Although women are generally exempt from all positive, time-bound Mitzvot, such as the Mitzvah of Shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Sukkah and Lulav on Sukkot, they are nevertheless obligated to light Chanukah candles, for they were also included in the miraculous salvation of the Jewish nation on the holiday of Chanukah. Therefore, even if a woman is married and her husband is unable to light the candles at home, for instance, because he has to travel overseas, it is preferable that the husband appoint his wife as his agent to light the Chanukah candles on his behalf at home. In this way, the husband fulfills his obligation even though he is not present at the time of the lighting. Similarly, if a woman lives alone, she is likewise obligated to light Chanukah candles just like a man.
An Individual who Plans on Returning Home Late at Night
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that even if a husband knows that he will be returning home that same night but at a late hour, it is better for him to appoint his wife as his agent to light the candles at the proper time, which is approximately fifteen minutes after sunset, rather than light on his own at the later time. Even though there is a rule by all Mitzvot that “it is preferable for one to fulfill the Mitzvah on his own rather than through an agent,” in this situation it is preferable for the husband to appoint his wife as his agent since in this way, the Mitzvah will be fulfilled at the proper time our Sages established for it. Additionally, even when one’s wife lights on his behalf, since halachically “one’s wife is like one’s self” (meaning they are considered to be one entity), it is considered as if the husband has lit the Chanukah candles on his own.
Nevertheless, according to the Ashkenazi custom that each member of the household lights for himself, even if the husband has traveled abroad, if he finds himself in a place where he can light, it is preferable that he light in his current location without a blessing and his wife should light at home with a blessing. If at all possible though, the husband should try to hear the blessings on the lighting from another person.
Although women are obligated to light the Chanukah candles, when the head of the household lights at home, his wife and daughters should not light on their own. This would apply even according to the custom of the Ashkenazim that each member of the household lights; even so, one’s wife and daughters should not light. Only if a woman is home alone, for instance if she is still unmarried or even if she is married but her husband is not home at the appropriate candle-lighting time, should she light Chanukah candles.
If One was not Present During the Candle-Lighting on the First Night of Chanukah
An additional issue must still be discussed. We mentioned above that when a husband sees that he will only arrive home late, he should appoint his wife to light on his behalf and he will consequently fulfill his obligation. However, if this was the situation on the first night of Chanukah, the husband will not have recited the “Shehecheyanu” blessing customarily recited on the first night. Thus, if the individual is home on the second night and will be lighting the Chanukah candles himself, he must consequently recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing since this is his first actual lighting of the Chanukah candles.