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Straight Halacha: Havdala

February 1, 2015

Question: Can you explain why you did havdala the way you did?

Answer: I thought I did it in a straightforward manner. What do you mean?

Question: You did not over flow the cup, and you did not use the grape juice to put out the candle, and you did not touch any juice to your eyes. You also let your daughters drink from the juice, and we were taught that it is assur for women to drink from havdala.

Answer: All of that can be explained by reviewing Orah Hayim 296. We will assume that whenever the halacha requires wine, grape juice is just as acceptable.

  1. Overflowing is mentioned in 296:1 by the Rema, and the Mishna B’rura (5) mentions that one should limit the waste. As we wrote last year, in many cases any waste whatsoever is forbidden, so I choose to act stringently in this matter all the time so that my children not get the wrong idea. I also like the taste of the juice, and feel that a sign of blessing is also allowing more people to drink greater quantities.
  2. The practice of washing the eyes with the wine is certainly not one of ours, nor does it make much sense for us to start now. Sometimes it is easier to wash one’s eyes with water, and to demonstrate endearment of the commandment by drinking the juice heartily. Also, using the juice to extinguish the candle tends to waste even more juice.
  3. The standard halacha as recorded in the Talmud and codes is that it is meritorious for one to drink from a kos shel bracha, and that one should share the qiddush with his wife and family. According to the actual law this applies to all forms of qiddush, havdala, and all the other blessings recited over a cup of wine. Take notice of this fact: The Shulhan Aruch separates the laws of qiddush and havdala, and instead presents the various laws of the Sabbath in the order in which one observing the Sabbath would encounter them, putting the laws of qiddush after the laws of the evening prayer, but leaving the laws of havdala for last, whereas Maimonides groups the two laws, because for most of their details, the laws of qiddush and havdala are equal, with the exception of those laws that by force can only apply to one of the two, e.g., the particular formulae for the blessings. The general procedure of both qiddush and havdala is (Laws of the Sabbath 29:7):

What is the procedure he should follow: He should take a cup that contains a r’vi’ith or more, wash it thoroughly inside, and rinse its outside. He should fill it with wine, hold it in his right hand, lifting it above the ground more than a handbreadth, without supporting it with his left hand. He recites the blessing “Who createth the fruit of the vine” and then the qiddush. It is, however, common custom among the Jewish people first to recite the passage “waychulu,” and then the blessing on the wine, and then the qiddush. One should drink [at least] a cheekful of wine and give all those joining in the meal to drink. Afterwards, one washes one’s hands, recites the blessing hamotzi, and [begins] eating.

That is, the idea that one shares some the wine with the assembled seems to be a rule that applies to both qiddush and havdala, just like the previous halachoth, whereas the you can see that bit about washing the hands by force only pertains to qiddush, which is followed by a meal. That is, the assembled are called all those “joining in the meal” because they only discharge their obligations to hear qiddush if it is “in the place of their meal,” or if you wish, you can posit that Maimonides is also referring to the post Sabbath meal, m’laweh malka (ibid., 30:5). In any event, in the Hebrew version it is eminently clear that before all of these later practices came to be, the standard assumption of the halacha was that the one reciting qiddush or havdala for a group should share the wine with the others.

The questions should be, why is it common at havdala, specifically, that only the one reciting havdala drinks from the wine, and why is it even more common that women not drink at all? The answer to the first question is all there in the sixth comment of the Mishna B’rura: qiddush is normally followed by a meal and the grace after meals, a blessing which covers all that was eaten and drunk prior to that, including the qiddush, and even if the assembled shared the cup’s contents among themselves such that no one individual will have drank enough of the cup to become obligated to recite an after blessing on that which he drank. Havdala, however, is often not followed by a meal (those who will eat the m’laweh malka might not do so right away), so to make sure that the reciter drinks enough of the wine to be able to recite an after-blessing, he makes sure to not share much of it with others. We get around this issue by just using more juice. I make sure to drink almost the entire cup, and then because I only have daughters anyway, I put more juice in the cup and let them drink some more. I can then make one after-blessing for everyone, and let the children enjoy the commandment, a much greater good in the long run. As for the very late idea about women not tasting from the havdala wine, it does not fit with the viewpoints of our sages. I have heard that groups of women who spend the Sabbath together know that one woman recites the qiddush for the others, but have been so frightened against drinking from the havdala, they go around after the Sabbath to find a man to recite havdala and drink the wine for them. In actuality, if a group is entirely composed of women, then the halacha is that one woman recites the havdala for the others, and they are are responsible for drinking the wine. Women should definitely not have a not yet bar-mitzva boy recite havdala for them either; despite his maleness, he can not discharge their obligation.

My purpose in writing this is merely to defend my own actions; you are perfectly within your rights to do havdala as you have been taught. 

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