Polystyrene Chanukia - "Now that's a fire!"
Bruce Becher of Studio City, California wrote:
Is it permissible to use flammable substances in order to construct a Chanukia, e.g. sticking candles into polystyrene foam blocks? I caught my kids in the backyard the other evening with a giant Chanukia made from these highly flammable blocks. I told them "Not only is this dangerous, but it is forbidden by Jewish Law to make a Chanukia that goes up in flames." To which my kids - who have only been in Hebrew School for 2 years - responded "Prove it!!" Well, needless to say I was not prepared for their response. Any suggestions?
There are no Halachic restrictions on substances that can be used for the construction of a Chanukia when candles are used. In the case of an oil Chanukia it is not recommended to use non-glazed pottery as oil and wick containers, since they become unfit for use after one lighting.
However, that doesn't mean you are defenseless against your kids. Because there is a real danger of the fire spreading and causing damage and injury, you should cite the well known injunction "ein somchim al ha'nes" -- one should not rely on a miracle. This is true even when celebrating a "nes" (a miracle). Halachah forbids a person to create a fire hazard, even in order to fulfill a mitzvah.
As a last resort, you can always cite the California Environmental Code (I've forgotten the exact section) which restricts most outdoor fires, and imposes severe penalties on violators.
So tell your kids that Hashem made a miracle with a fire more than 2000 years ago; they can't be so sure that He will make another one for them.
- Shulchan Aruch -- Orach Chaim 673:3.
- Chayei Adam -- 154:9.