02 – Positive Yom Tov Obligations

01. Preparations

Just as there is a mitzva on Shabbat to honor it (kavod) and to make it a delight (oneg), so too there is a mitzva to honor and delight in Yom Tov (above, 1:7-8).

Therefore, everything which the Sages instructed us to do in preparation for Shabbat must be done for Yom Tov as well. This includes washing one’s clothes in anticipation of the festival (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 2:4; below 11:11), as well as taking a hot shower. It is also a mitzva for one who needs to get a haircut, shave, or cut his nails to do so (ibid. 2:5; below 11:9-10). Cleaning and straightening up the house before Yom Tov is also a mitzva, and men should participate in these preparations, as was the custom of great rabbis (ibid. 2:5-6).

To fulfill the obligations of delighting in the festivals and enjoying them, there is a mitzva to buy good food and drinks in their honor, each person in accordance with his means (above 1:12). One may not sit down to a large meal on the day before a Yom Tov, for three reasons: first, a weekday meal should not be equated to a festival meal; second, so that one has a hearty appetite for the Yom Tov nighttime meal; third, the effort involved in preparing a meal for before Yom Tov can detract from Yom Tov preparations. In contrast, a normal meal may be eaten at any point during the day. Nevertheless, le-khatḥila the Sages say that it is preferable to avoid having a regular meal, or one with bread, during the three hours before the start of the festival (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 2:7).

On the day before Yom Tov, one may not work from Minḥa time and onwards. If one chooses to work then nevertheless, he will have nothing positive to show for it. This prohibition starts from the time of Minḥa ketana, meaning two and a half (seasonal) hours before shki’a (sunset). The details of these rules are explained in Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 2:8.

We begin Shabbat a bit early (before shki’a) and end it a bit late (after tzeit ha-kokhavim) in order to add to the holy from the mundane. We do this for Yom Tov as well (RH 9a). Yom Tov is accepted either verbally, with a statement along the lines of, “I hereby accept upon myself the sanctity of Yom Tov,” or by lighting the Yom Tov candles (MB 261:21; Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 3:1-3).

02. Candle Lighting

Just as the Sages ordained candle lighting for Shabbat, so they ordained candle lighting for Yom Tov. Lighting candles honors the festival and adds joy to the meal. Since this is a mitzva, a berakha is recited: “Barukh ata Hashem Elokeinu Melekh ha-olam, asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu lehadlik ner shel Yom Tov” (“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us to light Yom Tov candles”). When Yom Tov falls out on Shabbat, the berakha concludes with “lehadlik ner shel Shabbat ve-shel Yom Tov” (“to light Shabbat and Yom Tov candles”; SA 263:5; 514:11; MB ad loc. 48).[1]

As is the case for Shabbat, common practice is to light at least two candles, corresponding to husband and wife. One who wishes may light additional candles. Nevertheless, the wording of the Hebrew berakha remains in the singular (ner), because one candle is sufficient to fulfill the mitzva.

The ideal time to light is before shki’a, at the time listed on Jewish calendars for the beginning of that Yom Tov. Because women accept Yom Tov when they light, in practice this is when Yom Tov begins for them (and not at shki’a). Some light the candles later, before the meal. Those who wish to may do so. They must be careful to use a pre-existing flame and not light a new fire (below 5:1 and 5:3). On the second day of Rosh Ha-shana and on Yom Tov Sheni in the Diaspora (see ch. 9 below), candles must be lit after tzeit, as one may not prepare on the first day of Yom Tov for the second day (below 9:5; see section 12 below regarding when Yom Tov starts on Saturday night).

On Shabbat, the practice of Ashkenazim and some Sephardim is to light the candles first and recite the berakha afterward. This is to avoid doing the melakha of lighting after Shabbat has already been mentioned in the berakha (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 4:4). In contrast, on Yom Tov when lighting candles is permissible, according to all customs one should first recite the berakha and then light the candles (MB 263:27). One must be careful not to blow out the match; it should be put down where it can burn out by itself.

The Sages ordained the recitation of the berakha of She-heḥeyanu over each festival, to thank God for keeping us alive, sustaining us, and allowing us to reach this special and sacred occasion. The best time to recite this berakha is during kiddush, which invokes the sanctity of the day. However, many women recite She-heḥeyanu as they light the candles, because they wish to recite this berakha with their special mitzva in honor of the festival. Those who wish to do so may (see She’elat Ya’avetz 1:107; MB 263:23).

When planning to light the candles after Yom Tov has begun – for instance, if this is one’s custom on the second day of Rosh Ha-shana, on Yom Tov Sheni, or when Yom Tov starts on Saturday night – it is preferable to have the candles prepared on a weekday before Yom Tov begins. If they were not prepared (and wax is left from the previous night’s candles), one may force the candles into the candlesticks even though this may shave off a bit of the candles. There is no prohibition of Meḥatekh (cutting), because the shaving is done with a shinui (in an irregular manner). It is also permitted to use a knife to remove wax left in the candlestick, if it is getting in the way of putting in the new candles. Similarly, if one uses tea lights or votive candles, he may pry the little metal discs left over from the previous night out of the glass cup. If one uses floating wicks, they may be inserted into the cork disks that hold them (SSK 13:24, 49-50; n. 151 in the name of R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach). However, one using candles may not melt the bottoms to make them stay in the candlestick, as this is a derivative of Memaḥek (smoothing). Similarly, it is forbidden to cut the bottoms or sand them in order to stick the candles into the candlesticks, because this is a violation of Meḥatekh (Ḥayei Adam 92:2; Be’er Heitev 314:10; SSK 13:48; see Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 18:6; 15:10).

The rest of the laws of lighting candles are the same for Shabbat and Yom Tov, and they are explained in Peninei Halakha: Shabbat (ch. 4).

