Praying Mincha Before Lighting Candles
On the Friday afternoon of Chanukah, it is preferable to pray Mincha before lighting the Chanukah candles. The reason for this is because the Mincha prayer was established in the place of the daily “Tamid” sacrifice that was brought in the Bet Hamikdash every afternoon, while lighting Chanukah candles was established in commemoration of the miracle that occurred regarding the Menorah of the Temple. The order of the service in the Temple was that the Tamid sacrifice was brought first and only following this was the Menorah lit. It is only suitable then that Mincha should be prayed before the candles are lit.
Therefore, many have the custom to pray Mincha earlier on Friday after which they go home to prepare for Shabbat, light the Chanukah candles, and finally return to synagogue to pray Kabbalat Shabbat and Arvit.
However, if a Minyan that prays Mincha early on Friday afternoon is not easily accessible, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that if one will be able to find a later Minyan for Mincha, it is preferable to first light Chanukah candles and then pray with a Minyan rather than to pray Mincha alone before lighting, for the significance of praying with Minyan is greater than praying before lighting (see Chazon Ovadia-Chanukah, page 179).
The Proper Time for Lighting Chanukah Candles on Friday Afternoon
On the Friday afternoon of Chanukah, one may certainly not light as one would during the rest of the week, for the sanctity of Shabbat will already have begun. Therefore, one must light the candles earlier than usual, before Shabbat begins. However, one should not light too early; rather the Chanukah candles should be lit approximately twenty minutes before sunset. If one wishes to light earlier than this, one may, as long as he does not light earlier than “Pelag Ha’Mincha” which is one-and-a-quarter seasonal hours before nightfall. (We have explained previously in this series that halachic hours are calculated by taking the amount of time from sunrise to sunset and dividing it into twelve equal parts; each of these parts will be considered a seasonal hour. Thus, in the winter when the days are shorter, a seasonal hour will be shorter than a standard hour, while in the summer when the days are longer, the seasonal hour will lengthen as well.)
The Amount of Oil One Must Fill the Glasses With
Although Chanukah candles are lit earlier than nightfall on Friday afternoon, they must still burn for the same amount of time they would on the other nights, i.e. until approximately a half-hour after nightfall. (This means that the candles should be lit about twenty minutes before sunset and must then remain burning until approximately fifteen minutes after sunset which is nightfall, plus another half-hour after that.) Therefore, one must make sure to add enough oil or have candles that are long enough to burn until at least a half-hour after nightfall. The time of nightfall in Israel as well as America during this time of year is approximately fifteen minutes after sunset, as we have explained above.
Many people unknowingly buy ready-to-light oil glasses for Chanukah that do not have the proper amount of oil to burn for this prolonged time of over an hour. If one does not have all the candles with the required amount of oil, one should make sure that at least one candle has the prescribed amount of oil to last until the allotted time in order to fulfill at least the minimal obligation of lighting the Chanukah candles.
Summary: One should preferably try to pray Mincha before lighting Chanukah candles on Erev Shabbat. Chanukah candles should be lit on Friday afternoon approximately twenty minutes before sunset. One should take care to fill the glasses with enough oil for the candles to remain lit until a half-hour after nightfall, i.e. approximately one hour and five minutes after having been lit. Chanukah candles should be lit before Shabbat candles.