Women are obligated in the mitzva of Havdala just as men. Even though it is a positive time-bound mitzva, according to most poskim, Havdala is part of the mitzva of Zakhor, which commands us to mark Shabbat at its arrival with kiddush and at its departure with Havdala. Even according to those who maintain that Havdala is a rabbinic mitzva, the Sages instituted it for women as well, like kiddush.
There is an opinion that Havdala is a separate mitzva instituted by the Sages and that it is not a part of Zakhor and therefore, since it is time-bound, women are exempt from it (Orĥot Ĥayim). Out of consideration for that opinion, it is preferable le-khatĥila for a woman to hear Havdala recited by a man, for he certainly has the obligation to fulfill the mitzva of Havdala. However, if there is no man present who must recite Havdala, she recites it for herself, in accordance with the opinion of the vast majority of poskim. When she recites Havdala, she recites all of its berakhot. 1
- According to Rambam, She’iltot, Smag, Sefer Ha-ĥinukh, and most of poskim, the mitzva of Havdala is from the Torah, as Zakhor requires marking Shabbat at its beginning (through kiddush) and end (through Havdala). Several Rishonim (Meiri and Nimukei Yosef in the name of Ritva and Magid Mishneh) understand that even Rosh and the Rishonim who hold that Havdala is a rabbinic enactment maintain that it was instituted on the model of kiddush, and that women are obligated in Havdala just as they are obligated in kiddush. Only Orĥot Ĥayim maintains that Havdala is a rabbinic mitzva and is completely disconnected from Zakhor, and that since it is time-bound, women are exempt from it. Rema 296:8 shows concern for this opinion and writes that consequently women should not say Havdala themselves but should hear a man recite it. However, Baĥ, MA, and other Aĥaronim state that a woman who wants to recite Havdala for herself may and it is a mitzva for her to do so since, according to Rema and many Rishonim, women may recite berakhot on time-bound mitzvot (above, 2:8). Therefore, according to Rema, women who wish to say Havdala may, and even though according to SA women do not recite berakhot on time-bound mitzvot, in this case, because the vast majority of poskim maintain that women are obligated in the mitzva of Havdala and some even say that their obligation is from the Torah, they may make Havdala without concern of reciting a berakha le-vatala.
Still, MB as cited in BHL implies that if a woman makes Havdala she does not recite the blessing over fire (“borei me’orei ha-esh”) because this berakha is not part of Havdala. SSK 58:16 states this as well. However, many Aĥaronim (Igrot Moshe ĤM 2:47:2; Yeĥaveh Da’at 4:27; Tzitz Eliezer 14:43) challenge this notion and maintain that the berakha on the candle is part of Havdala and therefore that women who recite Havdala recite all four blessings. ↩