[1]. Hagahot Maimoniyot, Mordechai, and Or Zaru’a quote the Yerushalmi as saying that one must recite the berakha on Yom Tov candles. This does not appear in our editions of the Yerushalmi, so this seems one of the Yerushalmi passages that got lost over time. Raavya, Beit Yosef, and Shulḥan Arukh (263:5) cite it as well, and it is the common practice. However, some French Rishonim maintain that one should not recite a berakha on candle lighting on Yom Tov. This was the custom in Yemen. Responsa Pe’ulat Tzadik 3:270 explains that this can be inferred from Rambam’s omission of this berakha. The rationale is that there was no need to require candle lighting, since it is permissible to light candles on Yom Tov itself. Most Yemenites do not recite this berakha, against the ruling of Yeḥaveh Da’at 1:27.

03. The Yom Tov Amida

The Amida on Yom Tov (the following describes all prayers, except for Musaf, of all holidays except Rosh Ha-shana) has seven berakhot, just like the Amida for Shabbat. The formulations of the first three and last three berakhot are the same as those of the weekday Amida. In the middle, instead of the 13 petitionary berakhot recited during the week, the Yom Tov Amida has one berakha, whose theme is the sanctity of the holiday. It mentions the name of the specific festival and invokes God’s election of Israel from among the nations, sanctifying us with His mitzvot, bringing us close to His service, and giving us the festivals on which to rejoice and to recall the Exodus from Egypt. With this awareness, we ask that memories of us should ascend and come before (ya’aleh ve-yavo) God and be viewed positively. We conclude with the paragraph of Ve-hasi’enu, asking that God elevate us through the sanctity of the festivals, sanctify us through His mitzvot, give us a share in His Torah, purify our hearts to serve Him truly, and grant us the privilege of celebrating the festivals joyously. We conclude, “Blessed are You, Lord, Who sanctifies Israel and the seasons.”

Technically, the Shabbat and Yom Tov Amida could have included all the petitionary berakhot in addition to a special berakha in honor of Shabbat or Yom Tov. However, out of respect for Shabbat and the holidays, the Sages did not want to impose upon people all the berakhot recited during the week (Berakhot 21a). Furthermore, on Shabbat and Yom Tov it is not appropriate to make requests for immediate needs, thoughts about which are likely to lead to worry (Tanḥuma; Rashi; Rambam). Therefore, the Sages instituted one middle berakha instead of the usual 13. Nevertheless, if one realizes that he is mistakenly reciting the berakhot of the weekday Amida, he should conclude that berakha and then proceed with the appropriate berakha for Yom Tov or Shabbat. Since, technically, the weekday blessings could be recited, and since he has already begun a berakha, it is proper for him to finish it (SA 268:2; MB ad loc. 3; for Musaf see section 9 below).[2]

If one omits the name of the festival in the Amida, or mentions a different festival or Shabbat instead, he has not fulfilled his obligation, and must return to the beginning of the berakha and recite it correctly. If he has already finished the Amida, even if he has not stepped backwards, he must repeat the Amida (MB 487:11). However, if one is reading the Amida from a siddur and is aware of the name of the festival but does not remember mentioning it, he may assume that he did so (Kaf Ha-ḥayim 487:30).

It is customary to use special melodies for the Shabbat and Yom Tov prayers, with Shabbat and Yom Tov each having its own melodies (Mateh Ephraim 625:40).

There is a custom from the time of the Rishonim to add psalms to the Pesukei De-zimra section that introduces Shaḥarit. At the conclusion of Pesukei De-zimra, we add the prayer of Nishmat.

[2]. If, during any Amida on Yom Tov, one starts the first middle berakha with the word “ata,” intending to say “Ata Ḥonen” (the next paragraph of the weekday Amida), and then remembers that it is a festival, he should continue with the festival Amida. After all, he has not yet made a mistake, since the correct paragraph of the festival Amida also begins “ata” – “Ata Beḥartanu” (SA 265:3; MB ad loc. 6). However, Shabbat and Yom Tov are no time for a tefilat nedava (extra Amida offered voluntarily), so if one forgets this and begins to pray voluntarily, he should stop as soon as he realizes his mistake. This is the case even if he would be able to offer something novel in the prayer (SA 107:1).

04. The Amida When Yom Tov Coincides with Shabbat

When Yom Tov and Shabbat coincide, the Amida is that of Yom Tov, with Shabbat-specific insertions. Each time both Shabbat and Yom Tov are mentioned, Shabbat is mentioned first, as it is both holier and more frequent. The conclusion of the middle berakha is “Who sanctifies Shabbat, Israel, and the seasons.” Shabbat precedes Israel because the Jews are responsible for the sanctification of the festivals, but not of Shabbat. The sanctity of Shabbat stems from the time of creation and thus preceded the existence of the Jewish nation. It is fixed and enduring (Beitza 17a; above 1:3). At first glance, it would seem that two berakhot should be recited in the Amida, one for Shabbat and one for Yom Tov. Nevertheless, since both of the days demonstrate sanctity in time, they were combined into one berakha. Furthermore, the sanctity of Israel and the festivals is revealed through the fixed and enduring sanctity of Shabbat, and thus these two sanctities are in a sense only one.[3]

[3]. Beitza 17a. According to Beit Shammai there, when Yom Tov coincides with Shabbat, eight berakhot are recited in the Amida (rather than seven), with one each for Shabbat and Yom Tov. According to Beit Hillel, seven are recited. The middle berakha begins and ends by mentioning Shabbat, and the sanctity of Yom Tov is mentioned in between. R. Yehuda Ha-nasi says that the conclusion of the berakha should include both Shabbat and Yom Tov. The halakha follows this last position. If one praying mentions Yom Tov in the middle of the berakha but concludes by mentioning Shabbat alone, he has fulfilled his obligation, since R. Yehuda Ha-nasi concedes that the halakha follows Beit Hillel, and it is enough to mention Yom Tov in the middle and conclude with Shabbat alone. Nevertheless, he thinks that le-khatḥila it is preferable to mention Yom Tov in the conclusion as well (Bi’ur Halakha 487:1 s.v. “mekadesh”).

