The Mechaber (671:7) brings the halacha of lighting the Menorah in the Bais Haknesses. It is lit with a brocha because of pirsumei nisa – publicizing the miracle of Chanukah. Even though it is only a minhag to light in the Bais Haknesses, a brocha is still recited, similar to the brocha we recite before hallel on Rosh Chodesh which is also only a minhag. The opinion of the Rambam is that a brocha is not recited on something which is only a minhag. The Mechaber (422:2) brings this opinion in regard to reciting a brocha before hallel on Rosh Chodesh. The Meforshim ask why the Mechaber in Hilchos Chanukah says that a brocha is recited before lighting in the Bais Haknesses without bringing the opinion of the Rambam that a brocha is not recited on a minhag like he brings in Hilchos Rosh Chodesh.
Reb Shlomo Zalman zt”l explains that even the Rambam agrees when lighting the neiros Chanukah in the Bais Haknesses that a brocha is recited. There is a big difference between neiros Chanukah and hallel. The machlokes if a brocha is recited on a minhag is when the whole source is only a minhag and we don’t find it anywhere else being done as a mitzvah. There the Rambam holds no brocha is recited. However by neiros Chanukah there is a mitzvah for each person to light in his house and the minhag extended it to also light in the Bais Haknesses. Everyone agrees that in such a case a brocha is recited. The Aruch Hashulchan says that a brocha is recited because of the guests who don’t have where to light. The Bais Yosef brings this as one of the reasons for the minhag. In general, today there is no one who is fulfilling their mitzvah with this hadlakah.
The Maharam Shick writes that the Chasam Sofer would not recite a brocha on the neiros Chanukah of the Bais Haknesses. The Teshuvos V’hanhagos says that one who will be properly fulfilling the mitzvah in his home should not light in the Bais Haknesses with a brocha. Others disagree and there is no problem to light in the Bais Haknesses with a brocha.
Really a minor should be able to light in the Bais Haknesses since no one is fulfilling their mitzvah there. However because of kavod hatzibbur – it should only be lit by a gadol. The minhag is that the shliach tzibbur lights the menorah. If he is in aveilus he should not light the first night to avoid making the brocha of shehechiyanu. It is not befitting for an avel to recite the shehechiyanu for the tzibbur at such a joyous time. However at home he makes a shehechiyanu. If everyone already lit at home a shehechiyanu is still said. The pizmon of haneiros hallalu is also recited in the Bais Haknesses.
In a Bais Haknesses where there are many minyanim for maariv, enough oil should be put in so it can remain lit for all of them. If they went out they should be relit for the next minyan. There is a machlokes if they should be relit with a brocha. Reb Elyashiv zt”l says they should be relit with a brocha. The Shevet Halevi says they should be relit without a brocha.
The Menorah is placed by the south wall of the Bais Haknesses, on the right side of the Aron Kodesh, as a remembrance for the Menorah in the Bais Hamikdash which was in the south side. The Rema says the neiros should be arranged from east to west. The Mishna Berura brings a minhag to arrange them from north to south.1
Prepared by R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Ziskind
1Sources: Mishna Berurah, Ohr Yisroel Halachos of Chanukah, Dirshu, Piskei Tshuvos