08 – Havdala and Saturday Night

01. The Basic Principles of Havdala

It is a mitzva to conclude Shabbat with havdala, in which we give verbal expression to the difference between the sanctity of Shabbat and the ordinary weekdays. The laws pertaining to havdala are similar to those pertaining to kiddush. Just as one must mention the sanctity of Shabbat on Friday night both during prayer and over a cup of wine, so too, at the conclusion of Shabbat one must recite havdala both during prayer and over a cup of wine.

It is true that originally, when the Men of the Great Assembly formulated havdala, they designed it for prayer alone. This was because it was at the time of the building of the Second Temple, and the Jews were poor. Therefore, the Sages did not wish to burden them with an additional expense by requiring wine for havdala. However, later on when the Jews’ financial situation improved and they could afford it, the Sages ordained that havdala be recited over a cup of wine. There was a period of time when people made havdala only on a cup of wine, not during prayer. Eventually it was decided that havdala would be done both during prayer and over a cup of wine. Women, who do not generally pray Ma’ariv, fulfill their obligation by hearing havdala over a cup of wine. Similarly, if one forgot to add the havdala insertion in the Amida, he does not repeat the prayer. Rather, he fulfills the obligation by hearing havdala over a cup of wine (SA 294:1).

The havdala in prayer is recited during the fourth berakha of the Amida since this is the first berakha that relates to everyday matters. Additionally, the theme of this berakha is knowledge, without which one cannot distinguish between the sacred and the profane. Therefore, it is logical to integrate havdala into the berakha in which we request wisdom and knowledge (Berakhot 33a).

According to many poskim, the obligation of havdala is by Torah law. These poskim understand the mitzva of Zakhor to include both kiddush and havdala; that is, marking Shabbat’s onset by invoking its sanctity and its exit by distinguishing the sacred from the profane. The requirement to recite kiddush and havdala over a cup of wine is rabbinic (Rambam). Others maintain that the Torah commandment of Zakhor is limited to invoking the sanctity of Shabbat at its onset, but the Sages expanded the mitzva by ordaining the recitation of havdala at its end (Rosh).

Women are obligated in havdala like men. Even though it is a time-dependent positive mitzva, from which women are generally exempt, since it is linked to the mitzva of kiddush, women are obligated to recite havdala just as they are obligated in kiddush (as explained above in 6:1). Nevertheless, there is an opinion that since havdala is time-dependent, women are exempt from it (Orĥot Ĥayim). In deference to this, le-khatĥila women generally do not make havdala for themselves, but rather hear it from a man. However, if there is no man present, a woman must make havdala for herself, reciting all four berakhot of havdala. Even if there is a man present, if he has already fulfilled his havdala obligation, it is proper that the woman make havdala for herself (MB 296:36). Only if she does not know how to make the berakhot herself can a man who already fulfilled his obligation make havdala for her.[1]


[1]. According to Rambam, She’iltot, Smag, Ĥinukh, and most poskim, havdala is a Torah obligation, included in the mitzva of Zakhor. Just as women are obligated by Torah law in kiddush, so too they are obligated by Torah law in havdala. Even according to Rosh and those Rishonim who maintain that havdala is a rabbinic obligation, many explain that the Sages modeled it after kiddush. Accordingly, just as women are obligated in kiddush, so too they are obligated in havdala. This is the opinion of Me’ iri, Nimukei Yosef quoting Ritva, and Magid Mishneh. However, Orĥot Ĥayim states that the rabbinic requirement of havdala is not connected to the mitzva of Zakhor, and therefore women are exempt, since it is a time-dependent positive commandment. Rema takes this opinion into account and writes that therefore women should not make havdala for themselves, but rather should listen to a man make havdala (296:8). However, Baĥ, MA, and other Aĥaronim state that a woman who wants to make havdala may do so, since according to most poskim a woman may perform and recite berakhot on time-dependent positive mitzvot from which she is exempt. This is also the position of Rema 589:6. Even though according to SA women do not make a berakha before performing a mitzva from which they are exempt, nevertheless, since the decisive majority of poskim feel that women are obligated in havdala (quite possibly by Torah law), they may make havdala for themselves and not worry that they might be guilty of making a berakha le-vatala (a blessing in vain). Furthermore, a man who has already fulfilled his obligation may, if necessary, make havdala for them. BHL implies that women should not make a berakha over the candle since this berakha is not really a part of havdala. This is the ruling in SSK 58:16 as well. However, many Aĥaronim find this surprising, and maintain that the berakha over the candle is considered part of havdala and that women who are making havdala should recite all four berakhot. Indeed, this is the position of Igrot Moshe ĤM 2:47:2, Yeĥaveh Da’at 4:27, and Tzitz Eliezer 14:43.