05. Kiddush and the Festive Meal

On Yom Tov night, just as on Friday night, there is a mitzva to recite kiddush over a cup of wine, at the site of the festive meal. The Sages ordained that the sanctity of the day be invoked in prayers and at meals, for the sanctity of the day is manifest through both body and soul.

The content of kiddush is similar to that of the Amida’s middle berakha, and its conclusion is identical: “Blessed are You, Lord, Who sanctifies Israel and the seasons” (section 3 above). One first recites the berakha over wine and then the berakha over the sanctity of the day.[4] Afterward She-heḥeyanu is recited, in which we thank God “Who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this time.” If one forgot to recite Sheheḥeyanu during kiddush, he can do so when he remembers, anytime during the festival. It is not necessary to have a cup of wine for it (MB 473:1).

The seventh day of Pesaḥ is the only Yom Tov when She-heḥeyanu is not recited at kiddush, because it is not considered a self-contained festival. Thus, the She-heḥeyanu recited on the first day covers the last day as well. In contrast, on Shemini Atzeret one does recite She-heḥeyanu, as it is a festival in its own right (RH 4b).

On Yom Tov of Sukkot, the berakha of Leishev Ba-sukka is added to kiddush since at this time we begin to fulfill the mitzva of sitting in the sukka.

The Sages ordained that Yom Tov kiddush be said by day as well as at night, as on Shabbat, in order to honor the day. Since the sanctity of Yom Tov had already been invoked in the nighttime kiddush, it is not repeated during the day. Rather, the daytime kiddush is limited to the berakha over the wine. It is customary to add a verse beforehand which relates to the holiday. This kiddush is referred to as Kidusha Raba (the great kiddush), which is a euphemism, since it is the nighttime kiddush at the beginning of Yom Tov which is the important one. It is then that we invoke the sanctity of the festival (MB 289:3). The rest of the laws pertaining to kiddush are explained in Peninei Halakha: Shabbat (ch. 6).

As we have seen (1:7 above), it is a mitzva to eat two festive meals on Yom Tov, one by night and one by day. At each meal there is a mitzva to eat bread. Yom Tov meals must be even better than Shabbat meals because there is an additional mitzva of simḥa. The daytime meal is more important than the nighttime meal.

[4]. Kiddush on Shabbat is a Torah obligation, as we read: “Commemorate the day of Shabbat to sanctify it” (Shemot 20:8). According to Rambam and most poskim, this mandate is fulfilled by reciting the Friday night prayers, while a rabbinic enactment also requires recitation over a cup of wine on Friday night. However, there are a few Rishonim who maintain that there is a biblical commandment to make kiddush over wine or bread (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 6:2-3 and n. 2). On Yom Tov, according to Magid Mishneh (Shabbat 29:18) the entire obligation of kiddush is rabbinic. Magen Avraham (271:1) and Mishna Berura (ad loc. 2) as well as most Aḥaronim are of this opinion. However, a few Rishonim feel it is biblically mandated based on the verse: “the fixed times of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions” (Vayikra 23:2(. This would seem to be the position of She’iltot, Behag, Raavya, and Maharam of Rothenburg. See Responsa Ḥazon Ovadia §2, where the different positions are summarized.

06. Birkat Ha-mazon

On Yom Tov, Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, and Rosh Ḥodesh, the Sages ordained that the sanctity of the day be invoked in Birkat Ha-mazon, as eating on these holy days is not the same as eating during the week. It is endowed with sanctity and is a mitzva. This invocation is made through the added paragraph of Ya’aleh Ve-yavo. In it, we ask God to remember us in a good way on this special day, to have mercy upon us, and to save us. This is inserted within the berakha of Boneh Yerushalayim, because it too contains a request for mercy (Berakhot 49a; Shabbat 24a; Tosafot ad loc.).

Since eating bread at a Yom Tov meal is required, one who forgets to say Ya’aleh Ve-yavo during Birkat Ha-mazon has not fulfilled his obligation and must repeat Birkat Ha-mazon. This is the custom of all Ashkenazim and some Sephardim (SA 188:6). Other Sephardim maintain that there is no requirement to eat bread at a Yom Tov meal, and therefore one who forgets Ya’aleh Ve-yavo does not repeat Birkat Ha-mazon. Only if Ya’aleh Ve-yavo was forgotten on the first nights of Pesaḥ or Sukkot would one repeat Birkat Ha-mazon, because everyone agrees that at those meals matza or bread must be eaten.[5]

When Yom Tov or Ḥol Ha-mo’ed coincide with Shabbat, Retzei is recited before Ya’aleh Ve-yavo, because Shabbat is both holier and more frequent (SA 188:5; MB ad loc. 13). If one mistakenly started with Ya’aleh Ve-yavo, he may complete it and then recite Retzei, as the order in which they are said is not critical.[6]

If one begins a meal on Yom Tov before shki’a and finishes it after tzeit, he still says Ya’aleh Ve-yavo in Birkat Ha-mazon. Since he began eating during Yom Tov, he became obligated to say Birkat Ha-mazon with the mention of the festival (Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 4:7 with n. 6; also see 4:8 there).

[5]. According to most Rishonim, there is an obligation to eat bread at two meals on every Yom Tov. Thus one who forgot Ya’aleh Ve-yavo must repeat Birkat Ha-mazon. This is the opinion of Rambam, Rosh, Ritva, Mordechai, Ran, Shulḥan Arukh (188:6), Shiyarei Knesset Ha-gedola, and many other Rishonim and Aḥaronim. In contrast, according to Tosafot (Sukka 27a) and Rashba, the obligation to eat bread is limited to the first nights of Pesaḥ and Sukkot, so only then would one have to repeat Birkat Ha-mazon. However, a number of the great Sephardic Aḥaronim write that despite the ruling of Shulḥan Arukh, one does not repeat Birkat Ha-mazon, since, as a rule, we refrain from reciting berakhot to dispel doubt, and mentioning the festival is only a rabbinic requirement (Ben Ish Ḥai, Year 1, Ḥukat 21; Kaf Ha-ḥayim 188:24; Yeḥaveh Da’at 5:36). Nevertheless, the custom among North Africans is to follow the ruling of Shulḥan Arukh and to repeat Birkat Ha-mazon. This is the approach of R. Yitzḥak Tayeb (Erekh Ha-shulḥan 188:3); Sho’el Ve-nish’al 5, OḤ 83; and R. Shalom Messas (Shemesh U-magen 1:13). This is the conclusion of Alei Hadas 10:8 as well. This is also the Yemenite practice (Responsa Pe’ulat Tzadik 3:35).

For women, even within Ashkenazic custom there is room to say that they should not repeat Birkat Ha-mazon (except on the first night of Pesaḥ). There are two possible reasons. First, R. Akiva Eger maintains that women are not obligated in the mitzvot of simḥa and having festive meals on Yom Tov. Second, some maintain that women’s obligation in Birkat Ha-mazon is only rabbinic (see Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 4 n. 5). Nevertheless, those women who do repeat Birkat Ha-mazon have an opinion to rely on (see Harḥavot 1:7:6).

The poskim disagree as to the status of one who is uncertain whether he recited Retzei or Ya’aleh Ve-yavo at a meal in which a definite omission would require repeating Birkat Ha-mazon. Yabi’a Omer 7:28 follows those who maintain that in case of uncertainty one does not repeat, since mentioning the name of the festival is rabbinic, and we are lenient in cases of doubt about berakhot or any other rabbinic rule. Furthermore, it is possible that the sanctity of the day caused the person to remember. MB 188:16 rules that he should repeat Birkat Ha-mazon, since what he most likely said is what he is used to saying, which would not include mention of the festival. This is also the ruling of Birkat Hashem vol. 2 5:18. The bottom line seems to be that if one thinks that he forgot, he should repeat; and if he thinks he did not forget, he should not repeat. If it is 50-50, he should not repeat.

[6]. This is the position of most poskim as well as R. Zvi Yehuda Kook in Olat Re’iya; Yabi’a Omer 10:22; and Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 4:7 in the Harḥavot. At a meal in which omitting Retzei or Ya’aleh Ve-yavo would require repeating Birkat Ha-mazon, if he has already begun the berakha of Ha-tov Ve-hametiv, he must return to the beginning of Birkat Ha-mazon and recite it correctly. It is not sufficient to return to the berakha of Raḥem (SA 188:6; BHL s.v. “le-rosh”). In contrast, if he remembers before beginning Ha-tov Ve-hametiv, the rule is different. Whether or not it is a meal in which omitting Retzei or Ya’aleh Ve-yavo would require repeating Birkat Ha-mazon, he should recite the compensatory blessing: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who bestowed festivals upon Israel for celebrating and rejoicing, including this Festival of (Matzot/Shavu’ot/Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret). Blessed are You, God, Who sanctifies Israel and the seasons.” If Yom Tov coincides with Shabbat and one forgets both Retzei and Ya’aleh Ve-yavo but remembers before beginning Ha-tov Ve-hametiv, he should recite: “Blessed…Who lovingly gave Shabbatot to His nation Israel on which to rest as a sign and a covenant, as well as festivals for celebrating and rejoicing, including this Festival of (Matzot/Shavu’ot/Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret). Blessed are You, God, Who sanctifies Shabbat, Israel, and the seasons.” If one does not know the compensatory blessing, he cannot simply recite Ya’aleh Ve-yavo before Ha-tov Ve-hametiv. If it is a meal in which omission requires repeating Birkat Ha-mazon, he must go back to the beginning (Taz; MB 188:17 and BHL ad loc.; Peninei Halakha: Berakhot, Harḥavot to ch. 5, p. 58).

If one forgets Retzei or Ya’aleh Ve-yavo and realizes before saying God’s name at the end of the berakha of Boneh Yerushalayim, he should go back and recite what he left out. If he already said God’s name, many say that he should conclude with the words “lamdeni ḥukekha” (which is the usual procedure for one who mistakenly begins “Blessed are You, God”). If he does not do so but rather completes the berakha of Boneh Yerushalayim, he is obligated to add the compensatory blessing. If he already said the word “boneh,” he should complete the berakha and then recite the compensatory blessing. If he already said the word “barukh” that begins the berakha of Ha-tov Ve-hametiv, according to most poskim he has lost the option of saying the compensatory blessing (MB 188:23; SHT ad loc. 18; BHL s.v. “ad”). Some say that if he is at a meal in which a definite omission would require repeating Birkat Ha-mazon, then as long as he has only said the beginning words of Ha-tov Ve-hametiv, which are the same as the beginning of the compensatory berakha, he can continue and recite the compensatory blessing (Ḥayei Adam; Yabi’a Omer 6:28). All of this is explained in Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 4:8.

