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Weekly Halacha

Parshas Bo

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt

A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.


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 be recited(12).

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).

2 Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 96:9; Siddur ha-Tanya; Siddur ha-Gr"a; Siddur Ya'avetz.

3 Igros Moshe O.C. 5:9-9.

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 ha-Shulchan 296:5.

5 Instant or brewed (Harav S.Z. Auerbach, Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 60 note 18).

6 The tea or coffee should be cooled enough to drink at least 1.6 fl. oz. within three minutes.

7 Aruch ha-Shulchan 272:14; Igros Moshe O.C. 2:75.

8 Tzitz Eliezer 8:16; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 60:5.

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, note 17).

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.

21 Ibid. 17.

Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc.

Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

The Weekly-Halacha Series is distributed L'zchus Hayeled Doniel Meir ben Hinda. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross

The series is distributed by the Harbotzas Torah Division of Congregation Shomre Shabbos, 1801 South Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118--HaRav Yisroel Grumer, Marah D'Asra



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