In several of our previous articles we have discussed details of the laws of kidush and havdalah, in this article we will attempt to understand the status of women in the framework of these halachot. At first glance it would appear that these mitzvot do not apply to women since they can be categorized as “mitzvot aseh she’hazman geraman”, time bound positive mitvot, from which women are exempt. The gemarah (Berachot 20b) teaches that women are not exempt from the mitzvah of kidush since it is learned from the commandment of Zachor et yom hashabbat. Rava states that since the Torah equates zachor and shamor (by interchanging the terms in the two presentations of the Ten Commandments), and Shamor entails prohibitions of Shabbat from which women are not exempt, women are included in the command of Zachor as well. Accordingly, it is clear in halachah that women are required to recite kidush on a de’orita, biblical, level.
In light of the conclusion that women are commanded in kidush the Shulchan Aruch (OC 271/2) states that women can recite the kidush for men as well. Taken to an extreme one may suggest that in certain situations it would be preferable for a woman to recite the kidush rather then have a man do so. In the event that men have recited the Friday night tefilah they may be viewed as having fulfilled the de’orita requirement of kidush, whereas women who have not recited the tefilah still have a de’orita requirement to recite kidush. In this situation it may be preferable for the woman who is required to recite kidush on a de’orita level to recite it for the men who have only a rabbinic requirement, of kidush with wine. Most poskim feel that there is no preference for women to recite kidush in this situation for one of several reasons. First, the beracha of kedushat Shabbat, the sanctity of Shabbat may not constitute kidush as it is meant as a tefilah. Even if it can constitute a kidush it may require that the person have intent to recite it as kidush and not only as tefilah. Finally, even if no intent is needed for the Birkat Kedushat Shabbat to constitute a proper kidush, it may well be that a person who has a de’orita requirement initially, may recite the kidush for others even if he or she has fulfilled that requirement previously. (See Aruch Hashulchan OC 271/6)
The Bach (Tur OC 271) objects to the Shulchan Aruchs ruling allowing women to recite kidush for men. In his opinion kidush should be no different than the halachah of reading the megilah, in which the Shulchan Aruch leans towards the ruling that women may not read the megilah for men. This opinion of the Bach is rejected by most poskim who view the two situations differently. Women should not read the megilah for men either, because we see it alike to the reading of the torah where women should not read for men, or because the requirement for women in megilah is different then that of men, which is not the case in kidush. (See Mishna Berurah OC 689/7 and Aruch Hashulchan OC271/5)
Some of the authorities that accept the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch, recommend restricting women to reciting kidush for men in a family setting and refraining from it when others are present. (See Mishna Berurah 271/4 in the name of the Elya Rabah and Derech Hachayim.)
In reference to havdalah things are a bit more complex. While everyone agrees that kidush is a mitzvah de’orita the status of havdalah is not clear. The Rambam is of the opinion that havdalah is a mitzvah de’orita which is the flip side of kidush. While kidush declares the commencement of Shabbat, havdalah declares its conclusion. According to his understanding kidush and havdalah stem from Zachor and therefore women are commanded in both. That being the case a woman’s status in havdalah is the same as in kidush.
Other poskim feel that that havdalah is only a rabbinic requirement (Magid Mishneh, Hilchot Shabbat 29/1; Orchot Chayim quoted by Beit Yoseff end of OC 296) We find two approaches in understanding havdalah as a rabbinic requirement. One approach sees havdalah as a rabbinic extension of hilchot Shabbat in general and kidush in particular. Accordingly, we may apply the rule of kol de’tikun rabanan ke’ein de’orita tikun, all rabbinic decrees are constructed in the module of the deorita they relate to. Consequently even though the requirement to recite havdalah is only rabbinic women are obligated to fulfill it as well as men. The second approach found in the Orchot Chayim sees havdalah as an independent requirement, therefore it would constitute a time bound mitzvah from which women are exempt. The Rama understood that the Orchot Chayim is of the opinion that since the decree did include women they should not recite havdalah even for themselves. The Bach on the other hand understands the Orchot Chayim as exempting women from the requirement but not prohibiting them from reciting havdalah.
Therefore, according to those who accept the opinion of the Rambam that havdalah is de’orita and those who see it as a rabbinic extension of the laws of Shabbat, women are obligated to recite havdalah and may recite it for men as well. According to both understandings of the opinion of the Orchot Chayim women may not recite havdalah for men. Their argument is only if a woman may recite havdalah for herself. In practice most poskim rule that a woman should hear havdalah from a man, when that is impossible she may recite the Havdalah for herself.