The candle is probably one of the most often neglected Jewish symbols, containing however very important meanings. Candles can be used for practical purposes, such as lighting or heating or for religious purposes. Also, in Judaism, fire as a symbol is interpreted as the connection of God with the world and the man He created. In Jewish tradition, the lighting of candles is often used to mark the beginning of a holiday. The most commonly candle-associated Jewish holidays are the Shabbat, Havdalah and Chanukah. On Shabbat, candles are used to highlight the beginning of the holiday, as well as an introduction to a time destined entirely for rest.
The lighting of the Shabbat candles takes place on Friday evening, before the sun sets, in order to welcome the Sabbath, and it is a tradition to be done by the lady of the house. In the absence of a woman, naturally, a man can do it as well. The ritual of lighting the Shabbat candles consists of lighting them, waving a hand over them, covering one’s eyes and reciting a blessing. The blessing appeared only after the 11th century and was related to the blessing recited over the Chanukah menorah.
Normally, two candles are lit, but in some households it is customary to lit additional candles for all the children of the family, the ceremonial achieving thus a dual purpose – the honoring of Shabbat and the restoring of domestic peace-“shalom bayit”. This latter purpose is in connection with the fact that it is up to women usually to perform such a task, as according to the Torah, God entrusted women with the responsibility to bring and maintain light and harmony in the their households. Moreover, it is common for young girls to light the candles before their mothers do. Also, before getting married, young women light one candle, and after marriage they light two candles. Before the lighting of candles, it is better to put some money in a charity box.
While keeping the eyes closed and reciting the blessings, women can also recite prayers for themselves and their families. Consequently, apart from being a ceremonial in itself, the lighting of the Shabbat candle is also a good time for prayer.
It must be stated that the lighting of a Shabbat candle is a mitzvah that needs to be done by all, beginning at an early age – for instance, as soon as young girls are able to recite the blessing, they begin performing this ceremonial.
After having lit the candles, they are to be placed on the Shabbat table, where the Shabbat meal shall be eaten, and from that moment onwards, the Shabbat is considered to have been greeted in and no tiring activities are to be performed. The already lit candles are not to be removed until the end of Shabbat. Also, after lighting the candles and reciting the blessings, one can greet the family members with the following: “Good Shabbos” or “Shabbat Shalom”. Instead of using candles, sometimes it is possible to use electric light bulbs.