OU Effort to Make Chanukah Safer
With Chanukah beginning Wednesday night, Jewish homes around the world will be graced with the soft glow of beautiful light – from wax candles and olive oil, the preferred media for fulfilling the commandment of lighting the Chanukah menorah over the eight nights of the holiday.
And while those candles burn, many families will enjoy the yummy treats associated with Chanukah – latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly donuts), or other oil-fried treats that Jews around the world eat, in commemoration of the miracle of the single flask of olive oil that burned for eight days.
But those beautiful lights and tasty treats contain a danger – the open flame that burns on the menorah lights, and the hot frying pans that the treats are cooked in. While most of us come away from Chanukah with happy memories of fun and inspiration, there always seem to be a few who come away with far different memories – dark memories of a home lost to a major fire, caused by a candle that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It's tragic any time of year, but especially on Chanukah – and the Orthodox Union, among many others, is dedicating itself to ensuring that this year remains fire-free for all Jews. For the OU, December isn't just the month Chanukah falls in – it's Fire Safety Month, a month to reacquaint ourselves with the basic rules of fire safety, especially those that apply in the home. The initiative is the latest aspect of the OU’s “Safe Homes, Safe Shuls, Safe Schools” program, and was instituted, according to Frank Buchweitz, OU National Director of Community Services and Special Projects, because “we want to protect our families. Chanukah presents us with the opportunity to sensitize the community to dangers associated with use of fire in many of our observances.”
In an effort to promote fire safety, the OU has posted six fire prevention guides on its website. The guides include:
Chanukah Burn and Scald Prevention tips, which not only include candles, but the making of latkes as well; it advises women to be particularly careful of their sleeves and hair when lighting and blessing candles;
Torah Tots/Play it Safe for Chanukah, which has a variety of safety tips, including keeping a 10 lb. ABS fire extinguisher near the kitchen, away from the stove;
Fire Safety for Jewish Observances, which among other items advises that candles should be kept at least four feet away from curtains, draperies, blinds, kitchen cabinets and bedding;
A link to the New York City Fire Department’s fire safety information website;
Who by Fire: Helping Burn Victims and Their Families, with a special section for Chanukah; and
Home Safety – Ten Hot Tips to Make Your Home a No Burn Zone, including developing an emergency evacuation plan.
In addition, the OU has provided guidelines from Rabbi Hershel Schachter, OU Halachic Decisor, on Chanukah fire safety.
In accordance with Jewish law (halachah) Rabbi Schachter declared: “If one is not going to be home while the Chanukah candles are lit, it is better that they not be lit, but one can light later in the evening if they will be home. There should always be someone watching or near the candles.
“In terms of using an electric menorah, you shouldn’t say a bracha (blessing) on it, although you are able to say a bracha on electric (incandescent) lights for Shabbat and Yom Tov candles. When lighting in a hotel room, one should make sure he has half an hour to let the candles burn, and then blow them out when he has to leave.”