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HALACHA-----chanukah and floating wicks


MODERATOR Posted - 19 December 2003 20:00

If you want to light your Menorah with oil and not wax, you cannot use those floating wicks. The reason: The wicks are coated with wax, and when you light the candles, you are not lighting oil but wax. After the wax burns out, the oil will be absorbed by the wick and will burn, but by that time it is too late. When you lit, you didn’t light oil.

Even if you let the wick sit in the oil for a long time, you will still be lighting wax. The oil does NOT get absorbed until the wax burns. Here's proof:

Take those wicks and float them not in oil, but water. Let them sit there for a while, then light the wicks. You will see that the wicks light with no problem at all, and burn for a short while until the wax starts to melt away and the water gets absorbed into the wick, extinguishing the fire.

Even if you light the wicks and then blow them out, it still does not help - use the above experiment to check.

(Note: Even when the water extinguishes the wick, it does not mean that you are using water exclusively, but a combination. Perhaps you are still using 90% wax and 10% water, which is enough to put out the flame. This means that even after the amount of time that it takes for the flame to go out, you still could possibly be burning mostly wax. Consider as well that oil is thicker than water and does not absorb as quick.)

The solution is to use those other types of wicks - the cotton ones with the metal spider legs that are suspended on top of the glass cups that hold the oil, or the gold-colored metal tubes where you insert the wick, or something like that. But if you want to light with oil, you don’t want to use the floating wicks.

Of course, this is only l'hidua. You are 100% yotzeh your obligation with candles. But oil is considered more mehudar, and it's worth pursuing.

proud2bfrum Posted - 21 December 2003 16:51

Thanks for that, good to know!

who me?! Posted - 22 December 2003 0:40

rabbi, I beg to differ I told my father who is all into being machmir and hidder mitzvah and... he said it’s not true. the oil no mater what is burning out so obviously its oil that’s burning and he said its prob like an advertisement for cotton wicks.

MODERATOR Posted - 22 December 2003 0:42

The oil does NOT burn out until after the wax is melted. Meaning, for the first X amount of time after you light, the oil does not burn out in the slightest. The wax forms a seal all around the wick and the wick does not allow a drop of oil in. After the wax burns out, then the oil first starts trickling in. But sine the lighting of the Menorah is the Mitzvah, at the time you lit, you only lit oil.

yossele Posted - 22 December 2003 0:45

rav mod- I saw in the sefer guidelines for Chanukah written by rabbis yitzchok jaeger and elozor barcley that floating wicks are fine for the hiddur of oil because the wax is part of the wick. this is brought besheim reb shmuel vozner shlito (mibeis levi cheilek yud omud yud daled) and besheim reb shlomo zalmen ( mevakshei toiroh simon reish aleph ois hei)

MODERATOR Posted - 22 December 2003 0:49

It's difficult to understand what you report is quoted in the name of those poskim. It's part of the wick - so what? The fuel that is burning is wax, not oil. What if the wick were let's say an inch thick with wax and the oil didn’t burn for 40 minutes - would you still say that’s ok? If not, then whets the limit?

The wax is not needed for the wick, and it serves as fuel, like oil does. So I don’t get it.

But if I could confirm that Rav Shlomo Zalman and Rav Elyashiv really said that, then even if I don’t get it, we can of course consider it not a problem.

trixies Posted - 22 December 2003 23:20

mod, my father would like to know what your source is on this. also I don’t take what I face value so I experimented. I did a wax floating wick in water and it burned for 16 seconds.

I did a cotton wick in a spider thing it burned for 13 1/2 second. actually I did 2 cotton wicks just to make sure. they both burnt for the same amount. I (and my father) don’t see the difference between burning wax or burning cotton in reference to hiddur of the mitzva.

In addition yossle seems to back up his sources fairly well. also you say what if the wick were an inch thick w/ wax" just to be technical, I don't think the wick would catch. you would have to melt the wax most of the way to get to the wick so it can burn (ever try melting the bottom of those colored candles? it doesn’t catch until u melt all the wax and get to the wick inside) all I’m trying to say is I don’t get your take on this.

MODERATOR Posted - 22 December 2003 23:28

You did the wrong experiment. Sigh. The problem is that the wick, which burned for 16 seconds, is burning without any oil. It is burning the wax for fuel, since the oil cannot get in -- the wax creates a waterproof (and oil-proof) coating. The experiment is to show that the oil cant penetrate the wax, and you see that because if the water could penetrate the wax you wouldn’t be able to get the wick to burn. And so, if a wick floating in water can burn, the water obviously is not touching the fire.

And so, neither is the oil.

If the oil isn’t touching the fire, but the wax is melting then you’re burning the wax.

After the 16 or so seconds that the wax burns, then the oil gets sucked into the wick and fuels the fire. But for those first 16 seconds or so, you’re burning wax not oil. And the Mitzvah is fulfilled at the time of lighting, at which time the oil did nothing for you.

When you burned the cotton, it only lasted 16 seconds or so because it was not in oil. Had you put oil in it, it would have lasted longer, because when you light the wick, it is saturated with oil. But if you would put a cotton wick in WATER, and then light it, it would not light at all. Yet the floating wick DOES light in water. Ergo: The floating wick does NOT absorb the fuel until after the wax burns, but the cotton wick does absorb the fuel. (The fuel = the oil.) That’s the difference.

When someone writes that some posek said something, that is what we want to confirm. People quote things all the time.

grend123 Posted - 23 December 2003 10:30

Mod, the wick always burns somewhat before it catches the oil. If you light a 3 inch long cotton wick with no wax coating it will still be several seconds before any oil is burned, and yet no one would argue that you didn't light the oil correctly.

Wicks are by definition flammable, and there is always a lag between lighting the wick and the burning of the oil, so by your logic no one is ever yotzei with oil, even the way they lit in the bais hamikdash! (i.e., with long cloth wicks). Have you seen this in print anywhere, or is this your own chumra? Because it sounds as if you are missing some of the science metzius of oil lamps.

MODERATOR Posted - 23 December 2003 10:36

I am fully aware of how wicks work. The point is, there is the wick and the fuel it burns. Wicks were made to work with fuel and therefore, the fuel is what we take into consideration, not the cotton for the wick.

The problem is, with the wax wicks, the wax was put there specifically to function as fuel, so that you don’t have to wait for the oil to be absorbed into the wick. The wax serves absolutely no "wick" purpose, but rather a fuel purpose - it is, in essence, a miniature candle. What you are doing when you put a floating wick in the oil, is you are floating a miniature candle in the oil lamp and lighting it, waiting for the candle to burn out, and then continue burning the oil.

Your use of the word "chumrah" in this context is erroneous. A chumrah is not something that someone says you cant do, but rather something that someone says you can do halachicly, but for whatever reason - possibly dissenting halachic opinions, or custom, or siyag - you should not do it anyway. If you want to find a label for an item such as this, you can call it a chidush but not a chumrah.

In print? Does count as print?

stumbled Posted - 24 December 2003 1:04

Mod, my Rebbe in Yeshiva said today that it looks like you’re right about this, but he never heard of this before. Does it come from somewhere or did you make it up? And why didn’t we hear of this before?

MODERATOR Posted - 24 December 2003 1:09

I made it up. But apparently other people thought of it before - because that sefer that yossele referred to mentions it (thought it quotes those great poskim as permitting it).

inn6ysse Posted - 24 December 2003 18:23

You seem to be saying that one would not be yotzeh lighting with oil by using the wax coated wick, because in essence the wick is a small candle, with wax for fuel.

The problem is two-fold. First of all a simple review of hilchos Chanukah would reveal that you must light something which has enough fuel to burn for half an hour after lighting time. As the floating wick only burns for 16 seconds, you are not lighting a menorah. Any bracha would be a bracha levatala, like lighting a piece of newspaper.

A floating wick is simply not a candle in regards to hilchos chanukah. It is a wick, in oil, and you are lighting the oil.

The other problem is scientific. A cotton wick and a floating wick accomplish the same thing. They are the fuel for the flame until the flame burns down to a barrier, and then they transport the oil to the fire. No matter how long it takes the wick to burn before burning the oil, the fire will not start using the oil until all available fuel is consumed.

MODERATOR Posted - 24 December 2003 18:32

You’re wrong about your understanding of the mitzvah of lighting. The mitzvah is to light a Ner that has the ability to last for 30 minutes lets say. But you get the Mitzvah at the moment of the lighting. So that if you’re lighting for instance electric menorah that will, after 16 seconds, trigger an oil lamp to be lit, you are not yotzeh, even though your electric lighting only lasted 16 seconds.

This is because at the time of the lighting you simply lit the wrong thing. And if you remove the moment of lighting from the equation, you are left without a mitzvah.

So too, if you light a candle which a little while later melts and causes oil to burn, at the time of the lighting you weren’t lighting oil. Of course you’re yotzeh, but not with oil.

Your second issue I already dealt with. The wax on a floating wick is fuel for the wick -that’s why its there - to make it easier to light, so you don have to deal with the difficulty of lighting a dry, cotton wick. Therefore, whereas a cotton wick is fueled by oil, and if you let it sit there it will absorb the oil, the floating wick is fueled, at the beginning, not by the wick but by the wax fuel that coats it --- exactly like a candle. If you would leave a cotton wick in the oil it will absorb its fuel - the oil. But if you leave a floating wick in the oil, it will never absorb any oil -- its fuel is the wax.

A floating wick is exactly like a candle floating in the oil. Let's say you would put a candle in the oil, and float it there - a candle that can only last lets say 25 minutes. You light the candle, it burns wax for 25 minutes, and then, as the candle melts, the wick of the candle starts absorbing oil and continues burning. Would you say you’re yotzeh?

MODERATOR Posted - 24 December 2003 18:34

As far as your brachah lvatalah -- no. Since the flame that you lit will burn continuously for hours - first via the wax, then via the oil, you’re 100% yotzeh. A combination of 2 fuels in a lamp is also kosher.

pachad Posted - 24 December 2003 20:13

Mod, Reb Yonason David shlita has held like what you’re saying for years. To him it was a dovor poshut that floating wicks is like lighting candles.

MODERATOR Posted - 24 December 2003 22:33


The wax isn’t part of the wick because a wick by definition is something designed to suck up fuel, and the wax does the opposite - it prevents the fuel form being sucked up, so what in the world kind of wick is that? The answer is, the wax is fuel, not part of the wick. That being the case, you’re lighting the wrong fuel, at least at the beginning.

The only way out of this I can hear is to say granted, the wax is not the wick, because its not designed to do what a wick does, but by the same token its really not "fuel" either, since fuel is designed to make the lamp burn, and since the wax was surely not designed to last for any decent amount of time, it doesn’t function as fuel either, but merely as kind of a spark-plug type pf thing that helps the wick stay lit. Therefore, you can say that the wax is botul to the wick, and only the oil is considered the fuel.

So yeah, you can say that. But maybe not. Maybe the wax is considered fuel, since ultimately its designed to be sucked up into the wick and burn, which is, after all, what fuel is.

You can say either way. And in such a case, the bottom line is, we should be concerned that we have no source that this floating wick entity is indeed considered a wick, except form a svara, which is far from iron-clad.

So don’t use them.

MODERATOR Posted - 24 December 2003 22:47

A friend of mine just called me telling me that he asked his posek (who happens to be a big Talmid Chacham) about this, and he agreed with me that who knows for sure if this floating thing is a wick or not - you can indeed look at it both ways - and so he provided a solution in order to avoid the shailah: hold the burning shamash on the wick long enough that the wax melts and the oil starts burning.

ahronr Posted - 25 December 2003 13:32

Its pashut that a wick is a wick no matter how its made. The point in the wax isn’t to make it like a candle, its to make it stay better toghether.also in the Bais Hamikdash they count have used cotton to light the menorah, because cotton was discovered in America, so why should cotton be any better than wax?

MODERATOR Posted - 25 December 2003 13:41

A wick is a wick regardless of what its made out of, but its not a wick if it doesn’t function as one. And the function of a wick is to suck up the fuel to burn. The wax does just the opposite - it prevents fuel from being sucked up. And when you light the wick, the wax is not functioning as part of the wick, sucking up fuel; rather, its functioning as the fuel. Not everything that’s little and floats on top of oil is a wick.

We know that a wick can be made out of anything, but the question is, if the fuel is connected to the wick, does that automatically make it part of the wick, or is it still the fuel?

And no, the wax is not matzoh meal - its not put there to hold anything together. Its there to help the wick light so that you don’t have to wait for the oil to get absorbed. Its cleaner and easier than using the cotton wicks, which is why they put the wax there.

And what makes you think in the Bais Hamikdash they didn’t use cotton, or some other textile-derived wick?

shmush Posted - 25 December 2003 23:07

thanks mod. I would NEVER have thought of that. I actually got my family to change over to cotton wicks after I read this. it just makes so much sense.

hmm... Posted - 06 January 2004 8:09

If you light a wick with no wax (i.e. a cotton wick) in water it will burn for ten seconds. so if you are saying the problem in lighting wax wicks is that it is being fueled by wax and not oil, then that is incorrect, since the wick will never be fueled by oil AT THE POINT OF LIGHTING.

If you use a cotton wick, then "the wick itself" is the fuel, after ten seconds, the wick will use the oil for fuel. The only difference is (and I experimented tonight) that with a wax wick in water it took 15 seconds and a cotton wick in water took 10 seconds. Are you saying that those 5 seconds cause a problem for hiddur mitzva?

MODERATOR Posted - 06 January 2004 16:21

No. That’s not what I am saying. Please read above. The issue is not the time delay. The issue is, how you define a "wick" and "fuel" in hilchos chanukah. There are, pertinent to this discussion, two possibilities:

1) a wick is something that sucks up fuel to burn; fuel is something that gets sucked into the wick and burns.

If that is true, then the wax around the wick is not part of the wick, but fuel. And thus, when you light the menorah, you are lighting wax as fuel. That’s the problem. The problem is not what the wick is made of but what the fuel is made of. When you light a cotton wick, the cotton is the wick and the oil is the fuel. That’s fine. But when wax is fuel, not wick, you have a problem.

2) It is possible that a "wick" is something that you initially light, and the "fuel" is what sustains the fire. If this is so, then one can say that the wax is part of the wick, since it is designed NOT to sustain the fire for any reasonable amount of time, but rather to help you light the wick.

The problem is, how in the world can anyone know which definition of wick and fuel is correct? You wont find a resolution to this issue in Hilchos Chanukah.

Therefore, I said, since we have no idea, it is best to stay away from the problem.

mo Posted - 21 December 2005 15:23

Please bring this up. Piskei teshuvois (673,2)says its muttar, but recommends to burn the wax before or pour oil over the wick.

MODERATOR Posted - 21 December 2005 15:26

I posted this solution 2 years ago

mo Posted - 21 December 2005 18:42

It's muttar according to
1) Responsa le-Hoirosi Nosan chapter 6, 45
2) Kuntres Yemei Chanuko (pasakim) and Sefer Birkas Moshe (12,27) from the name of r. Sh. Z. Averbach

The svoro and solution he writes from himself.

MODERATOR Posted - 21 December 2005 18:50

Thanks. I say you should burn the wax before, so you’re lighting the oil itself.

nechy Posted - 21 December 2005 20:19

mod- you keep saying that the wax is fuel. it isn’t. even in candles, the wax melts and drips off. it is not consumed, it is merely there for the purpose of lengthening the amount of time the wick can burn. if the wax was the fuel, it would disappear, like oil does, yet if you look at a menorah in which one lit candles, after the candles have gone out, there is wax all over it.

MODERATOR Posted - 21 December 2005 20:21

There is less wax there at the end; the rest of the wax got consumed. The wax melts and gets burned as fuel. Wax is just less efficient than oil so it doesn’t always get all used up.

nechy Posted - 27 December 2005 3:47

hehe mod I showed this to my father, and he went out and bought all-cotton wicks.... freilachen chanuka!

mrs Posted - 29 December 2005 12:58

I am married (I used to post here often when I was single and I still come back here) and my husband likes when I light with oil. I never use floating wicks but I use a long red wick (similar to the floating) and put it in a gold holder into a cup filled with oil and then light. Is this too considered to be lighting a candle? Where exactly can I have my husband look this up?

MODERATOR Posted - 29 December 2005 14:01

If your husband would have asked me I would give my opinion, but currently I consider it inappropriate on my part to instruct you to do anything except bring the issue to your husband and let him (or his Rav) decide. It's not a black and white issue, and you’re certainly yotzeh either way - its a matter of hidur, and its not so clear cut altogether. It's your husband's decision who he wants to ask or what he wants to do.

mrs Posted - 15 January 2006 17:24

thank you for your honesty. I asked my husband and he had heard of the shaila of the floating wicks and explained to me why for shabbos neros it would be different thus allowing me to continue with the floating wicks for shabbos.

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