Shabbat Parashat Beha'alotcha| 5763
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I am a woman who lives alone. Do I need to make Havdalah on Motzaei Shabbat?
Answer: There is a disagreement whether women are required to make what we call Havdalah (they certainly make ‘Hamavdil’ before doing work forbidden on Shabbat) on Motzaei Shabbat or not. The issue is as follows. Havdalah is a mitzvat asei shehazman g’rama (time dependent mitzva) and, as such, women should be exempt. On the other hand, Havdalah is similar to Kiddush, as we sanctify Shabbat when it enters and exits. Since there is a special source that women are obligated in the positive mitzvot of Shabbat, including Kiddush (Berachaot 20b), they should be obligated in Havdalah as well. Yet Kiddush is different in that it is more linked to the Shabbat experience than Havdalah, Thus, the exception to the rule, which obligates women in Kiddush, may not apply here.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 296:8) brings two opinions but prefers the opinion which obligates women in Havdalah. However, the Rama, who serves as the primary authority for Ashkenazic Jewry, instructs women to avoid the issue by hearing Havdalah from a man, who certainly is obligated. The Bach (ad loc.) takes issue on the need to hear from a man, saying that a woman could always accept upon herself to make a Havdalah even if she is not obligated.
There are an additional two issues, which arise when a woman makes her own Havdalah, which make it preferable to hear Havdalah from a man. There is a serious question whether she can make a bracha on the candle, as this is a time-dependent mitzva, which is only tangentially related to Havdalah (see Biur Halacha ad loc). Also, there is a minhag that women do not drink from the cup of Havdalah, but on the other hand, someone has to. In the final analysis, if a woman will not hear Havdalah from a man, she can and should make Havdalah and drink from the cup (see Mishna Berura 297:35 and Sha’ar Hatziun, ad loc.).
A complication about hearing Havdalah from a man (which applies even to a husband and wife) is as follows. If one has fulfilled a mitzva, he can perform the mitzva again for someone else, if that other person is obligated in the mitzva. Since a woman may not be obligated, a man who already fulfilled Havdalah can make it again only if it is on behalf of another man (or male child) who has yet to hear Havdalah. If this is not the case, it is better for the woman to make Havdalah herself, which is possible, according to the Bach, even if she is not obligated.
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