1.       What is the obligation of havdalah?

Havdalah” means “separation.”  We recite the havdalah text when Shabbat ends to separate between the sacred day of Shabbat and the workweek. Two texts are recited – the “Atah Honantanu” paragraph which is added in the Amidah prayer on Motza’e Shabbat, and the blessing of havdalah recited over a cup of wine. One who will not be reciting either havdalah text must recite after Shabbat, “Baruch hamavdil ben kodesh lehol” (“Blessed is He who separates between sacred and mundane”) before he is allowed to perform activity forbidden on Shabbat.

2.       What is the earliest time when one may recite havdalah?

Havdalah should be recited only at nightfall, once the stars are visible, and not earlier. Strictly speaking, halachah allows reciting havdalah as early as pelag haminhah (10 ¾ halachic hours into the day) under extenuating circumstances, as in the case of an ill patient (Shulhan Arach, O.C. 293:3). In practice, however, one should not rely on this leniency (Mishnah Berurah, 293:9). (It goes without saying that one may not light a candle or perform any activity forbidden on Shabbat until the stars are visible.)

3.       Which beverages may be used for havdalah?

Havdalah should preferably be recited over wine, but if somebody finds it difficult to drink wine, he may use a different beverage, such as beer, arak or cognac, as long as it is a beverage that would normally be served when receiving guests (Hacham Bentzion Abba Shaul, Or Letzion, vol. 2, 22:2). Soft drinks may not be used for havdalah. Some halachic authorities allow using tea or coffee for havdalah in extenuating circumstances, while others do not. Havdalah may not be recited over bread or water (Shulhan Aruch, O.C. 296:2). Grape juice is acceptable for havdalah according to many halachic authorities.

4.       Why do we make a berachah on a candle during havdalah, and why is this done only after Shabbat, but not after Yom Tov?

The Gemara (Pesahim 54a) tells that it was on the first Motza’e Shabbat after creation when Gd gave Adam the wisdom to rub together two stones to produce fire, and we commemorate this event by reciting a berachah over a flame on Motza’e Shabbat. Obviously, this is applicable only on Motza’e Shabbat, and not on Motza’e Yom Tov.

5.       Why do we look at our fingernails by the light of the havdalah candle?

One must derive some benefit from the flame in order to recite the berachah, and we therefore use the light to see the difference between our fingernails and our skin. Additionally, as fingernails constantly grow, they are a sign of blessing and thus a favorable omen as we begin the new week.  (See Mishnah Berurah298:9.)

6.       Why do we make a berachah on spices during havdalah, and why is this done only after Shabbat, but not after Yom Tov?

As Shabbat departs, we lose the extra soul which we received on Shabbat, and we smell spices to comfort ourselves for this loss.  On Yom Tov we do not receive an additional soul, which is why we do not recite the berachah over spices during havdalah after Yom Tov.

7.       Should one recite havdalah if he does not have spices or a candle?

The minimum requirement of havdalah is to recite the blessing over the wine and the blessing of “Hamavdil,” and thus a person in this situation should still recite havdalah. He should then try to obtain spices and a candle and recite the berachot later that night.

8.       If one forgot to recite havdalah on Motza’e Shabbat, should he recite it when he remembers?

Different opinions exist in this regard.  Ashkenazic custom follows the view that one may recite havdalah as late as sundown on Tuesday. According to Sephardic custom, however, as ruled by Hacham Bentzion Abba Shaul (Or Letzion, vol. 2, 22:10), one who forgot to recite havdalah and remembers before sundown on Tuesday should recite the berachah of “Hamavdil” without Hashem’s Name, followed by the berachahover wine. If, however, one remembers on Sunday and had not eaten anything since Shabbat, then he recites havdalah normally (with the berachahof “Hagefen” preceding the berachahof “Hamavdil”).According to both Ashkenazim and Sepharadim, one who recites havdalah after Motza’e Shabbat does not recite the berachotover the candle and spices.

The exception to this rule is when Tisha B’Av falls on Sunday, in which case according to all opinions the regular havdalah is recited on Sunday night (though without spices or the candle).

9.       Why is the paragraph of “Atah Honantanu” added specifically to the blessing of “Atah Honen” in the Motza’e Shabbat prayer service?

The theme of this berachahis knowledge and understanding, and it is thus the appropriate context in which to mention the distinction between the sanctity of Shabbat and the mundane nature of the workweek, as the ability to distinguish depends upon knowledge and wisdom (Mishna, Berachot 5:2). Furthermore, it is in “Atah Honen” where we make our first request in Amidahprayer.  It is forbidden to make personal requests on Shabbat, and we therefore recite this berachahof havdalah to formally end Shabbat before we make our first request (Teshuvot HaRashba, 1:739).

10.   Must a person repeat the Amidah prayer on Motza’e Shabbat if he forgot to add “Atah Honantanu”?

If he plans on reciting havdalah over a beverage that night (or on Sunday), then he does not need to repeat the Amidah, but if he is not planning on reciting havdalah then he must repeat the Amidah (Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah O.C. 294:1).