07. Hallel

It is a mitzva to thank and praise God for the festivals He gave us; we therefore recite Hallel. However, Hallel is not said on every festival. There are three requirements which must be met for Hallel to be said: 1) the day is referred to as a mo’ed; 2) there is a prohibition of melakha on that day; 3) there were special sacrifices offered then during Temple times. Therefore, Hallel is recited on all seven days of Sukkot – they are all referred to as mo’ed, there is a prohibition of melakha then, and each day involved the sacrifice of a different number of bulls. Similarly, Hallel is recited on Shemini Atzeret, the first day of Pesaḥ, and Shavu’ot.

In contrast, on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed of Pesaḥ and the last day of Pesaḥ, Hallel is not recited. Even though they are referred to as mo’ed and there is a prohibition of melakha then, nevertheless since each day involved the same number of offerings as the first day, there is nothing new on which to recite Hallel (Arakhin 10a-b).

Some suggest an additional reason for the omission of Hallel. The Egyptians drowned on the seventh day of Pesaḥ, which is cause for a little grief. This is reflected in the midrash which records God scolding the angels who wanted to sing His praises then: “My creations are drowning in the sea and you are singing praises?!” True, the Jews of that generation certainly needed to rejoice and to sing God’s praises for their salvation, but there is no mitzva for Jews to say Hallel every year on the seventh day of Pesaḥ. Furthermore, since we do not say Hallel on that Yom Tov, it is not proper to say it on the preceding days of Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, as they are of lesser sanctity. Therefore, the obligation to say Hallel on Pesaḥ is only on the first day (Shibolei Ha-leket based on the Midrash; Beit Yosef, OḤ 490:4; MB ad loc. 7).

Even though there is no mitzva to recite Hallel on the last six days of Pesaḥ or on Rosh Ḥodesh, the custom is to recite it then. However, in order to make it clear that this recitation is a custom and not a law, two paragraphs of Hallel are skipped. (The full Hallel is comprised of chapters 113-118 of Tehilim. On the last six days of Pesaḥ and Rosh Ḥodesh, we skip chapters 115:1-11 and 116:1-11.)

There is a disagreement among the Rishonim as to whether a berakha is recited over Hallel on the last six days of Pesaḥ and Rosh Ḥodesh. According to Rambam and Rashi the answer is no, since a berakha should not be recited before fulfilling a custom. In contrast, Rabbeinu Tam, Rosh, and Ran maintain that a berakha is recited on a custom as important as this one. In practice, Ashkenazim do recite the berakha, even when praying alone. The custom of Sephardim living in Eretz Yisrael is not to recite the berakha, and the custom of most North African communities is that the ḥazan recites the beginning and concluding berakhot (“likro et ha-Hallel” and “yehalelukha”) out loud for everyone in the synagogue, but those praying alone do not recite the berakhot. Everyone should continue the custom of his ancestors.[7]

Hallel is customarily recited after the completion of the Amida of Shaḥarit. One should try to recite it with the congregation. If one comes late to synagogue and arrives when the congregation is reciting Hallel, according to many he should recite Hallel together with them, and then go back to Pesukei De-zimra (MB 422:16). See Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 1:13 for customs concerning the recitation of Hallel.

[7]. See Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 1:12 n. 16, where we explain that even though Rosh Ḥodesh has special sacrifices, since melakha is permitted there is no obligation to recite Hallel, and thus the status of Rosh Ḥodesh is similar to that of the last six days of Pesaḥ. We explain there the positions of various Rishonim and Aḥaronim. I will also note here that on the days when the full Hallel is recited, some say that it is a Torah obligation (Behag; Yere’im; Smak; Ramban). Others maintain that it is rabbinic (Rambam; Rashi; Sha’agat Aryeh §69). Yet others are of the opinion that the obligation has the status of divrei kabbala, which means it goes back to verses in the Prophets or Writings (Raavad; Kesef Mishneh states that Rambam agrees). See Encyclopedia Talmudit, s.v. “Hallel.”

08. Torah Reading on Yom Tov and Ḥol Ha-mo’ed

An ordinance from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu mandates reading the Torah every Monday, Thursday, and Shabbat, so that three days never go by without a public Torah reading (BK 82a). Over the course of time, the custom developed to complete the Torah each year through the weekly readings (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 5:6).

Moshe Rabbeinu further ordained that the Torah reading on the festivals would be topical, as the verse states: “So Moses declared to the Israelites the set times of the Lord” (Vayikra 23:44). The Gemara elaborates that just as Moshe spoke about the festivals, “there is a mitzva to read about each one of them at the appropriate time” (Megilla 32a; MT, Laws of Prayer 13:8). When Yom Tov or Ḥol Ha-mo’ed coincides with Shabbat, we read from the Torah about the festival instead of the regular Shabbat Torah reading. The haftara also reflects a theme of the day. On each festival, we remove two Torah scrolls from the Ark, reading the main reading from the first and maftir, in which we read about the Musaf offerings, from the second.[8]

The number of people called up to the Torah for an aliya changes in accordance with the holiness of the day. The holier the day, the more people are called up (Megilla 21a). On weekdays, three people are called up. On Rosh Ḥodesh and Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, on which there were Musaf offerings in Temple times (and Musaf prayers today), four people are called up. On Yom Tov, when melakha is forbidden but food preparation is permitted, five people are called up. On Yom Kippur, when all forms of melakha are prohibited, six people are called up. On Shabbat, when the punishment for desecration is greater, seven people are called up. Specifically, the punishment for desecrating Yom Kippur is karet, while the punishment for desecrating Shabbat is stoning (Megilla 23a).