02. Havdala over Wine

The procedure for making havdala over wine is as follows. It is customary to begin with a series of verses from the Prophets and Writings to serve as good omens and start the week off on a positive note. This is followed by four berakhotHa-gafen over the wine, “besamim” over the fragrance (see below), “borei me’orei ha-esh” (“Creator of firelight”) over fire, and finally “ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-ĥol” (“Who distinguishes sacred from profane”).

Two of these berakhot, Ha-gafen and Ha-mavdil, are essential; one who has not recited them has not fulfilled the mitzva of making havdala over wine.[2] The Sages ordained that two additional berakhot are recited: one on a pleasant aroma, and one over fire. The former helps to soothe the soul’s pain upon the departure of the neshama yeteira at the end of Shabbat. The latter was instituted to commemorate the end of the first Shabbat, when God gave Adam the insight to rub two stones together and make a fire. One who does not have a fragrance or candle may make havdala without them. If, later on that night, a fragrance becomes available, he should recite the berakha and smell it. If he sees a candle or fire, he should recite ha-esh. Ideally, of course, one should prepare a fragrance and a candle for havdala so that all four berakhot can be recited in the order instituted by the Sages (SA 297:1; 298:1).

The berakhot proceed from the most physical to the most sublime of the senses. First we recite the berakha over wine. Taste is an extremely physical sense, activated only when food actually touches the mouth. Next we advance to the sense of smell, which requires proximity but not physical contact. The next berakha is over light. The sense of sight is even more subtle, as one can perceive something even at a great distance. Finally, the berakha of Ha-mavdil pertains to the ability to discern, a function of intelligence. The apex of this ability is discernment between the sacred and the profane (Rashbatz quoted in Kaf Ha-ĥayim 296:3).


[2]. One who heard the berakha of Ha-mavdil but did not hear the berakha of Ha-gafen has fulfilled the mitzva of havdala. This is because only the person reciting havdala must make the berakha over the wine, whereas those who are listening fulfill their obligation be-di’avad even if they do not hear that berakha (SSK 47:40, n. 187).

03. Customs Related to Havdala

Since the Sages ordained that havdala be recited over wine, the cup should be held during havdala. It is held in the right hand, as it is the more important one. This preference for the right hand is true for all berakhot: Whenever a berakha is made over something, the object should be held in the right hand. Accordingly, when making the berakha over fragrance, the person making havdala should hold the fragrance in his right hand. During that time, many rest the cup of wine on a plate. Later, when they reach the berakha of Ha-mavdil, they pick up the cup once again. Some beautify the mitzva by holding the cup even while making the berakhot on the fragrance and the candle. Since the right hand has to be free to pick up the fragrance and to look at the candle’s flame, they pick up the cup in their left hand. When they reach Ha-mavdil they return the cup to their right hand (SA 296:6; MB ad loc.).

Some have the custom to sit for havdala, since by sitting the listeners establish that they wish to fulfill their obligation with this recitation of havdala (SA 296:6). Others customarily stand, demonstrating respect for Shabbat as it departs (Rema). In that case, in order to make it clear that everyone intends to fulfill their obligation by listening to havdala, they must gather round the person making havdala. Be-di’avad, if one stood at a distance but listened intently to the havdala, he has fulfilled his obligation.

