Chanukah candles should preferably be placed in a place where they will be visible to the public in order for the miracle of Chanukah to be publicized through our lighting of the Chanukah candles.
It is for this reason that our Sages enacted that the Chanukah candles be lit next to the entrance to the house on the outside so that passerby can see these candles and the miracle will be thus be publicized. Nevertheless, the prevalent custom today is not to light the Chanukah candles outside; rather, they are lit on the window sill or somewhere else inside the house. However, if one has a private house with an entrance facing the street and there is no concern that anyone will try to vandalize the candles, one may certainly light outside the house next to the entrance (on the side opposite the Mezuzah) and fulfill the Mitzvah in this manner. (There are many details regarding the above law which we cannot delve into at present.)
An Apartment Building
Regarding an apartment building, some wish to light Chanukah candles on the outside of the entrance to their house in the stairwell of the building. Nevertheless, Hagaon Harav Ben Zion Abba Shaul zt”l (Ner Zion, Chapter 4, Section 10) rules that this should not be done since the stairwell is not considered a courtyard and only serves as a passage way for the neighbors to be able to enter their respective apartments. It is therefore preferable for such people to light on the window sill of a window facing the street.
A Very High Building
The Mitzvah to light Chanukah candles in the window of an apartment that faces the street is only when the window is no higher than twenty Amot (approximately thirty feet) from the street. One who lives above this height will not be fulfilling the Mitzvah of publicizing the miracle to the passerby on the street since people do not generally lift their heads up to look so high.
Thus, if one lives on such a high floor, one should light the candles somewhere else in the house and one will still fulfill the Mitzvah of publicizing the miracle since the members of the family will see the candles. On the other hand, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes (in his Chazon Ovadia-Chanukah, page 36) that if there is another high building across one’s own, one should light in the window since the neighbors in the adjacent building will be able to see the candles.
The Custom of Maran zt”l
When Maran zt”l lived on Jabotinsky Street in the Rachavia section of Jerusalem, he did not have a window facing the street and thus, he would merely light the Chanukah candles on his dining room table. He would therefore fulfill the Mitzvah of publicizing the miracle in front of his family. When he later moved to the Har Nof section of Jerusalem, he lit the Chanukah candles on a window sill facing the street as this is the preferable practice, as we have written.