Thus, on Yom Tov five people are called up to the Torah, plus an additional aliya for the maftir. We may not call up fewer people than the Sages mandated, in order not to detract from the honor of Yom Tov (ibid. 21a). According to Rambam and Rashi, it is permissible to add more aliyot, but others maintain that it is forbidden, because doing so would seem to equate the sanctity of Yom Tov with the sanctity of Yom Kippur or Shabbat (Ran). Common practice follows the second opinion, for two reasons: to avoid burdening the congregation, and to avoid having extra berakhot. Originally, only the first and last people called up would recite berakhot over the Torah scroll, so calling up additional people did not involve additional berakhot. Later, the Sages ordained that each person called up recites a berakha before and after the reading. Thus if we call up additional people, additional non-mandated berakhot would be recited. Nevertheless, if there are extenuating circumstances, such as preventing a serious insult to someone, it is permitted to call up additional people (SA and Rema 282:1-2; MB ad loc. 4-5). An exception to this rule is Simḥat Torah, when the custom is to give an aliya to all men.

Yizkor: Ashkenazim have the custom to recite Yizkor, the prayer in which we remember the souls of our dearly departed relatives and pledge tzedaka on their behalf, after the Torah reading on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret (Simḥat Torah in the Diaspora), the seventh day of Pesaḥ (eighth in the Diaspora), and Shavu’ot (second day in the Diaspora). During Yizkor, the two Torah scrolls are held by standing congregants. Common practice is that people whose parents are still alive leave the sanctuary before Yizkor, as it is uncomfortable to have some congregants praying and others remaining silent. Additionally, some are concerned about the evil eye. Yizkor is usually not recited for one who died within the previous year, because that might cause too much pain to the survivor and detract from his holiday simḥa.

[8]. The Torah readings for the festivals are detailed in Megilla 30b-31a. It seems that originally, the maftir would repeat the last few verses that the last person called up had read, as is still the custom on Shabbat. The Ge’onim, and possibly even the earlier Savora’im, began the custom of taking out an extra Torah scroll so the maftir can read from Bamidbar about the Musaf offerings. This custom is based on the statement in Megilla 31b that reading about the offerings can count be-di’avad in lieu of offering them (Rosh; Ran; Mordechai; Beit Yosef 488:3). This is also explained below in 13:11. The haftara is explained in Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 5:7. All of the festival readings are found in standard siddurim.

09. The Musaf Amida and Ve-te’erav

The three prayer services that we recite each day correspond to the three patriarchs as well as to the daily sacrifices in the Temple. Shaḥarit and Minḥa correspond to the two daily (tamid) offerings in the morning and afternoon, respectively, and Ma’ariv corresponds to the nighttime burning of fats and limbs on the altar (Berakhot 26b; Peninei Halakha: Prayer 1:7). The Sages added the Musaf prayer – to be recited on Shabbat, Yom Tov, Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, and Rosh Ḥodesh – corresponding to the additional (musaf) offerings sacrificed then.

The Musaf Amida of Yom Tov (except Rosh Ha-shana) contains seven berakhot. The first three are similar to those of every Amida, while the middle berakha relates to the festival offerings. We begin by stating that on account of our sins we were exiled from our Land, and our Temple was destroyed, so we are unable to bring sacrifices as we once did. We then plead:

Bring back our scattered ones from among the nations…. Lead us to Zion, Your city, in jubilation, and to Jerusalem, home of Your Temple, with everlasting joy. There we will prepare for You our obligatory offerings; the regular daily offerings in their order and the additional offerings according to their law.

We then mention the name of the festival. Ashkenazim also recite verses pertinent to the musaf sacrifice. We go on to pray that the Temple be rebuilt and that we be privileged to fulfill the mitzva of making a pilgrimage to the Temple three times a year for the festivals. We conclude with the prayer of Ve-hasi’enu, as we do at every Yom Tov Amida (section 3 above).[9]

Following Ashkenazic custom, at the conclusion of the Retzei section about restoring the Temple service, the ḥazan adds the formulation that was said in the Temple: “May our entreaty be as pleasing to You as a burnt offering and sacrifice. Please, Compassionate One, in Your abounding mercy restore Your Presence to Zion, Your city, and the order of the Temple service to Jerusalem.” The ḥazan concludes: “Blessed are You, Lord, for You alone do we serve with reverence” (She-otkha levadkha be-yir’a na’avod”). Some follow the Vilna Gaon’s practice and instead conclude the berakha in the usual way: “Blessed are You, Lord, Who restores His presence to Zion.” If no Kohanim are present, then Ve-te’erav is omitted (MB 128:173).

[9]. If one makes a mistake during Musaf and begins to recite the berakhot of the weekday Amida and then remembers the need to pray Musaf, some say that he should complete the berakha that he started. However, the ruling is that he should stop immediately, because these berakhot are not relevant to the Musaf service (SA 268:2; MB ad loc. 5).

10. Reading the Megillot

The Sages state in a beraita in Masekhet Sofrim (14:1) that over the course of the year we publicly read all five megillot (scrolls): Shir Ha-shirim on Pesaḥ, Rut on Shavu’ot, Eikha on Tisha Be-Av, Kohelet on Sukkot, and Esther on Purim. Before beginning each reading, the berakha of “al mikra megilla” is recited. This follows the ruling of the great Ashkenazic Rishonim (Maḥzor Vitri; Hagahot Maimoniyot quoting Maharam of Rothenburg; Or Zaru’a; Shibolei Ha-leket; Maharil). However, many have expressed reservations about this ruling since, apart from Esther, we find no reference in the Gemara to reading megillot, and we certainly find nothing about reciting berakhot over them. For this reason, the great Sephardic leaders ruled not to recite a berakha before reading the megillot, and this is the universal Sephardic custom (Responsa Radbaz 6:2096; Beit Yosef 559:2).