As is the case with any kos shel berakha (a cup of wine linked to the performance of a mitzva), one should ensure that the cup is clean both inside and out. Many make a point of using a fancy goblet for havdala. The cup must hold a revi’it (roughly 75 ml and 150 ml according to Ĥazon Ish; see 6:5 above). If the cup has a larger capacity, it is a mitzva to fill it with wine, since it is appropriate to honor the berakha with a full cup. Although in most cases of kos shel berakha (e.g., for kiddush or at a wedding) it is preferable not to fill the cup all the way to the point of spilling over, many have the custom to fill the havdala cup to the point that it overflows a bit, as this is a symbol of blessing (Rema 296:1, and see 6:6 above for the rest of the laws concerning a kos shel berakha).

Ideally, the person making havdala should drink the entire revi’it of wine in the cup so that he can recite a berakha aĥarona over the wine. Nevertheless, to fulfill the mitzva of havdala it is sufficient to drink a melo lugmav (see above, 6:5, and n. 6 ad loc. regarding a case where one did not drink a cheek full; also see Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10:10).

The audience must remain silent until the person making havdala finishes drinking a melo lugmav; since it is a mitzva to make havdala over a cup of wine, havdala is completed only when the person making havdala drinks a melo lugmav. Be-di’avad, if a listener speaks before the person making havdala drank from the cup, he has still fulfilled his obligation (SSK 60:39 and 48:6; see above, ch. 6 n. 10).

04. Using Beverages Other Than Wine

Ideally one should make havdala over wine, which is the most dignified beverage, as it nourishes and gladdens, so when it is enjoyed in the service of a mitzva, it has the unique capability to reveal the inner goodness of the Jewish people. The Sages state that one who makes havdala over wine on Saturday night will be blessed with children (Shev. 18b).

However, if there is no wine available, one may use ĥamar medina (lit. “the wine of the country”), a dignified beverage that people in that locale drink as one would drink wine (SA 296:2). For example, in many places people commonly drink beer. In such places, since beer is important for them, they may make havdala over it, replacing Ha-gafen with She-hakol.

If one has wine but prefers ĥamar medina, some say that he may not make havdala on ĥamar medina (Rabbeinu Ĥananel; Rashbam), while others maintain one may nevertheless use ĥamar medina (Rambam; Smag). In practice, it is proper for even one who prefers beer to recite havdala over wine, as long as he also likes wine. However, if he wants to, he may make havdala on ĥamar medina.

Vodka and arak are also considered ĥamar medina, but because they are so strong it is difficult to drink a melo lugmav (c. 50-55 ml) of them. One who is able to drink a melo lugmav of them may recite havdala over them.

The poskim disagree about whether a beverage must be alcoholic to be considered ĥamar medina. The lenient poskim maintain that any beverage that one would serve to important guests, and which people sometimes sit around drinking with friends, is considered a dignified beverage and may be used for havdala. Thus, one may make havdala on coffee, tea, or malt beer, as well as fresh-squeezed apple juice or orange juice. However, one should not make havdala over flavored beverages or other soft drinks, like grapefruit juice or Coca Cola, because they are not dignified beverages, merely drinks that quench one’s thirst. Some rule leniently even regarding these beverages, since one would serve them to important guests.

The stringent poskim maintain that only alcoholic beverages are considered ĥamar medina, because these are the beverages that people drink at collegial parties. Other drinks, however, are not so dignified and should not be used for havdala. According to this, one may make havdala on beer and other alcoholic beverages, but not on coffee, malt beer, or fruit juice.

In practice, one should be stringent and make havdala over alcoholic beverages only. Only if these are unavailable, then be-di’avad one may make havdala on dignified non-alcoholic beverages.[3]


