights a menorah with an additional candle each night. While most Sephardim follow Tosafos and, in their homes, only the head of the household lights a menorah with an additional candle each night.

Is a Home Necessary?
If the mitzvah revolves around the home, does this mean that someone without a home is exempt? Rav Shalom Mordechai Schwadron (Responsa Maharsham 4:146) discusses whether someone traveling overnight on a train should light Chanukah candles. He rules that since the passenger rented the space on the train, it is considered his home and he should light candles there. Based on this, Rav Eliezer Yehudah Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 15:29) concludes that someone who is hiking overnight can also light Chanukah candles. Since you do not need a fixed home for the mitzvah, even if you sleep in a tent on a hiking trail you also light Chanukah candles there. Rav Waldenberg goes further and argues that even if you sleep in a field under the sky, without any house or tent, you also light Chanukah candles there.

However, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (Ashrei Ha-Ish, vol. 3, p. 262) understands Rav Schwadron’s ruling differently. Rav Schwadron was discussing someone who takes a multi-day train ride, as was common in those days. The passenger pays for a bed in a specific room in an overnight car for an extended period of time. Such a room has more permanence, allowing a person to establish residence there. This is different from someone riding the train for a few hours at night. Rav Elyashiv would not allow someone hiking to light Chanukah candles. Rav Yitzchak Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, Chanukah, 671:28n, pp. 200, 653) quotes these two opinions and follows the former view, based on the conclusion of his illustrious father, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, that this is the majority opinion. Therefore, Rav Yitzchak Yosef permits soldiers who are at their guard posts to light Chanukah candles. In contrast, Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon (Halachah Mi-Mkorah, Zemanim, p. 347) says that most authorities follow Rav Elyashiv and do not allow people to light Chanukah candles without a home.

What is a Home?
Rav Elyashiv (ibid., p. 267) rules that a tent constitutes a home if the tent is four square amos long and wide, and its walls do not collapse under a normal wind. If a soldier will sleep at night in the tent then he can light Chanukah candles there. Rav Rimon (ibid., p. 348) says that most soldier’s individual tents are smaller than this. However, the larger military tents qualify as a home. A soldier can light at a larger tent with a blessing. If there is no other place to light, Rav Rimon allows one person to light outdoors with a blessing, following the minority (e.g. Chabad) view that public menorah lightings can be done with a blessing.

Rav Zechariah Ben Shlomo (Hilchos Tzava 75:24) rules that fully enclosed military vehicles (with a roof) constitute a home if a soldier sleeps in it. Therefore, if a soldier is going to sleep in a tank or an armored personnel carrier, he may light Chanukah candles with a blessing. However, Rav Ben Shlomo adds that regarding such vehicles, you have to be very careful from a safety perspective about where you light. You do not want to set military equipment on fire.

This discussion assumes that the soldier does not have people back at home lighting Chanukah candles. If he does, he can fulfill the mitzvah through them because the primary mitzvah is to light one candle per home.

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