A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
HAVDALAH QUESTIONS and ANSWERS
QUESTION: When is the right time to inspect one's fingernails during
Havdalah, before the blessing of Borei meorei ha-eish or after?
DISCUSSION: There are two opinions on this matter. Mishnah Berurah(1) rules
that the inspection should be done first, before reciting the blessing. The
reason is that this blessing is considered a birkas ha-shevach (a blessing
of praise and gratitude), similar to the blessing over thunder and
lightning. Obviously, one needs to first hear or see the phenomenon for
which he is going to praise Hashem.
Other poskim(2) rule that the blessing is recited first and the inspection
follows because they consider this blessing to be a birkas ha-nehenin (a
blessing recited over an item which gives pleasure, like food and drink).
The rule governing birchos ha-nehenin is that the blessing is recited before
the pleasure is derived from the item. Harav M. Feinstein(3) rules according
to the second view.
QUESTION: May one fulfill his obligation of Havdalah over the telephone?
DISCUSSION: Contemporay poskim agree that when another possibility exists, a
telephone should not be used to fulfill the mitzvah of Havdalah. For
example, a woman who is home alone and has no one to make Havdalah for her,
should rather recite Havdalah herself(4) than listen to it being recited by
someone else over the telephone. Even if she cannot or will not drink wine,
grape juice, or beer, it is better for her to recite Havdalah over
coffee(5), tea [with or without milk](6), or milk alone(7) [and, according
to some poskim(8), grapefruit, orange or apple juice] than to listen to
Havdalah recited over the phone(9).
If one finds himself in a situation where otherwise he cannot recite
Havdalah, e.g. in a hospital, and there is no one who can come until Tuesday
evening(10) to make Havdalah for him, he may have to rely on the poskim who
permit listening to blessings, etc., over the telephone(11). But in a
situation where someone could come and recite Havdalah for him before
Tuesday evening, the correct procedure is to wait until then for Havdalah to
QUESTION: Under which circumstances is it permitted to eat before Havdalah?
DISCUSSION: Just as it is prohibited to eat before Kiddush, it is also
prohibited to eat before Havdalah is recited. Accordingly, it is prohibited
to eat or drink once the sun has set. But, b'diavad, if one did not start
eating seudah shelishis - a meal in which both men and women13 are obligated
to partake - before bein ha-shemashos, he may start his meal until one half
hour before nightfall.(14)
While it is halachically permitted to drink water before Havdalah,(15) some
people refrain from doing so based on the Kabalistic teachings of the Ari
z"l that it is "dangerous" to drink water during this time - unless it is
part of his seudah shelishis.(16)
One who began his meal before sunset may continue eating and drinking until
after nightfall. But this applies only to a meal that includes bread, not a
meal which consists of eating mezonos items or drinking wine.(17)
Women, who are obligated to hear Havdalah just as men are, may not eat
before hearing [or reciting] Havdalah either. While it is customary that
women do not make Havdalah for themselves, a woman who cannot hear Havdalah
recited by a man should recite her own Havdalah.(18)
As with Kiddush, children under the age of bar or bas mitzvah may eat and
drink before Havdalah.
Even if one recited Atah chonantanu during Shemoneh Esrei, he still may not
eat until he recites or hears Havdalah over wine or grape juice, etc.(19)
One who presently has no wine or other halachically acceptable beverage
over which to recite Havdalah but expects to obtain some later on, should -
if he can - put off eating until he obtains the beverage, up to midday
Sunday.(20) If he is a weak person who cannot wait so long, or if he does
not expect to find an acceptable beverage by that time, he does not need to
wait and may eat after davening Ma'ariv and reciting Atah chonantanu.(21)
1 296:31. All the early sources discussing this halachah mention the
inspection before the blessing. This was also the custom of the Steipler
(Orchos Rabbeinu 3:235).
4 Women are obligated to recite Havdalah and may recite it themselves.
Although there is a well-established custom that women do not drink the wine
from the Havdalah cup, this custom is discounted when a woman needs to
fulfill her obligation of Havdalah; Mishnah Berurah 296:35; Aruch
9 If a woman refuses to recite Havdalah on her own and there is no one
available to recite it for her, her husband [or another man] may repeat it
for her, even if he has already fulfilled his obligation earlier; see
Mishnah Berurah 296:36; Aruch ha-Shulchan 296:5; Da'as Torah 296:8; Ben Ish
Chai, Vayeitzei 22. The blessing over the candle, though, should be omitted,
in the opinion of some poskim.
10 O.C. 299:5.
11 Igros Moshe O.C. 4:91-4; Tzitz Eliezer 8:11.
12 In this case, one should specifically not listen to Havdalah over the
phone, since then it may not be repeated for him when the visitor comes.
13 Shulchan Aruch rules definitively that women are obligated to eat seudah
shelishis (O.C. 291:6), and it is important that they should be reminded of
this; Aruch ha-Shulchan 291:4. The fact that some women are not careful to
perform this mitzvah is very difficult to justify; see Avodas Yisrael
(Sukkos, s.v. beparashas, quoting the Ari z"l).
14 Mishnah Berurah 299:1. One should try to avoid delaying this long, since
some poskim disagree and allow seudah shelishis to start only a few minutes
after sunset (see Igros Moshe O.C. 4:69-6 and Az Nidberu 13:22) and some do
not allow starting after sunset at all (see Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 56,
15 O.C. 299:1.
16 Minchas Shabbos 96:11; Kaf ha-Chayim 299:6 See also Aruch ha-Shulchan
299:1. Mishnah Berurah does not quote this warning.
17 Aruch ha-Shulchan 299:5.
18 Mishnah Berurah 296:35.
19 Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 299:5.
20 Mishnah Berurah 296:21. One does not, however, need to put off eating in
order to obtain besamim and/or a havdalah candle.