As for Ashkenazic custom, many are of the opinion that on account of the uncertainty, it is proper not to recite a berakha over the four megillot whose reading is not mentioned in the Gemara (Rema 241:9; Taz ad loc. 6; Pri Megadim; Ḥok Ya’akov). This is the current custom of all those who pray with Nusaḥ Sepharad (including Ḥasidim), as well as some of those who pray with Nusaḥ Ashkenaz.

Others maintain that a berakha must be recited before reading a megilla (Levush; Baḥ; MA 490:9; Vilna Gaon). This is the custom of Jerusalemites whose ancestors were students of the Vilna Gaon who helped found the Old Yishuv. It is also the custom of many who are of Lithuanian descent. Those who recite a berakha make sure to read from a megilla written on parchment (based on Responsa Rema §35; MB 490:19).

Of those who recite “al mikra megilla” prior to reading the megillot, many also recite the berakha of She-heḥeyanu (Levush; Vilna Gaon). Many others question this, since She-heḥeyanu does not appear in this context in Masekhet Sofrim, and most of the Aḥaronim do not mention it. Therefore, for those with a custom to say She-heḥeyanu, it is proper to wear a new item of clothing, in which case all agree that the berakha may be recited.

Where members of various communities pray together, it is advisable for them to read from a megilla written on parchment, and for one whose custom is to recite the berakha to do so out loud. All those present can then respond “Amen,” thus fulfilling the views of all poskim. Ashkenazim read Shir Ha-shirim on Shabbat during Pesaḥ, Kohelet on Shabbat during Sukkot, and Rut on Shavu’ot. All the megillot are read prior to the Torah reading.

In contrast, Sephardim and Yemenites read Rut before Minḥa. If it was read during the Torah study of Shavu’ot night, there is no need to read it again before Minḥa (13:12 below). Most Sephardim do not have any public reading of Kohelet. Yemenites read part of it before Minḥa on Shabbat during Sukkot, and part of it on the last day of Yom Tov. They do the same with Shir Ha-shirim – reading part of it on Shabbat during Pesaḥ and part of it on the last day of Yom Tov. Sephardim and many others from various communities also have a custom to read Shir Ha-shirim on Pesaḥ after the Seder is over.

11. Havdala

Just as there is a mitzva to make havdala at the end of Shabbat, so too there is a mitzva to do so at the end of Yom Tov, giving verbal expression to the difference between the sanctity of Yom Tov and weekdays. Even when passing from Yom Tov to Hol Ḥa-mo’ed, there is a mitzva to make havdala. The laws pertaining to havdala are similar in some ways to those pertaining to kiddush. Just as one must mention the sanctity of Yom Tov both during prayer and over a cup of wine, so too, at the conclusion of the Yom Tov, one must recite havdala both in prayer and over a cup of wine. During Ma’ariv, the paragraph of Ata Ḥonantanu is inserted into the fourth berakha of the Amida.

The Sages ordained that melakha not be performed before the recitation of Ata Ḥonantanu, and that food not be eaten until after the recitation of havdala over wine. If one forgets to add Ata Ḥonantanu, he fulfills his havdala obligation when he recites havdala over wine, after which he may do melakha and eat. Similarly, women who do not generally pray Ma’ariv fulfill their havdala obligation with the havdala recited over the cup of wine. A woman wishing to do melakha before havdala should recite the phrase “barukh ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-ḥol” (“Blessed is the One Who distinguishes between the sacred and the mundane”). In this way she gives verbal expression to havdala and is permitted to do melakha. This also applies to a man who misses Ma’ariv and wants to do melakha before praying, as well as one who forgot to add Ata Ḥonantanu in the Amida and wants to do melakha before making havdala over wine.

There are two differences between havdala of Shabbat and havdala of Yom Tov: 1) After Shabbat, we smell a fragrance (besamim). This is because when Shabbat ends, the neshama yeteira (lit. “expanded soul”) departs and our spirit is despondent. In order to revive it, we smell a fragrance. However, on Yom Tov we are not granted a neshama yeteira, and therefore, it is not necessary to revive our spirit by smelling fragrance. 2) Only on Saturday night is there a mitzva to recite a berakha over a flame, because fire was created on Saturday night (SA 491:1; MB ad loc. 2-3). Thus, havdala after Yom Tov has only two berakhot: Ha-gafen over the wine and Ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-ḥol.

After Shabbat, every custom prefaces the berakhot of havdala with verses of blessing, because it is an auspicious time for drawing down blessing for the six weekdays. However, the night after Yom Tov lacks this special quality. The Ashkenazic custom, therefore, is not to recite these verses after Yom Tov, while the Sephardic custom is to recite them.

12. When Yom Tov Follows Shabbat

When Yom Tov begins as Shabbat departs on Saturday night, we must take care not to prepare on Shabbat for Yom Tov. Shabbat is meant to be holy and restful, not a day to prepare for another day. Making efforts on Shabbat in order to prepare for a weekday or Yom Tov is an affront to its honor (see Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 22:15-16).

Therefore, washing dirty dishes on Shabbat in order to use them on Yom Tov is forbidden. Only after Shabbat may they be washed for Yom Tov use. It is also prohibited to clean the table on Shabbat to honor Yom Tov; however, it is permitted to clean it so that it looks nice on Shabbat, even though it will also be helpful to have the table clean for Yom Tov.

Lekhatḥila, on Shabbat that will lead into Yom Tov, one should have se’uda shlishit relatively early – more than three hours before the end of the day. If he did not manage to do so, he should still have se’uda shlishit, even if it is close to Yom Tov. However, he should eat minimally, so that he has an appetite for the Yom Tov meal (Rema 529:1; MB ad loc. 8).

One who leaves for synagogue while it is still Shabbat may take a maḥzor with him. He should look at its contents a bit on Shabbat, so that his taking it will have served a purpose on Shabbat.

