Ask the Rov: May a woman fry latkes or doughnuts after Menorah lighting?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah
Shulchan Aruch quotes the custom of women not to do melacha while the Chanuka candles are lit, and that one should not be lenient in this.1 Women are singled out because the miracle came about through a woman – Yehudis.2 On a spiritual note, the Rebbe writes that when women internalize the message of the Chanuka candles, they can rise above mundane matters.3
The poskim offer two explanations for this custom:
The first reason is out of concern that she may come to use the candles to illuminate her work, and to serve as a reminder that their light is forbidden to use. Accordingly, this should only apply during the first half hour of the candles burning after nightfall (i.e., 50 minutes from being lit according to the Chabad custom) since after that time, one may extinguish the candles altogether.4 While some argue that it should remain prohibited afterward since one still shouldn’t use them if they burn longer, others counter that we would not make a decree to safeguard this hidur.5
A second reason given for this minhag is that the days of Chanuka were established as a yom tov with Hallel and thanksgiving to Hashem. To mark it as a yom tov, women abstain from melacha as long as Chanuka candles are burning anywhere in their vicinity, assumed to be until midnight.6 According to this approach, a woman should abstain from melacha even after her candles have burned out or she isn’t at home where her candles are burning.
In practice, the custom follows the first approach that allows melacha following the first 30 (or 50) minutes. After that time, melacha is done, but not in front of the candles.7
As to the type of melacha prohibited, some poskim follow the guidelines of yom tov, when cooking is permitted.8 Others only prohibit melacha that is forbidden on chol hamoed, like sewing and washing clothing.9 Frying latkes would thus be permitted according to all opinions, even while the candles burn strong.
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From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash