Blowing out the Candles for Shalom Bayit

The Talmud says that the reason the Sages instructed us to light candles at the onset of Shabbat is shalom bayit, tranquility in the home. Of course, on the most basic level, this simply means that we should not sit in the dark on Friday night, since it is not conducive to the evening meal. Over time, especially when light became a permanent feature of homes, the act of lighting candles became ritual, something that one does even in a room flooded with light.

But what if lighting flames in the home harms shalom bayit?

This question describes what goes on in many families with autistic children, according to Frances Victory, who has interviewed such families for her dissertation. Here's her report, from the Jewish Week:

And during the interviews, some mothers of a child with autism said they could not light Shabbat candles because they were afraid their child would “play with it, blow it out, touch it, or throw things at it.” It never occurred to me that lighting Shabbat candles on a Friday evening might not be possible for every Jewish woman who wanted to.
I tend to agree with the mothers here. The underlying purpose of lighting candles is shalom bayit, and it would seem ludicrous to compromise shalom bayit - to introduce fear, anxiety, and danger - in order to light Shabbat candles. One may technically use electric bulbs - even fluorescent - to fulfill the rabbinic instruction.

One mother, however, figured out a way to preserve the customary candle-lighting while keeping her shalom bayit intact. Victory continues:
 One mother of a child with autism said this:
“We do light Shabbat candles and she (her daughter with autism) takes great pleasure in blowing them out. We do let her do that. She walks away when we light the candles but she comes back down when we sing Shalom Alechiem.”
It is worth reading the whole article. It is enlightening.


Perry said...

If you look at the first comment after the article, you will see that this need not be a permanent change, and that shalom bayit with children on the autistic spectrum can indeed include the lighting of Shabbat candles. (And anyone who has "normal" boisterous 9-year-old children will know that, with them running around on Shabbat evening, there is every possibility of the candles being knocked over or otherwise extinguished...)

Unknown said...

According to some halakhic authorities, one can say the bracha on regular electric lighting turned on for the purpose of Shabbat, as it fulfills the original purpose of the mitzva (R' Ovadia Yosef, for example). In this case, that would be the preferable approach.