“On January 1, 2000, The New York Times ran a Millennium Edition. It was a special issue that featured three front pages. One had the news from January 1, 1900. The second was the actual news of the day, January 1, 2000. And then they had a third front page—projecting envisioned future events of January 1, 2100. …And in addition to the fascinating articles, there was one more thing. Down on the bottom of the Year 2100 front page was the candle-lighting time in New York for January 1, 2100. Reportedly, the production manager of The New York Times—an Irish Catholic—was asked about it. His answer was right on the mark. It speaks…to the power of Jewish ritual. He said, ‘We don’t know what will happen in the year 2100. It is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing you can be certain—that in the year 2100 Jewish women will be lighting Shabbat candles.’”
-“The Meaning Behind the Flames” by Rhona Lewis, Chabad.org
For thousands of years, Jewish women have kept to the commandment to honor the Sabbath by lighting Shabbat candles. In doing so, they welcomed the Jewish holy day with blessings and light, bringing peace to the home; the flames illuminating the darkness and making room for joy to enter the house.
That the lighting of the candles is traditionally performed by women harkens back to the beliefs of the early Jewish sages that women set the foundation of a Jewish home and nurture the family’s spirituality. In households where there are no adult women, it falls to a man to light the candles. In many homes today, candles are lit by all members of the family.
Because it is forbidden to light candles on the Sabbath—a day devoted to prayer and rest—the candles are lit Friday evening, generally eighteen minutes before sunset. In a ritual that is beautiful in its simplicity, Jewish women everywhere light the candles first, and then wave their hands over the flames three times. Covering their eyes, they say the blessing: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to light the Sabbath candles,” and open their eyes to rejoice in the glow of the candles.