The Poskim in the last few generations have discussed whether or not one may fulfill the Mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles using electric light bulbs. This question is especially pertinent to those staying at a hotel during Chanukah and are the management does not permitted lighting a fire in one’s hotel room. May one simply fulfill this Mitzvah using a few electric light bulbs?
Let us preface this discussion by quoting the words of the Rashba in his commentary on Masechet Shabbat (21a) where he writes that the reason why it is forbidden to derive benefit from the Chanukah candles (during the first half-hour since it was lit) is because the Chanukah candles commemorate the miracle that occurred with the Menorah in the Bet Hamikdash. Just as benefitting from the lights of the Menorah in the Bet Hamikdash was forbidden, it is likewise forbidden to benefit from the Chanukah candles.
Based on this, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes (Chazon Ovadia- Chanukah, age 93) that it seems that one would not fulfill one’s obligation of this Mitzvah with electric light bulbs since it does not contain oil or a wick and is not reminiscent of the Menorah lighting in the Bet Hamikdash whatsoever. Many other great Acharonim concur. Furthermore, the Rashba’s position is echoed by several Rishonim.
Thus, halachically speaking, although electric light bulbs may be used to fulfill the Mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles, nevertheless, regarding Chanukah candles, one must use candles made out of either oil or wax and a wick.
Thus, Maran zt”l adds that in places such as halls or synagogues where electric Menorahs are lit on Chanukah, no blessing should be recited. Reciting a blessing before turning on these bulbs is a possible blessing in vain. The same applies to the electric Menorahs lit by followers of Chabad on top of cars and in front of synagogues in that although it is a nice way to publicize the miracle of Chanukah, nevertheless, the blessing should not be recited.