[3]. There are many different positions on this question. Tzitz Eliezer 8:16 writes, based on a number of Aĥaronim, that one may make havdala on black coffee and the like. SSK 60:6-7 is also inclined to be lenient regarding coffee, but writes that one should not make havdala over soft drinks. R. Mordechai Eliyahu and R. Dov Lior are lenient and allow havdala to be made over soft drinks as well (Ha-morim Ba-keshet, p. 14). This is also the opinion of R. Naĥum Rabinovitch (Melumdei Milĥama, p. 206). In contrast, R. Ovadia Yosef (Yabi’a Omer 3:19) mentions opinions of stringent Aĥaronim who insist that havdala may be recited only over alcoholic beverages. He rules stringently in practice because this could involve a berakha le-vatala.Since there are differing opinions, one should not make havdala over a non-alcoholic beverage. However, it seems that under extenuating circumstances, when one is unable to attain wine or alcoholic drinks, he may rely on the lenient opinions. After all, there are Rishonim who maintain that one may recite the berakha of Ha-mavdil without any beverage at all. Maharam of Rothenburg quotes this position in the name of R. Simĥa. Tur states that this position is also found in Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer. Furthermore, it would seem to be the position of Rif and Rosh, who maintain that in a case where one must do melakha before making havdala over a cup of wine, he should say the berakha of Ha-mavdil, including God’s name, even without a cup of wine, and do what he needs to do. Later on he should make havdala over wine. Even though the halakha does not follow this opinion, we nevertheless see that some say one may recite ha-mavdil without wine. Therefore, in a case of necessity one may rely on those who permit making havdala over a dignified non-alcoholic beverage.

05. Besamim (Fragrance)

The Sages enacted the recitation of a berakha on smelling fragrance on Saturday night, because after Shabbat our spirits are despondent over the departure of the neshama yeteira. In order to revive them, we smell fragrance, which, according to the Sages, brings joy to the soul. Even one who does not feel pain at the departure of Shabbat will come to appreciate Shabbat’s greatness and realize that he should feel sorrow at its end, and that he should revive his soul with something aromatic.

One makes a berakha over fragrance following Shabbat, but not following Yom Tov, because on Yom Tov we are not granted a neshama yeteira. Additionally, when Yom Tov begins on Saturday night, one does not make the berakha over fragrance, because the joy of Yom Tov and its foods serve to comfort the soul (SA 491:1 and MB).

Similarly, one does not make the berakha over fragrance after Yom Kippur. Since we fast on Yom Kippur, there is no neshama yeteira, and there is not much sorrow at the conclusion of Yom Kippur (SA 624:3).

All those listening to havdala must smell the fragrance; therefore the person reciting havdala should wait until all listeners have smelled the fragrance, and only afterward continue with the berakha over fire. If the person making havdala continues to the next berakha before some listeners have a chance to smell the fragrance, they should listen to the next berakhot, and smell the fragrance afterward. One unable to smell does not make the berakha over the fragrance (SA 297:5; MB 13; SSK 61:8).

As people are generally aware, the Sages instituted different berakhot for different types of fragrance. If the fragrance comes from a tree or shrub, the berakha is “borei atzei vesamim” (“Who creates fragrant trees”). If it comes from an herb, one recites “borei isvei vesamim” (“Who creates fragrant herbs”). If the fragrance is from a fruit, one recites “ha-noten rei’aĥ tov ba-peirot” (“Who gives fruit a good scent”). If the source of the fragrance is inorganic or from an animal, one recites “borei minei vesamim” (“Who creates types of fragrance”). However, when it comes to havdala, the Ashkenazic custom is to always say “borei minei vesamim,” since most people are not experts on different types of fragrances and their respective berakhot, and if one mistakenly recites “borei isvei vesamim” over something from a tree, or “borei atzei vesamim” over an herb, he has not fulfilled his obligation. Therefore, the custom is to recite “borei minei vesamim” because, be-di’avad, it covers all fragrances. The Sephardic custom, in contrast, is to recite the berakha appropriate for the specific type of fragrance. For example, when using myrtle or rosemary, one recites “borei atzei vesamim” (MB 216:39; 297:1; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 297:31; Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 14:1, 5).

A berakha is recited over fragrances whose purpose is to give off a pleasing scent. However, no berakha is recited over fragrances whose purpose is to get rid of a bad smell, such as restroom air fresheners or deodorants (Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 14:3).

Regarding synthetic fragrances, some say that no berakha is recited, because the substance does not naturally smell good; the pleasing aroma is created by an artificial process. In practice, it seems proper that one who wishes to recite “borei minei vesamim” over it may do so, since ultimately the chemical properties that enabled the manufacture of this pleasing scent were created by God and it thus warrants a berakha (Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 14:2-3 and n. 3).

Some enhance the smelling of besamim by using the etrog that they used on Sukkot; since it was used for a mitzva, it is fitting to make a berakha on it at havdala. Cloves are stuck into the etrog to enhance its smell and preserve it (based on Rema 297:4). Since the resulting scent is the product of two types of fragrance (fruit and tree), according to all customs one recites “borei minei vesamim” over it (MB 216:39).

06. The Candle

The Sages instituted making a berakha over a candle on Saturday night, to commemorate God’s granting Adam the insight to strike two stones together to produce fire.

Ideally, one makes the berakha over an avuka (lit., “torch”), that is, a braided candle that has at least two wicks. Since its flame has two sources, its light is great. If one does not have a braided candle, he may light two matches, which can also be considered an avuka. Be-di’avad, if there is no alternative, one may recite the berakha over a candle with only one wick (SA 298:2).

The candle must be bright enough that even without an electric light, one could use it to distinguish between different coins. The custom is to ensure this by looking at the lines in one’s palm and at the base of the fingernails; this is considered a good omen (SA 298:3-4).

Those who hear havdala also need to see the candlelight. One who is standing far away should move closer so that he may benefit from the light – close enough for him to see the lines in his palm and the base of his fingernails. One who heard havdala but did not see the flame has fulfilled his obligation of havdala but has not fulfilled the mitzva to thank God for fire. It is a mitzva for him to light a candle and recite the berakha of “borei me’orei ha-esh” (MB 297:13; 298:13). If he saw the flame but was not close enough to make out the lines on his palm, he should not make the berakha again, since some maintain that he fulfilled his obligation by seeing the candle (Orĥot Ĥayim quoted by Beit Yosef 298:4; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 298:22).

Those who beautify the mitzva turn off the electric light when reciting the berakha over the candle, so that the benefit they derive from the candlelight is evident, and so that even those who are standing far away will be able to see the lines of their palms by its light (see SSK 61:33).

One may make the berakha only over a candle that was lit to provide light, not over a candle lit to honor someone or something. For example, one does not make the berakha over a yahrzeit candle or over the candles placed in front of the ĥazan in in the synagogue, because those are candles that are lit for honor, not to provide light (MB 298:30).

Some Aĥaronim made the berakha of Me’orei Ha-esh over an electric light bulb, since electricity has the status of fire. However, many maintain that one should not make the berakha over an electric bulb because it is not considered fire; fire requires oxygen, and there is no oxygen in electric bulbs, only a heated metal filament. Furthermore, even if an electric light bulb can be considered fire, one should not make the berakha over fire covered by glass. Since this berakha was established to remind us of the fire that Adam produced on Saturday night, it must be similar to that fire – open, without a glass cover.[4]


[4]. Some leading Aĥaronim made the berakha on Saturday night over an electric bulb. They wanted to dispel the mistaken notion that electricity is not fire and may be activated on Shabbat. It was thus the custom of R. Ĥayim of Brisk, R. Ĥayim Ozer Grodzinski, and the Rogatchover Gaon to make havdala on electric light. However, most poskim maintain that one should not make the berakha over an electric light, since it does not burn with the aid of oxygen like fire does. Additionally, a light bulb has a glass cover, and according to SA 298:15 one does not make the berakha over a candle inside of glass, and BHL states that this is the opinion of many poskim, because a covered fire is not similar to the fire produced by Adam. This is also the explanation of Har Tzvi, OĤ 2:114 and Yabi’a Omer, OĤ 1:17-18. All agree that the berakha may not be recited over a fluorescent bulb, because its light is from gas, not a filament (SSK 61:32).

07. The Latest Time to Make Havdala

If one did not make havdala over a kos on Saturday night, whether due to circumstances beyond his control such as a soldier on a mission, forgetfulness, or even on purpose, according to the majority of Rishonim (Rambam, Tosafot, Rosh), he may make havdala until the end of Tuesday, since the first three days of the week are linked to the previous Shabbat.

Others maintain that a missed havdala can be made up on Sunday only (Ge’onim), and there is one who maintains that even this only applies if one has not eaten anything since the end of Shabbat (Behag). There are some who defer to this opinion and make havdala on a kos only until Sunday, and only on condition that nothing was eaten on Saturday night (Ben Ish Ĥai; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 299:26).

