Jonathan Katz frisch1@MIT.EDU from Cambridge, MA wrote:
Can you settle a debate I have been having with some of my friends? Is it permissible to 'light Shabbos candles' Friday night using an electric light? If so, would you be able to say the blessing? How about if one does not have any candles around?
Dear Jonathan Katz,
Two reasons are given for lighting Shabbat candles: Shalom Bayit (Peace in the home) and Oneg Shabbat (delight of Shabbat). It's hard to experience Shalom Bayit while stumbling over furniture, or Oneg Shabbat while eating in the dark. By filling the home with light, Shabbat candles promote harmony and peace, and they make the food enjoyable.
Most Poskim, therefore, say that you may use electric lights and even recite the blessing over them, since they add to Shalom Bayit and Oneg Shabbat the same way as candles.
Some Poskim, however, differentiate between battery-powered lights, such as flashlights, and those that run on electricity generated from a power plant. Battery-powered lights are all right since they contain 'fuel' - i.e., the battery - which is right there when you light it. Regular lights, on the other hand, have no 'fuel'. Rather, the electricity is 'piped' in from the outside; and furthermore, the electricity doesn't really exist yet - it's being created every second at the power plant. In a sense it's like lighting a wick with no oil. It's known about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zatzal, that once when he was in a hotel and unable to light candles, he 'lit' a flashlight and made a blessing over it.
- The Radiance of Shabbos, Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen
- Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchata 2:43, footnote 22