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HAVDALAH (Heb. הַבְדָּלָה; "distinction"), blessing recited at the termination of Sabbaths and festivals, in order to emphasize the distinction between the sacred and the ordinary, with regard to the Sabbath (or festival) that is departing and the or dinary weekday. Havdalah is one of the most ancient blessings: according to the Talmud "the men of the *Great Synagogue instituted blessings and prayers, sanctifications and Havdalot for Israel" (Ber. 33a). Some authorities hold that the obligation to recite the Havdalah derives from the Pentateuch. According to the Babylonian Talmud, it was originally inserted in the Amidah, but subsequently "when they became richer – they instituted that it should be said over the cup of wine; when they became poor again – they inserted it again into the prayer" (ibid.). Three views are mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud (Ber. 5:2, 9b): (1) Havdalah was originally inserted in the Amidah and then also transferred to the cup of wine "for the benefit of the children"; (2) it was originally instituted over the cup of wine; (3) it was instituted in both places at the same time. Because of these variations, there were four opinions, already in the time of the tannaim, on the place of Havdalah in the Amidah. Moreover, in accordance with most of the tannaim, the present practice is to recite the proper Havdalah blessing over the cup of wine, while in the Amidah only mention of it should be made. At a much later date, in the middle of the medieval period, the custom began to develop of reciting Havdalah over a cup of wine in the synagogue as well, in order to exempt those who had no wine (cf. Ta'an. 24a).

The text of the Havdalah ceremony over a cup of wine developed over a long period of time and, in the Ashkenazi version, a number of verses were added at the beginning as "a good omen" (Tur, Oh 296:1). These usually commence with, "Behold, God is my salvation," etc. (Isa. 12:2–3). This introduction is followed by three blessings – over wine, spices, and light – inserted in the Havdalah arrangement much before the time of *Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai, who already differed about their text and order (Ber. 8:5), even though R. Judah ha-Nasi instituted the last two over the cup of wine merely for the benefit of his household (Pes. 54a). The purpose of the blessing over light – "Who createst the light of the fire" – is to show that work is now permitted and to stress the departure of the Sabbath. The blessing over the wine itself stems from the duty to recite Havdalah over a cup of wine, as in the case of *Kiddush. The reason for the blessing over spices has not been clarified. The rishonim explained it as compensation to the Jew for the loss of the "additional soul" which traditionally accompanied the Jew throughout the Sabbath (see Ta'an. 27b; Sof. 17:5; and see Tos. to Pes. 102b); other reasons have also been suggested (Tur, Oh 296).

The Havdalah blessing itself, the fourth and final, according to the order of the prayer, was known from early times in various versions, differing primarily in the number of distinctions (e.g. "between the Sabbath and the other days of the week") they contained. In the Talmud (Pes. 103b; TJ, Ber. 5:2, 9b) it is laid down that "He who would recite but few distinctions, must recite not less than three, but he who would proliferate must not recite more than seven." R. Judah ha-Nasi, however, recited only one, the distinction "between the holy and the profane" (Pes. loc. cit.). Poetic versions containing seven distinctions have been preserved in the Genizah fragments (see Zulay in bibl.). Similarly with its wording in the Amidah of which various versions are known in the liturgies, of the different communities and in the Genizah fragments (see Zulay, bibl.).

Havdalah over a cup of wine is customary also when the Sabbath is immediately followed by a festival, since the festival's stringency is less than that of the Sabbath (Ḥul. 26b). Combined in this case with the Kiddush, its wording is: "Who makest a distinction between holy and holy." The order of this Kiddush-Havdalah is indicated by the well-known acrostic *yaknehaz (yayin ("wine"), Kiddush, ner ("candle"), Havdalah, zeman ("season" = she-heheyanu)). This Havdalah is mentioned in the evening blessing for the sanctification of the day and the combined formula, fixed by *Rav and *Samuel in Babylonia, is known as "the pearl of Rav and Samuel" (Ber. 33b). When the termination of the festival is followed by a working day, Havdalah is recited without candle or spices.

There are many customs connected with Havdalah: the pouring of some of the wine on the ground as an omen of blessing (cf. Er. 65a), and hence the custom of overfilling the cup (Turei Zahav to OḤ 296:1); passing the last drop of wine in the cup over the eyes (cf. PdRE 20), and extinguishing the lamp with the remaining drops; when saying the blessing over the light, some look at their fingernails and some at the lines on their palms (S. Assaf, Sifran shel Rishonim (1935), 177). After Havdalah it is customary to chant special hymns, the best known being: "May He who sets the holy and the ordinary apart," originally instituted for the termination of the Day of Atonement, and "Elijah the prophet." Other songs and hymns said before or after Havdalah are mostly based upon the Jerusalem Talmud (loc. cit.).


M. Brueck, Pharisaeische Volkssitten und Ritualien (1840), 108–25; A. Jawitz, Mekor ha-Berakhot (1910), 44–47; Abrahams, Companion 172f., 145, 190f.; I. Elbogen, in: Festschrift… I. Lewy (1911), 173–87; Mann, in: HUCA, 2 (1925), 318f.; Finesingen, ibid., 12–13 (1937–38), 347–65; Zulay, in: Sefer Assaf (1953), 303–6; ET, 8 (1957), 67–102; Narkiss, in: Eretz Israel, 6 (1960), 189–98.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.