In practice, however, most poskim maintain that one who did not make havdala Saturday night, even if he has eaten, should make havdala over wine with the berakha by the end of Tuesday (SA and Rema 299:6; MB 19). This applies to the berakhot of Ha-gafen and Ha-mavdil, but the berakhot over fragrances and fire are made only on Saturday night. For it is only on Saturday night that we need to revive the soul with the smell of the fragrances, and the berakha over fire was instituted specifically to remember the fire that Adam discovered on Saturday night. Neither of those is relevant on Sunday.

08. The Prohibition of Eating and Doing Melakha before Havdala

Just as there is a mitzva to extend the sanctity of Shabbat into Friday, there is a mitzva to extend it into Saturday night. Therefore, one must be careful not to perform any melakha until several minutes after tzeit. After that, according to Torah law one may resume melakha even without making havdala, but the Sages enacted that one may only do melakha after reciting havdala in the berakha of Ata Ĥonen in the Amida or by reciting the phrase “barukh ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-ĥol” (“blessed is the One Who distinguishes between the sacred and the mundane”). Before this recitation, one may not even perform melakhot that are rabbinically prohibited (SA 299:10).

Because of the importance of reciting havdala over a cup of wine, the Sages prohibited eating and drinking after shki’a until one makes havdala over wine. However, one may drink water then, as it is not deemed significant (SA 299:1). Other Aĥaronim maintain one may not even drink water (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 299:6).[5]

Thus, one may only do melakha after making havdala verbally, and one may only eat or drink after making havdala over wine.

Most poskim maintain that when making a zimun at se’uda shlishit over a cup of wine, the leader of the zimun drinks from the wine after Birkat Ha-mazon. Although it is already after tzeit, drinking the wine is deemed a continuation of the meal. Just as one who began se’uda shlishit may continue eating even after shki’a and tzeit, so too one may drink the wine from the zimun (SA 299:4).

Others maintain that since people do not always insist on making a zimun over a cup of wine, the wine is not considered a direct continuation of se’uda shlishit, and therefore one may not drink it before havdala (MA, MB 299:14). Those who follow this opinion save the cup of wine from the zimun until after Ma’ariv, when they make havdala over it. If newlyweds are present at se’uda shlishit, since Sheva Berakhot are recited over the cup of wine, one also makes the berakha over the wine then. The person leading the zimun drinks from it, as do the bride and groom.[6]

Once Shabbat has ended, one may make havdala over wine even before praying Ma’ariv (MA 489:7; MB 18). When he later prays, he should recite Ata Ĥonantanu. The one reciting havdala must remember not to drink a revi’it of wine, though. If he does so, he is considered under its influence and may not pray until the wine wears off (Peninei Halakha: Prayer 5:11).


[5]. If one has no access to either wine or ĥamar medina for havdala, but knows that he will have access by midday the next day, many poskim maintain that he may not eat or drink until he makes havdala over wine on Sunday (Rosh). If he is weak and finds it difficult to fast, he may be lenient and rely on those who maintain that since he does not have wine for havdala, he may eat on Saturday night (SA 296:3; MB 21).[6]. SA 299:4 rules that one should drink from the wine used for Birkat Ha-mazon, even after tzeit on Saturday night. Rema and MB 299:14 state that this is specifically when one usually uses wine for the zimun, following the opinions of Tosafot and Rosh. But for those who follow Rif and Rambam, who maintain that it is not necessary to do a zimun over a kos, it is forbidden to drink from the cup before havdala (see Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 5:13). If one concluded the berakha during bein ha-shmashot, when it is unclear whether it is day or night, he may drink the wine. Some maintain that even if there is no obligation to use wine for a zimun, one who wishes to do so fulfills a mitzva and may therefore drink the wine even before havdala. In practice, there are many who do not drink from the wine used for the zimun at se’uda shlishit, while many Sephardim do. In any event, regarding Sheva Berakhot, the vast majority of poskim maintain that one makes the berakha over the wine and drinks it. See Igrot Moshe OĤ 4:69; Minĥat Yitzĥak 3:113; SSK 59:17; and Yalkut Yosef 291:19.

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