Question: A few weeks ago my wife was in hospital over Shabbos and I lit the candles. My teenage daughter asked if she should have lit instead. Who should have lit under these circumstances?
Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (OC 263:3) explains that lighting the Shabbos candles is first and foremost a woman’s responsibility as traditionally they are more involved in the house affairs. Rashi (Shabbos 32a) quotes the midrash that explains that as Chava caused Adam to sin, she diminished the world’s light. Thus, the Bach (OC 263:3) writes that even if a married man wishes to light, his wife has prerogative in performing this mitzva (See Magen Avraham 263:6; Baer Heitev OC 263:5).
R’ Nissim Karelitz (Chut Shani 4:263:n8) writes that as a couple usually share the mitzva in lighting, when one’s wife is away, he must light instead. He notes that as Adam was also guilty for ‘diminishing the world’s light’ when one’s wife is away, he must take responsibility for lighting the candles. R’ Moshe Stern (Baer Moshe 8:67) adds that as one lights candles in each house lekavod Shabbos, it wouldn’t be right for him to delegate the lighting to anyone. Even if he has daughters over bas mitzva who usually light, he must still light himself.
R’ Shraga Feivish Schneebalg (Shraga Hameir 6:127:2) relates that when his father was widowed (from his first wife), he would light the candles himself each week even though he had teenage daughters at home (See Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 43:n46; Rivevos Ephraim 6:126:1).
In conclusion, if a married woman is away one week, her husband should light the Shabbos candles himself.