of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel


Bet Midrash Virtuali



Upon ariving home one should make haste to dine immediately.


Section 271 is a comparatively long section and, since not all its paragraphs are truly relevant in modern times, we shall study only those paragraphs that have halakhic relevance in our day and age. The first paragraph is very short and very succint. However, it is also rather deceptive, because its immediate relevance is not so much to the celebratory dinner that is served on Friday night, but to the ceremony of Kiddush which comes before the dinner.

Upon returning from the synagogue one should proceed as quickly as possible to the special Shabbat meal. During the 25 or so hours of this most joyous of days we parttake of three celebratory meals. The last, the "Third Meal", Se'udah Shelishit is served after the service on Shabbat afternoon; the second is served upon returning home from the synagogue on Shabbat morning, around noon; the first Shabbat meal is to be served on Friday night as soon as everyone has returned from the synagogue.

However, this meal is preceeded by the declaration of the sanctity of the day, Kiddush. Nowhere in the Torah are we commanded to recite Kiddush on Shabbat in the formula that we know today. Nevertheless, the sages did derive the requirement to recite Kiddush before the meal from a verse in the Torah. In the version of the Ten Commandments which is given in Exodus 20 we are commanded to

Remember the Sabbath day, to sanctify it. [Exodus 20:8]

This is a text which is so familiar to us that we do not usually pause to consider the meaning of the words. This is the original Hebrew text: Zakhor et yom ha-Shabbat le-kadesho. Two words in this sentence have more than one meaning. There is some benefit in 'recalling' the Sabbath day during the week, but what great practical purpose would there be to just bringing the Sabbath day to mind every now and then? And if, as we have already seen, it was God himself who originally endowed the Sabbath day with its holiness, in what manner can mere human beings sanctify what has already been sanctified since the very creation of the universe? It was possibly considerations such as these that prompted the sages to understand the first Hebrew word in its meaning of "mention" rather than its meaning of "recall"; and they saw in the last Hebrew word of the sentence a requirement to "declare [the day] holy" rather than to imbue it with sanctity as it were. Therefore a translation of the biblical verse which would reflect the way the sages understood it would perhaps best be rendered: "Mention the Sabbath day and declare its holiness".

Thus the requirement to mention the sanctity of Shabbat is a command of the Torah. But the Torah does not specify in what way or with what words the Sabbath day is to be mentioned and its holiness made public. Just as the sages crafted all the basic liturgical elements of Judaism so they crafted the basic formula for Kiddush, which means "the declaration of holiness". There are, in fact, several formulae for Kiddush: which one is to be used will be dependent of the time and the day. The major festivals (Yamin Tovim) have their own special formula - one for the evening meal and another, short one, for the noon meal; and Shabbat also has one formula to be used on Friday night - and this is the main fornmula, as we shall see in a later paragraph - and another to be used at the noon meal on Shabbat.

Clearly, the Kiddush before the evening meal is the one, according to the sages, which is required by the Torah. (The Kiddush before the noon meal is a much later innovation. In certain kabbalistic circles a Kiddush to be recited before the third meal was even instituted, but that Kiddush never really permeated outside those specific kabbalistic circles.)

The Mekhilta is a collection of midrashim on certain parts of the book of Exodus. (It reflects in the main the exegesis of the school of Rabbi Yishma'el in the 2nd century CE.) The Mekhilta explains the biblical verse that we quoted above:

"To declare its holiness" - with a benediction. This prompted the sages to say that we must declare its holiness over [a goblet of] wine at its commencement.[Mekhilta, Ba-Ĥodesh, 7]

The sages repeat this text, word for word, in the Gemara [Pesaĥim 106a].

This is the origin of the ritual of reciting Kiddush over a goblet of wine before the celebratory meal on Friday night. The format of this Kiddush is simple. First of all comes the quotation from Genesis 2:1-3 which expounds the very basis of the sanctity of Shabbat:

And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Heaven and earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done.

Now follows the traditional berakhah over wine and this, in its turn, is followed by the Kiddush declaration itself:

Praised be God, Sovereign of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.

Praised be God, Sovereign of the Universe, whose commandments hallow us. He took pleasure in us and gave us His holy Sabbath as a legacy of love and favour, a memorial of the Creation, (and this day is) the first of the holy days that commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. (You have chosen us of all peoples and hallowed us) and You have given us Your holy Sabbath as a legacy of love and favour. Praised be God, the Sanctifier of the Sabbath.

My translation is deliberately 'unusual' in order to make even those most familiar with the wording give the phrases a new consideration. The bracketed passages are most certainly part of the original text, but those who follow the kabbalistic tradition omit them so that both the biblical introduction and the Kiddush itself will each consist of 35 Hebrew words (the 'sacred' number 7 multiplied five times).


In our last shiur we discussed the custom of having the cantor recite Kiddush in the synagogue. Uri Sobel writes:

I always thought there was a principle that only someone of equal or greater obligation could fulfill another's obligation. So, I have never understood how the chazzan can fulfill the obligation for the travellers (since, as you stated, she is not obligated).

I respond:

All adult Jews, as we shall see in our next shiur, have an equal obligation to recite Kiddush. If, for any reason, someone is unable to recite Kiddush himself or herself he or she can fulfill that duty by answering 'Amen' when someone else recites Kiddush in their presence. This 'assistance' may be given even by someone who has not yet fulfilled their duty at the dinner table. Rabbi Israel Me'ir Kagan, in his classic commentary Mishnah Berurah writes as follows:

[The cantor recites Kiddush] to enable the guests to fulfill their duty. Even though he is not fulfilling his duty he can enable others to do so. In Section 273 we shall see that in the case of Kiddush one can assist others to fulfill their obligation even though one is not eating with them. [Mishnah Berurah on Section 269, note 4]