BET MIDRASH VIRTUALI
of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel



HALAKHAH STUDY GROUP


Bet Midrash Virtuali

SHULĤAN ARUKH, ORAĤ ĤAYYIM: The Rules of Shabbat

271:16


The [other] diners should not sip from [the kiddush wine] before the celebrant [has done so] if they need his goblet - [i.e. if they need him] to spill some of it into the glasses they are holding [if they are] empty or impaired. But if they had glasses of wine that were not impaired they may drink before the celebrant drinks.

EXPLANATIONS:

1:
In most households the person who recites kiddush out loud is doing so not only for himself (or herself) but also in order to enable the rest of the diners to fulfill their religious duty. If the celebrant has the conscious intention of being the enabler and the others present listen to the recitation of kiddush intently and respond 'Amen' out loud in all the appropriate places they have almost fulfilled the mitzvah of kiddush. Almost - because they still have to drink the wine, and they have not completed the mitzvah until they have done so.

2:
However, as we learned in Shabbat 029, the wine must be drunk from a glass that is not 'impaired'. The main considerations that might define a wine glass as being ritually 'impaired' are as follows:

  • it must contain at least 80 cc's of wine;
  • it must be brimful, to the top;
  • its bowl may not be chipped;
  • it must be clean.

If the glass held by a diner answers all these criteria he or she, when the celebrant finishes reciting kiddush, may drink 'a cheekful' of wine from their glass and they have completed the mitzvah. (For an explanation of 'cheekful' see Shabbat 031.)

3:
However, it often happens that the glass held by a diner does not meet all the above criteria. The most usual 'impairment' is that their glass does not contain at least 80 cc's of wine. In such circumstances they must drink from the wine in the celebrant's goblet. This may be done in one of two ways: the celebrant can either pass the goblet round the table so that each diner can drink from it; or the celebrant can pour some of the contents of the goblet into each diner's glass.

4:
Paragraph 16 of Section 271 teaches that in either case the celebrant must drink from the goblet first and must drink the minimally required amount, 'a cheekful'. Only then may the rest of the diners receive their share. And, since the celebrant has already drunk the required amount, they can each drink less than 'a cheekful' if they want to.

DISCUSSION:

In our last shiur we had occasion to relate to the differing customs between Ashkenazi Jews and Sefaradi Jews. One participant sent me a question that at first glance seemed to me to be personal. However, second thoughts have prompted me to consider the possibility that others may find the information useful. Because the original question is rather personal the name of the participant has been withheld. Here is the message that I received:

On the matter of Ashkenazi and Sephardic practices, this matter has never been personally resolved. I grew up in California, being a fourth generation American on my mother's side and seventh on my father's. I have a varied European Jewish background. On my mother's side, I have both Hugarian (...) and Belarus (...) roots. On my father's side, I have Dutch (...) roots. My grandfather changed his last name to ... and remarried before my father was born, and later my father grew up in various Jewish foster homes. I now live in Israel, and have really no idea what tradition to follow. I know that there are so many people with mixed backgrounds like my own, that I don't think the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardi really matter any more. I also feel that those who hold on to such divisions do it as personal choice, just as one might choose to follow Conservative Jewish practices.

I respond:

On the practical side I agree. However, if one's concern is for the halakhic aspects the considerations would be different. I give here a very brief outline of the halakhic aspects of personal custom, as seen by ancient tradition.

One should not only follow the customs of one's father - if known - but should also pass those customs on to one's children. Any deliberate change from those customs should be backed up by a ceremony called hatarat nedarim - release from vows. A woman, upon marriage, automatically adopts the customs of her husband. If one does not know the customs appropriate to one's father one should follow the general custom of the community in which one lives.

Those are the bare bones of the matter. Life in modern Israel is different. The communities are mixed and (therefore?) people have a strong attachment to their childhood customs and don't want to lose them. The problem arises especially in families where the husband and wife both have strongly held traditions and don't want to part with them. The orthodox solution will be that the wife adopts the customs of her husband, as I mentioned above. (My daughter-in-law comes from a family that does not permit matzah and matzah-meal to be put in water during Passover; she was delighted to discover upon her marriage that she could now have matzah and kneidlech in her soup!)

Despite traditional halakhah I can see no reason why a modern Conservative family should not be permitted to make an eclectic choice in these matters. Well-known by now is the responsum of Rabbi David Golinkin which permits Israelis of Ashkenazi extraction to eat kitniyyot (legumes) on Passover. (You can access his responsum here.)

I firmly believe that in our day and age each time one consciously follows a custom or fulfills a mitzvah one is also giving expression to the Jewishness that is in our soul. In an essay (available in our web archives) I wrote:

The key here is the concept of holiness, or kedushah. We can raise our secular lives into a more meaningful realm by adding kedushah to them. Each time that we elect to perform a mitzvah (as such) we are adding an element of kedushah to our lives, we are removing ourselves, at least temporarily, from the realm of the mundane into incipient transcendence. (On the verse in Leviticus, 19:2 our rabbis comment that the exhortation to be holy means, in practical terms, to be withdrawn, to be unwilling to be completely mastered by the requirements of our physicality, but to leave room in our lives for the possibility of contact with the transcendent. See Rashi, ad loc.) Each time that we elect to perform a mitzvah we are adding to the store of 'Jewishness' that is in our soul.

For this end an eclectic choice is best: which tradition or custom from all those available will afford us a modicum of kedushah.