ACUTE ANGLES: Candlelighting vs Shul for Women

Dear Rabbi.  I have a problem. My (Sydney) shul now davens at 6pm every Friday night during the  (southern-hemisphere) summer months. We, that is me, my husband and our four kids, love the Friday night services in our shul.  But how do I manage with candle-lighting?  I like to think I am Superwoman and can multi-task, but being in two places at once is too much even for me! J   What should I do?  Karin.

Dear Karin (and Jewish women everywhere may also peek in!),

Firstly, some background for the uninitiated (men too!)

Shabbat commences shortly before sunset. The candle-lighting times printed in the standard luach are, as a rule, 18 minutes prior to sunset as this is the time that Jewish women in our communities traditionally light. (In an emergency, candles may be lit up to two full minutes prior to sunset, but no later.)

May they be lit earlier?  Yes they may – but within reason!  The earliest time Shabbat may be inaugurated is plag ha-mincha (or plag for short) which is one-and-a-quarter seasonal hours before sunset. Candle-lighting – which normally inaugurates Shabbat for the Jewish woman – cannot take place prior to plag, nor can Maariv (the evening service) be davened before that time

What many shuls do in the summer, for the convenience of young families, is to bring in Shabbat early. They time the services – which commence with Mincha and Kabalat Shabbat – in order to ensure that Mizmor Shir leYom HaShabbat, “a psalm for the Shabbat day” which introduces Maariv proper (ArtScroll Siddur page 320) will be recited as soon as possible after plag.  (This coming Friday, plag will be 6:11pm in Sydney. In the height of the summer plag can be as late as 6:41pm. Consult your halachic-times app or, if you don’t have one, download!.)

Your shul will be able to daven up to the end of Lecha Dodi prior to plag. You cannot light until after plag.  Hence, even if you go to shul, you will miss the most pleasant and tuneful part of the service and – depending how long it takes for you to walk to shul – you may be lucky if you catch anything of the service altogether!

So this is your dilemma.  What should you do during these early-summer weeks?

It seems to me that you have the following options:-

  • Daven at home
  • Find another shul within walking distance that davens later – but that will make mealtime very late for your young family.
  • If your rabbi allows or encourages you to light in the shul foyer, you may do so provided you have your Shabbat meal there! Then you are establishing the Shule complex as a “fixed abode”.  If your shul hosts a Friday night dinner, that’s great!  Otherwise, you could, I suppose – assuming there is an eruv – bring your own wine, challa and fish and (with the permission of the shul) sit down as a family in the shul foyer, make Kiddush, wash, bensch and go home to enjoy the rest of your Shabbat food. However, it isn’t the ideal to eat your Shabbat meal in this “two-tier” fashion and anyway CSG or shul security may not be happy with such a plan!

My very strong recommendation to you is to daven at home!

When I was growing up in the UK, women customarily did not attend shul on Friday night. It would have been unthinkable, for both spiritual and safety reasons, for women of my mother’s generation to have lit candles, then left the sacred Shabbat lights to burn in an empty house.

The practice of women attending shul on Friday night would appear to have taken root in South Africa in more recent times, and it has spread to Australia. And why not? one might say.  Unless other considerations need to be weighed, such as the above.

 The kindling of Shabbat candles, symbolically bringing light and shalom bayit into the home, is a mitsva entrusted primarily to the Jewish woman. It is she who is the akeret ha-bayit, the directional force of the Jewish home.  (That is why a bride holds out her directional, index finger under the chupa, symbol of the new home, for her chatan to cede her this role by placing a ring thereon.)  And the Jewish home is the prime domain of Jewish life, above the synagogue.. Particularly during the recent Covid epidemic we came to a greater appreciation of this..

My earnest advice is: stay home with your two young daughters and daven with them amid the glow of your Shabbat candles. Revel in your “girls-only” or private time before the “boys” come home. (Note: this is not an excuse for your husband not to attend shul!) Affirm your role as queen of all you survey. Instil by example within your daughters’ souls your gratitude for, and your pride in, your home, fashioned in your image, your sparkling candelabrum, your beautifully-laid Shabbat table with its snow-white tablecloth, gleaming Kiddush cup, majestic challa board and embroidered challa cover. Breathe it all in, relax, unwind and enjoy intoning the beautiful Kabalat Shabbat service uninhibited and in your own sweet time.

And you know what?  You may just decide that staying home to daven Friday night with your daughters is something you really would like to do all year round!

I am aware that some are going to view this approach as sexist and retrograde. I reject both allegations. Judaism unashamedly does hand different roles to women and men, but one is not inferior to another.  The genius of our early Sages in prescribing for women the precious mitsva of hadlakat nerot, of inaugurating Shabbat with light in the home was founded upon their conviction that a Jewish woman’s home is her palace and she should enjoy it at her leisure in all its glory at the most serene and sacred juncture of the Jewish week!

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of five books on Judaism. He is a senior tutor for the Sydney Beth Din and the non-resident rabbi of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation. He can be reached at
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