Sitting or Standing for Kiddush
I. Introduction. One of the most basic obligations of Shabbat is the mitzvah of “zachor et yom ha’shabbat l’kadsho” – to mention the day of Shabbat in order to sanctify it. On a biblical level, most rishonim understand that one is only required to mention something about the fact that it is Shabbat (see Magen Avraham 271:1 who says that one fulfills his biblical obligation of kiddush by reciting the Friday night shemoneh esrei. See also Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in his glosses to the Sulcahn Aruch ibid., who suggests that merely saying “good shabbos” would suffice.) The rabbis, however added to the requirements of kiddush and mandated that it be recited over a cup of wine, and in conjunction with the Shabbat meal. (See Tosafot Pesachim 106a for two opinions regarding which aspects of kiddush are biblically mandated and which are rabbinically mandated.) Over the years many customs have developed regarding whether one should sit or stand for kiddush. A number of minhagim maintain some sort of compromise where people stand for certain parts of kiddush but sit for other parts of kiddush. In this essay we will explore the various sources for each custom in the hope that a greater understanding of each custom will lead to an appreciation of the many aspects of the mitzvah of kiddush.
II. The Reasons to sit for kiddush. There are a number of sources that would indicate a preference for sitting during the recitation of kiddush:
A. Tosafot (Berachot 43a) states that in order to include others in your recitation of kiddush it is necessary for everybody to sit, as an indication that they are all joining together to discharge their obligation through the kiddush of one of them. Tosafot even wonders why we have the custom to stand for havdalah when we are motzi others. They therefore suggest that it is best to sit for havdalah as well. (Regarding sitting during havdalah see Rama 296:6, Biur Hagra ibid., and Ma’aseh Rav 103.)
B. The gemara Pesachim 101a records the comment of Shmuel that one must recite kiddush in the same place that he will have his meal. It is clear in the gemara that this requirement does not only involve reciting kiddush in the same house that one will have his meal, but even in the same room where the meal will take place. The Mishnah Berurah (271:46) cites poskim who suggest that one should also recite kiddush in the exact spot that he will have his meal. As such, one who will eat sitting down should recite kiddush while sitting down as well.
C. The gemara and rishonim do not openly discuss that issue of standing versus sitting for kiddush. In all likelihood, there was only one custom during those times in history, thereby obviating the need for any debate about this matter. The question though remains, what was the custom that everybody had accepted without any opposition voiced against it. The Rambam (Hilchot Succah 6:12) writes that on the first night of Succot one should recite kiddush while standing, because the beracha of leshev b’succah should be recited prior to performing the mitzvah (of sitting in the succah). The Ra’avad comments that he had never heard of such a custom. Additionally, he argues, even if the berachah is recited while seated, it will still precede the primary aspect of the mitzvah of succah, the eating in the succah. Magid Mishnah adds that the words “leshev b’succah” do not reflect an obligation to sit in the succah. Rather, it reflects an obligation to dwell in the succah. After all, one who spends his entire day in the succah, eating and drinking standing up has certainly fulfilled his obligation of yeshivat succah. Based on this discussion, it seems that all of these rshonim took for granted that normally kiddush was recited while sitting down. The only debate revolved around the first night of Succot because of factors that are unique to that holiday.
III. The Reasons to Stand. In spite of the sources that suggest sitting for kiddush, large segments of the Jewish people stand for kiddush. Those who stand point to the following sources to validate their custom:
A. The gemara Bava Kama 32b referes to Shabbat as a kallah and records that various amoraim would stand to greet the Shabbat kallah. Based on this reference many of the great kabbalists had the custom to stand during kiddush out of reverence for the kallah that we greet when we recite kiddush. This, in fact was the custom of the Arizal.
B. A second reason to stand during the recitation of kiddush is offered by the Mishnah Berurah (271:45) who states that the paragraph beginning “vayechulu” is a testimony of sorts that God created the world. One who testifies in a Jewish court is obligated to stand for his testimony. Rav moshe Feinstein (in explaining the position of the Rama) writes that once one is standing for vayechulu he need not sit for the remainder of kiddush.
IV. Explanations for Each Custom.
A. Standing the entire time. The Aruch Hashulchan (271:24) cites the custom of the great kabbalists, including the Arizal to stand for the entire kiddush. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe Orach Chaim V #16:7) points out that this custom is based in the gemara Bava Kama mentioned above which identifies Shabbat as a kallah. Some of the leading poskim point out that the logic to stand does not apply in all circumstances.
1. Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvot V’hanhagot #254) writes that even those who stand for the Friday night kiddush should sit for the Shabbat day kiddush when neither of the above mentioned reasons to stand applies. In fact, the Birkei Yosef (289) states that even the Arizal would sit for the daytime kiddush. Those who stand even for the daytime kiddush do so because they understand that the beracha is considered to be a shirah al hayayin, which is most appropriately recited while standing.
2. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe ibid.) adds that since the logic for standing during kiddush is that once we are standing for the paragraph of vayechulu we may remain standing for the remainder of kiddush, there should be no reason to stand for the kiddush on Yom Tov when vayechulu is not recited. Based on this, Rav Moshe adds, if one’s family custom is to stand even for the Yom Tov kiddush, he should change the minhag because it is based on a mistake.
B. Standing for the first half and sitting for the rest. The Shulchan Aruch (271:10) writes that one should recite vayechulu standing, and the rest of kiddush sitting. This approach would seem to satisfy all of the considerations. On the one hand we are standing to greet the Shabbat and say the edut of vayechulu. On the other hand, we are seated for the main text of the kiddush fulfilling kiddush b’makom seudah, and allowing others to fulfill their obligations through establishing themselves as part of a single group with the one who recites kiddush. Indeed, Rav Moshe Feinstein suggests that this would be the ideal custom to choose if one does not have a clear family custom. Even when the Rama writes that one may remain standing for the duration of kiddush on Friday noght, he is only saying that it is permissible to do so, but not that it is recommended to do so.
C. Standing for the first few words and sitting for the rest. The Rama records a custom to sit for the entire kiddush with the exception of the opening words “yom hashishi vayechulu hashamayim” because the first letters of those words spell the name of God, and it is customary to stand out of respect for the name of God. The Mishnah Berurah points out that we are not concerned with greeting Shabbat while standing because we have already greeted the Shabbat properly in shul.
D. Interestingly, there is no custom recorded in Shulchan Aruch to remain seated for the entire kiddush of Friday night.
V. Conclusion. We have outlined the various considerations to be taken into account when deciding whether to sit or stand for kiddush. As a practical matter, most Chassidic poskim have followed the custom of the Arizal to stand, and the Rama sanctions this custom. However, some later poskim have pointed out that this ruling should not apply to Yom Tov or daytime kiddush where it is preferable to sit. Rav Hershel Schachter shlit”a once told me that even one who plans to change his family custom in favor of a custom that he believes to be more halachically viable, he should maintain the old custom when reciting kiddush in front of his parents.