JUST DRINK IT
The first approach to this problem is the Shulchan Aruch’s.4. He maintains that whoever makes Havdallah should just drink the wine himself. The Gr”a explains this position (and this was later echoed by the Mishnah Berurah) that Havdallah is no worse than a seudas mitzvah. Just as at a seudas mitzvah (such as a bris) one may drink the wine even if it falls out during the week of Tisha B’Av, so too reading Havdallah. They add that according to the Shulchan Aruch, these restrictions were never intended to negate a mitzvah. This ruling is accepted and followed by Sefardic Jewry, and this Motzoei Shabbos, their p’sak is to drink the Havdallah wine.5 6
The Rama’s7 opinion is a bit more complicated. He maintains that it is preferable to find a child and let him drink the Havdallah wine. That way, the one who actually makes the Havdallah does not have to transgress this prohibition. He concludes, however, that, mei’ikkar hadin, the Shulchan Aruch is correct, and if one cannot find a child to drink the wine, an adult may do so.
One detail the Rama does not mention is how old this child should be. The Magein Avrohom (clarified by the Machatzis Hashekel and Dagul Mervavah ad loc.) qualifies the Rama’s ruling. He explains that the child must not be old enough to be able to mourn the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, for if a child is able to understand and properly mourn, there is no halachic advantage gained by having him drink the cup. Additionally, the child must be “higiah lechinuch,” old enough to understand the need to make a brachah before drinking, for if not, the Havdallah would end up being a brachah levatalah, in vain, unless an adult drinks the wine. So, basically, to fulfill the Rama’s ruling lechatchilah, the child must be in the ballpark of 6 to 9 years old8; otherwise, it would be preferable for an adult to drink it. This ruling is followed by most Ashkenazic authorities, including the Magein Avrohom, Chayei Adam, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah.9
CAN YOU BEER IT?
However, there is a third opinion, that of the Aruch Hashulchan.10 He maintains that the best solution to our concern is to make Havdallah on Motzoei Shabbos Chazon using beer instead of wine. Since beer is cited throughout the ages as a chamar medinah, a “drink of the land,” on which Havdallah is permitted to be made,11 it would therefore be the simplest resolution to our problem.
However, many authorities remain hesitant to rely on this lemaaseh. The reason for this is that there is no clear-cut delineation of what chamar medinah is or how to properly define it, resulting in different poskim having very different understandings of its parameters.
For example, many authorities maintain that one may only rely on using chamar medinah if wine cannot be found anywhere in the city.12 Others maintain that it must be a popular drink that people would always serve at a proper meal.13 A different definition cited is that it must be a drink that one would serve to honor someone.14 Others define it as a drink that can be intoxicating, making having alcoholic content a prerequisite.15 Another view is that it must be a drink that has inherent importance.16 Others say that it refers to a drink for which one has chavivus, an affection for or an affinity to drinking.17
Although our ubiquitous beer fits many of these definitions, still, the Magein Avrohom and Vilna Gaon ruled that in Ashkenaz, beer has lost its status of chamar medinah.18 Also, due to the whole machlokes regarding defining chamar medinah, as well as the fact that many authorities rule that if wine is available, it trumps beer’s use for Havdallah, many poskim are hesitant about fulfilling the mitzvah of Havdallah with beer in this day and age. Additionally, based on how beer is viewed nowadays, and especially in Eretz Yisroel, several poskim, including the Chazon Ish,19 rule that beer would no longer be considered chamar medinah.
Conversely, many contemporary authorities do indeed confirm beer as chamar medinah, even nowadays, yet they still generally maintain wine’s superiority for Havdallah.20
WHAT TO DRINK?
Now that we explained that there is a three-way machlokes, what’s the bottom line?
Generally speaking, Sefardim follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and the adult who makes the Havdallah should drink the wine. Most Ashkenazim follow the Rama’s psak and try to find a child in the proper age range (approximately 6-9). If one cannot be found, an adult should drink the wine. Yet, surprisingly, several contemporary Ashkenazic poskim, including Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, the Chazon Ish and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach,21 held that it is preferable to follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and an adult should drink the wine rather than having a child do so.
But what of the Aruch Hashulchan’s beer solution? Certainly, the authorities mentioned previously who allow beer’s use for Havdallah year round would permit one to use beer on Motzoei Shabbos Chazon as well. Rav Dovid Feinstein is quoted as maintaining beer’s actual preference for Havdallah on Motzoei Shabbos Chazon.22 Indeed, this author has likewise heard from Rav Efraim Greenblatt zt”l23 that one may make Havdallah with beer on Motzoei Shabbos Chazon with no compunction.
In somewhat of a contrast, Rav Yaakov Blau zt”l told me that although he personally held that it was preferable for an adult to drink the Havdallah wine, nonetheless, he gave dispensation to one who was accustomed to making Havdallah on beer, or one whose minhag was to do so on Motzoei Shabbos Chazon, to continue doing so, even in Eretz Yisroel. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l held similarly.24
However one ends up making Havdallah this Motzoei Shabbos (make sure to discuss this with your local rabbinic advisor in advance), it is important for us to remember that these restrictions were instituted as a public show of mourning during the most devastating time period on the timeline of the Jewish year. Our goal should be to utilize these restrictions as a catalyst for inspiration towards teshuvah.25It is worthwhile to do so, as well. As the Gemara relates, everyone who observes and properly demonstrates their personal mourning over the destruction of Yerushalayim will merit seeing its rejoicing.26
– – – – –
The author acknowledges R’ Zvi Ryzman’s sefer Ratz Katzvi (on Hilchos Shabbos, Ch. 15), which contains a wealth of information on the parameters of chamar medinah and was extremely useful in writing this article.
This article was written l’illui nishmas Reb Chaim Baruch Yehuda ben Dovid Tzvi; l’refuah sheleimah of Reb Shlomo Yoel ben Chaya Leah; and l’zechus Yaakov Tzvi ben Rivka and Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam vechol yotzei chalotzeha for a yeshuah sheleimah.
For the full mareh mekomos (sources) or to share comments or questions, email the author at email@example.com.
Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the sho’el umeishiv and rosh chaburah of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim. He also currently writes a contemporary halacha column for the Ohr Somayach website titled “Insights Into Halacha” (http://ohr.edu/this_week/insights_into_halacha/).