Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

How many Shabbat candles does a divorced woman light?

Mayim reflects on if traditions should change in her household
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 08/10/2015 at 5:00 PM EDT
Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

This is the fifth and final post in a series of articles by Mayim about her divorce. For all the posts, click here.

As a child, I lit two Shabbat candles with my mother every time she lit Shabbat candles. I felt like a little Ima (mother), like they make you pretend in preschool or kindergarten Hebrew school. It’s practice, you know. For when you are a “real” Ima. Imas light two candles.

When I got married, I had not been consistently lighting Shabbat candles for years. After leaving my parents’ home and going to college, I stopped, but I would light them with the other girls at Hillel when I attended services there and looked forward to a day when I would light them as a married woman.

I bought antique Victorian candlesticks for my wedding. I was not the typical Jewish girl, so I didn’t buy the typical expensive silver kind that many religious girls dream of.

Lighting candles as a married woman was very nice and gratifying. I felt I was creating light for me and my partner in a sacred space. When my first son was born two years after I was married, I added a small candle for him, as is the custom; one for each additional child. That first time I lit that little candle for my son was a very special Shabbat. My husband and I blessed him so that he would be like “Menasseh and Ephraim,” and we stumbled over the Hebrew, so new to both of our lips.

Since I had grown in observance in college, I had seen so many women lighting one for each of their children as I became more observant, imagining that one day–God willing–I, too, would light many candles for my many children.

I am now a divorced mother of two. My sons are accustomed to lighting their own candle every Shabbat since they were old enough to hold a match. “I want to light my candle!” they remind me as we set them all up on Friday nights.

The first time I lit candles and blessed my sons after I was alone in my house with no husband was a very complicated and emotional experience. It’s not something I ever wanted to do alone. But I am doing it. It’s very hard.

It occurred to me a few months ago–the first time my sons referred to the second candle I light as “The Dada Candle”–that maybe divorced women don’t light two candles anymore. Maybe we are supposed to retreat back to the tradition of being single and lighting a single candle for ourselves, as is the custom among religious women.

After some investigation, I found out that the halachic answer is that divorced women still light two for themselves.

I wish my sons would stop calling it “The Dada Candle.”

I wish that I could stop crying when I look into their eyes and ask that they be like Menasseh and Ephraim.

I wish that I could stop my voice from shaking when I ask that God bless them and keep them and cause the Countenance to shine upon them and always give them peace.

I sometimes wish this wasn’t my life.

I wish that God should bless me and keep me and that God’s Countenance will shine upon me and always give me peace.

And I wish that for my son’s father, too. Because when he has them on Friday nights, he stares into the same eyes I stare into. And one son has my eyes, and one son has his eyes.

And the “Amen” we say is the same. No matter what house you say it in.

A version of this post previously appeared on Mayim’s blog on, June 24, 2013.

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