The Mitzvah of Havdalah

Part I

Havdalah is the mitzvah performed to mark the end of Shabbat.  This article will provide a basic overview of the mitzvah of Havdalah and provide some practical applications.  Next week's issue will discuss the various components of the Havdalah service. 

The Nature of the Mitzvah

Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 29:1, states that Havdalah is a part of the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat, mentioning the sanctity of Shabbat.  Rambam notes that the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat must be performed at the beginning of Shabbat and at the end of Shabbat.  [See The Mitzvah of Zechirat Shabbat].  Kiddush serves to fulfill the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat at the beginning of Shabbat and Havdalah serves to fulfill the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat at the end of Shabbat.  Maggid Mishneh, ad loc., cites other authorities, who are of the opinion that there is no biblical obligation to recite Havdalah.  Those authorities believe that the mitzvah of Havdalah is rabbinic in nature.

Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 29:6, states explicitly that the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat does not obligate one to recite Havdalah using a cup of wine.  The obligation to recite Havdalah using a cup of wine is only rabbinic in nature.  One can fulfill the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat by reciting the Havdalah that is incorporated into the text of the Amidah of Motza'ei Shabbat (the paragraph of Atah Chonantanu).

Are Women Obligated to Recite Havdalah?

The Gemara, Shavuot 20b, states that women are obligated to observe the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat based on the connection between shemirat Shabbat (refrain from prohibited activities on Shabbat) and zechirat Shabbat.  Rashi, ad loc., s.v. K'deRav Ada, explains that one would have otherwise concluded that women are exempt from the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat since it is a positive time-bound mitzvah (mitzvat aseh shehaz'man gerama) and women are exempt from all positive time-bound mitzvot.

Should this be applied to Havdalah?  According to Rambam, Havdalah is part of the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat, and women are obligated to observe the mitzvah of Havdalah just as they are obligated to observe the mitzvah of Kiddush.  However, according to those authorities that Havdalah is not part of the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat, it is arguable that Havdalah is an ordinary positive time-bound mitzvah and women are exempt.  In fact, Orchot Chaim, Hilchot Havdalah no. 18, cites an opinion that Havdalah is not based on the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat, but rather is its own unique mitzvah and therefore, women are exempt.

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 296:8, states that women are obligated to observe the mitzvah of Havdalah.  He then writes that there is one opinion that women are exempt from the mitzvah of Havdalah.  Rama, ad loc., notes that for this reason, it is preferable for a women to fulfill her mitzvah of Havdalah by listening to a man recite Havdalah.

Bach, Orach Chaim no. 196, questions Rama's ruling.  Let us say that we follow the opinion that women are exempt from Havdalah because it is a positive time-bound mitzvah.  Rama himself, Orach Chaim, 589:6, still rules that women may recite a blessing on a positive time-bound mitzvah.  If so, why is there a need for women to listen to Havdalah from a man in order to show deference to the opinion cited in Orchot Chaim?  Even according to that opinion a woman is permitted to recite Havdalah!

Magen Avraham 296:11, defends Rama's position by suggesting that women may only recite a beracha on positive time-bound mitzvot if the beracha is recited on a voluntary action (such as reciting a beracha on taking the lulav).  However, if the voluntary action is the beracha itself, and there is no further action, a woman may not recite a beracha.  [Despite Magen Avraham's justification of Rama's opinion, he nevertheless sides with the opinion of Bach.]  Taz, Orach Chaim 296:7, defends Rama's position by suggesting that women may only recite a beracha on a positive time-bound mitzvah if a man's obligation in that mitzvah is biblical in nature.  However, since the opinion cited by Orchot Chaim is clear that the obligation to recite Havdalah is only rabbinic in nature, a woman may not recite a berachaMishna Berurah 296:35, concludes that Bach's opinion should be considered normative and that a woman may recite Havdalah even according to the opinion cited in Orchot Chaim.

Magen Avraham op. cit., notes an additional problem if one follows the opinion cited in Orchot Chaim.  The Gemara, Rosh HaShana 29a, states that one who already fulfilled a mitzvah may recite a beracha on behalf of someone else.  However, Rama, Orach Chaim 589:6, rules that a man who has already fulfilled his obligation may not recite a beracha on behalf of a woman if the mitzvah is a positive time-bound mitzvah.  Therefore, Magen Avraham notes that according to the opinion that women are obligated to recite Havdalah, a man who has already fulfilled his obligation may recite Havdalah on behalf of a woman. 

However, according to the opinion cited in Orchot Chaim, a man should not recite Havdalah on behalf of a woman if he already fulfilled his obligation.  For this reason, if the men of the household already fulfilled their obligation (by reciting or listening to Havdalah in the synagogue), one of the women of the household should recite Havdalah.  This ruling is codified by Mishna Berurah 296:36.  [If a man plans on reciting Havdalah at home for the women of the household, he should specifically have in mind not to fulfill the mitzvah of Havdalah in the synagogue, see Shulchan Aruch, 296:7 and Mishna Berurah, ad loc.] 

Havdalah as an Allowance to Perform Melacha

Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 29:6, notes that aside from Havdalah's role in fulfilling the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat, Havdalah also permits one to perform melacha once Shabbat has concluded.  The Gemara, Shabbat 150b, states that if one wishes to perform melacha prior to the Havdalah that is recited on a cup of wine, one may recite "Baruch hamavdil bein kodesh l'chol" (blessed is the one who distinguishes between the holy and the mundane) and then perform melacha.  Rashi, ad loc., s.v Ve'Avdinan, states that if one recites Atah Chonantanu, it is not necessary to recite Baruch hamavdil etc.  However, Rabbeinu Asher, Pesachim 10:11, rules that if one wishes to perform melacha prior to the recitation of Havdalah using a cup of wine, one should recite "Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha'Olam hamavdil bein kodesh l'chol."  This ruling implies that there is a requirement for a formal beracha in order to permit one to perform melacha

According to Rabbeinu Asher, the recitation of Atah Chonantanu may be insufficient to allow one to perform melacha.  [It is arguable that Rabbeinu Asher merely requires that Havdalah be recited in the context of a beracha.  Therefore, if one recites Atah Chonantanu, which is in the context of the beracha of Chonen HaDa'at, one may then perform melacha.  However, Rabbeinu Asher's son, Rabbeinu Ya'akov, Tur, Orach Chaim 296, states explicitly that one can derive from Rabbeinu Asher's ruling that one may not perform melacha by merely reciting Atah Chonantanu.]

One can explain that the dispute between Rashi and Rabbeinu Asher is over the nature of the prohibition to perform melacha prior to Havdalah.  According to Rashi, one may not perform melacha prior to fulfilling to the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat.  For this reason, it is sufficient if one recites Atah Chonantanu.  However, Rabbeinu Asher is of the opinion that the prohibition is a function of the formal rabbinic obligation to recite Havdalah.  Therefore, until one recites the actual beracha of Havdalah, one may not perform melacha.

Perhaps a practical difference between these two approaches is with regards to what type of melacha is prohibited prior to Havdalah.  Rabbeinu Yerucham, Netiv 12, rules that only activities that involve physical labor are prohibited.  Activities such as lighting a candle are permitted.  Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim no. 299, rules that all activities that constitute melacha are prohibited.  It is arguable that if the prohibition to perform melacha is a function of the obligation to perform the mitzvah of zechirat Shabbat, only those activities that involve physical labor are prohibited because those activities represent a neglect to perform the mitzvah expeditiously.  However, if the prohibition to perform melacha is a function of the formal obligation of Havdalah, it is possible that the formal obligation of Havdalah was instituted as a prerequisite to performance of melacha, in which case, all melachot are prohibited prior to Havdalah.