Aside from on Thanksgivukah, by the time most people usually get home from work, the time to kindle the Chanukah lights has already arrived. And by the time the whole family gets together to actually light, another ten to fifteen minutes may have elapsed. What’s the story with sneaking in a quick taste of those latkes before dinner?
The source of the prohibition of eating before the performance of certain Mitzvos is a Gemorah in Sukkah (38a). From there we derive that the prohibition exists not only for Biblical Mitzvos but also for Rabbinic Mitzvos. The Poskim extend the various prohibitions from the discussion found there. Our interest now, of course, is Chanukah.
THE THREE CATEGORIES
Before we get to Chanukah lights, let’s create some categories. There are some Mitzvos where it is both forbidden to eat and even to taste before we perform them. We will call these Category One No Pre-Food – Mitzvos. (We don’t want to call them Category One Mitzvos because the issue of eating before them is not synonymous with the type or level of the Mitzvah per se).
There are also Mitzvos where, it is forbidden to sit down to a meal before you do them, and ideally, one shouldn’t taste anything, but there is room to be lenient if one is feeling weak or one is sick. We will call these Mitzvos Category Two No Pre-Food – Mitzvos.
Finally, there are some Mitzvos where the halacha is not to sit down and eat before we perform them, but we are allowed to taste something before we perform them, and there is, in fact, no problem in tasting. We will call these Category Three No Pre-Food Mitzvos. [...]