Contemporary poskim disagree about whether one may remove food from a freezer on Shabbat to be used for a Yom Tov meal. As a practical matter, under extenuating circumstances, such as if waiting until after Shabbat will cause anguish and a considerable delay to the beginning of the Yom Tov meal, food may be removed on Shabbat. However, absent such necessity, one should be stringent and not remove food from a freezer on Shabbat for use on Yom Tov (see Ḥarḥavot).

When Shavu’ot follows Shabbat, it is better not to announce that one’s nap on Shabbat is in preparation for staying up all Shavu’ot night learning Torah. Nevertheless, one who wishes to say so may, since the main prohibition is to speak on Shabbat about something which is prohibited on Shabbat, and Torah study is not prohibited on Shabbat. Furthermore, such a statement does not take away from the honor of Shabbat, since it is for the sake of a mitzva.

When Yom Tov begins on Saturday night, the Yom Tov candles may not be lit until after tzeit. One waits until Shabbat is over, recites “Barukh ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-kodesh” (“Blessed is the One Who distinguishes between the sacred and the sacred”), and then lights (section 2 above).

Since it is prohibited to light a new fire on Yom Tov (below 5:1), it is necessary to light a candle before Shabbat which will last for more than 24 hours, and from which one can light the Yom Tov candles. If one forgot to do so, he should go to neighbors and “borrow” a flame from them in order to light the Yom Tov candles.

In Ma’ariv that night, we do not recite Ata Ḥonantanu, which speaks about separating between the sacred and mundane. Rather, we recite Va-todi’enu, which speaks about separating between the greater sanctity of Shabbat and the lesser sanctity of Yom Tov. One who forgot to recite Va-todi’enu does not repeat the Amida, because he will make havdala later over a cup of wine (SA 491:2; MB ad loc. 4). If he wants to do melakha relating to food preparation before havdala, he should say “Barukh ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-kodesh.” This law also applies to women if they do not pray Ma’ariv but would like to do melakha before hearing havdala (MB 299:36).

In the Yom Tov kiddush recited that night, we add a havdala section, including the line “ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-kodesh” (“Who distinguishes sacred from sacred”). We also recite the berakha over fire, “borei me’orei ha-esh” (“Creator of firelight”). However, no fragrance is used, because normally, fragrance is meant to soothe the soul’s pain at the departure of Shabbat. When Yom Tov follows Shabbat, there is no pain, so there is no need for fragrance to soothe it.[10]

The order of kiddush is as follows: the berakha over the wine; the berakha of kiddush over the sanctity of the day; the berakha over fire; the berakha of havdala; and She-heḥeyanu (SA 473:1). The Gemara’s acronym to remember this order is “yaknehaz,” which stands for yayin (wine), kiddush, ner (candle), havdala, and zeman (She-heḥeyanu).

[10]. One may recite the berakha of “me’orei ha-esh” over the already-lit Yom Tov candles (Or Le-Tziyon 3:18:6, as opposed to Tzitz Eliezer 14:42:2 who is stringent). Some maintain that two flames should not be brought together for this berakha, but rather it should be recited over one flame. Their concern is that when one separates the two flames afterward, it is a prohibited act of extinguishing (Or Le-Tziyon, loc. cit.). Others are lenient (Hilkhot Ḥag Be-ḥag in the name of R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv), and this seems correct. If one recites the berakha over matches lit from a Yom Tov candle, he should not put them out directly, because a flame may not be extinguished on Yom Tov. Rather, they should be left on a surface where they will burn out on their own (below 5:1-2).

13. Isru Ḥag

It is a good custom to eat and drink a little more than usual on the day following a festival (Rema 429:2), since the aura of the festival spills over into it. In the Yerushalmi, this day is referred to as Ben Ha-mo’ed (y. AZ 1:1), whereas in the Bavli, it is referred to as Isru Ḥag, meaning the day that is tied to the festival. By adding a little joy to Isru Ḥag, we demonstrate that the festival is dear to us and that it is difficult for us to let it go.

The Sages state: “Whoever makes an addition to the festival by eating and drinking is regarded by Scripture as though he had built an altar and offered a sacrifice on it. For it is said (Tehilim 118:27): ‘Make an addition to the festival (isru ḥag) with fat cattle, up to the horns of the altar’” (Sukka 45b). What does this mean? When a person eats for the sake of heaven so that he will have the strength to perform good deeds, and he invites guests in order to make them happy, and he speaks words of Torah at the table, then “a person’s table atones for him” (Berakhot 55a; Menaḥot 97a; Tosafot and Maharsha ad loc.; Avot 3:3). The foundation for the holiness of the table begins with the festivals, when there is a mitzva to prepare festive meals. Accordingly, if one adds a festive meal to the day following the festival, he is extending the festival’s holiness and values into the rest of the year. This is why it is as if he has built an altar and offered a sacrifice to God.

Since the aura of the festival spills over somewhat into Isru Ḥag, the custom is not to eulogize or fast then. Nevertheless, according to the letter of the law, it is not forbidden to do so (SAH 429:17; Kaf Ha-ḥayim 494:48).

In contrast, on Isru Ḥag of Shavu’ot, even the letter of the law prohibits eulogizing and fasting, because it is “a day of slaughter,” meaning a day when sacrifices are brought. Sometimes the festival offerings were sacrificed then. For example, if Shavu’ot was on Shabbat, the olat re’iya and shalmei ḥagiga would be postponed until Sunday, which was Isru Ḥag. Other years as well, many people did not manage to offer all their sacrifices on the festival, so the following day they offered what remained. A day on which sacrifices are offered is considered a day of simḥa. Therefore, one may not eulogize or fast then (SA 494:3; Levush; MA ad loc. 3; SAH ad loc. 19).

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