Magen Avos on Seder Night — Which Bracha Is First?

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Magen Avos on Seder Night — Which Bracha Is First?

Question:

The gabbai of a local minyan calls with the following question: “I do not remember what we did the last time that Pesach began on Shabbos, but I need to know whether at night we say Hallel first or the bracha Magen Avos?”

Answer:

No doubt, many of our readers will assume that the gabbai is making a mistake — that we do not recite the bracha Magen Avos, also known as the bracha mei’ein sheva, when the first night of Pesach falls on Shabbos. However, as we will soon see, our gabbai may be well informed about the minhag in his community. A quiz question for the detectives among our readership is to figure out which community this is.

Seder on Shabbos?

The first day of Pesach falls on Shabbos on three of the fourteen schedules that our calendar year follows. It happens this year, and again in the years 5776, 5778, 5779 and 5782. After 5782, there will be a break for seven years until our Seder returns to Shabbos, but it will occur again three times in the subsequent eight years. (Our calendar does not allow the second day of Pesach to fall on Shabbos because this would cause the succeeding Hoshanah Rabbah to fall on Shabbos.)

The question raised by our gabbai reflects two different practices:  reciting the bracha mei’ein sheva on Seder night, which is not a common practice today, and reciting Hallel in shul on Seder night, which is practiced by Sefardim, Chassidim, and is almost universally followed in Eretz Yisrael. Before answering his question as to which one should be recited first, we need to study the sources of both practices.

What is the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

The bracha mei’ein sheva, literally, an abbreviation of the seven brachos, is recited after we conclude the Friday night Shemoneh Esrei, immediately after the congregation recites together the pesukim of Vayechulu. (Although, technically, the term Shemoneh Esrei is an inaccurate description of the Shabbos davening, since it has only seven, and not eighteen, brachos, I will still use the common term Shemoneh Esrei.) This bracha is called mei’ein sheva because it is a synopsis of the seven brachos that comprise the Shabbos tefillah. The gabbai above referred to the bracha as Magen Avos, which is a common colloquial way of referring to this bracha, based on its opening words.

Why did Chazal institute the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

In ancient times, the shullen were often located outside the towns in which people lived, and walking home from shul alone at night was dangerous. Chazal, therefore, instituted this bracha after davening, so that someone who arrived late and was lagging behind the tzibur in davening would not be left to walk home unescorted (Rashi, Shabbos 24b). The recital of the extra bracha delayed everyone’s departure, thus allowing time for the latecomer to complete davening (Mordechai, Shabbos #407; Ran; Meiri).

According to an alternative approach, the bracha mei’ein sheva is a form of repetition of the prayer. The individual who arrived late could listen to the chazzan’s recital of this bracha and thereby fulfill his responsibility to pray, even though the chazzan recited only one bracha, and the regular Shabbos tefillah is seven (Rav Natrunai Gaon, as explained by Gra, Orach Chayim 269:13).

Although our shullen are no longer located outside our cities, once Chazal established this bracha, we continue with the practice, just as, in the time of the Gemara, the bracha was recited even in places where a person could safely walk home from shul unaccompanied (Meiri, Pesachim 100b; Ran [on Rif, Pesachim 20a]; Ohr Zarua, Hilchos Erev Shabbos #20; Kolbo #11, 35).

Mei’ein Sheva instead of Kiddush

Yet another reason is presented why Chazal introduced mei’ein sheva. In ancient times, there were occasions when it was difficult to obtain wine, and mei’ein sheva was instituted as a substitute for reciting Kiddush Friday night over wine (Yerushalmi, Brachos 8:1 and Pesachim 10:2; this passage of Talmud Yerushalmi is quoted by Tosafos, Pesachim 106b s.v. Mekadeish).

Why do we not recite mei’ein sheva on weekdays?

If reciting mei’ein sheva was because of concern that returning from shul alone was unsafe, why did Chazal not introduce a similar prayer after weeknight maariv, so that a delayed individual was not placed in danger?

Some Rishonim explain that in the era when the shullen were located outside the cities, someone who was delayed on a weekday would not have attended shul, but would have come home directly and davened there. On Shabbos and Yom Tov, however, he would not have wanted to miss the davening in shul. On the other hand, other Rishonim (Rosh, Berachos 1:5; Tur, Orach Chayim 236) explain that the bracha of Yiru Eineinu, recited during weekday Maariv by Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz, was instituted so that someone delayed for maariv not be left alone in shul.

Do we recite mei’ein sheva on Yom Tov?

The Gemara states that the prayer mei’ein sheva was instituted only on Friday evening, and not on Yom Tov evenings that did not fall on Fridays (Shabbos 24b). Why was mei’ein sheva not said on Yom Tov?

In the writings of the Rishonim, I found several answers to this question. One approach is that although the concern that someone may be left behind may have equally existed on Yom Tov, since the more common situation was on Shabbos, Chazal did not include Yom Tov in the takkanah (see Meiri, Shabbos 24b).

Another approach is that on Yom Tov eve, people arrived punctually for davening, and there was no concern about individuals remaining alone (Mordechai, Pesachim #611).

Based on the Yerushalmi that the reason for mei’ein sheva was because of the inavailability of wine, some later commentaries present a third reason why the takkanah was established only for Shabbos and not for Yom Tov. Since most authorities hold that Kiddush on Yom Tov is not required min haTorah (Maggid Mishnah, Hilchos Shabbos 29:18), Chazal did not create a takkanah to make sure that someone fulfill a mitzvah that is miderabbanan (Marei Kohen, Pesachim 117b).

Reciting mei’ein sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday

Do we recite the bracha mei’ein sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday? (This case actually happens at the end of this coming Yom Tov, since the Seventh Day of Pesach falls on Friday.) The reason for reciting mei’ein sheva on a regular Shabbos was because people would work late on Friday afternoon, and as a result would arrive late to shul Friday evening. However, when Friday was Yom Tov, there would be no reason for someone to be delayed. Nevertheless, the poskim rule that we should recite mei’ein sheva, even when Yom Tov falls on Friday, notwithstanding that the reason for the takkanah does not apply (Kolbo #52).

Thirteenth century zeal

Actually, the question regarding recital of mei’ein sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday resulted in a very heated dispute during the era of the Rishonim. In the time of the Rivash, Rabbi Amram ben Meroam, a frequent correspondent of the Rivash, wrote him the following shaylah:

Reuven was the chazzan for the Friday night davening on a Shabbos that immediately followed Yom Tov. He began reciting mei’ein sheva, when Shimon reprimanded him, contending that one should not recite this bracha when Shabbos follows Yom Tov — since no one was working on Friday, the reason for the takkanah did not apply. Levi then got involved, saying that it is accepted that one does recite mei’ein sheva on Friday night following a Yom Tov. The shul then burst into a cacophony of voices, with Shimon’s and Reuven’s backers screaming at one another. Finally, Shimon shouted that Reuven was desecrating Hashem’s holy Name, since he was willing to recite a bracha in vain, and that if he did, Shimon would declare him to be in cherem, excommunicated! Reuven did recite the bracha mei’ein sheva, and a day later, opened his door to find Shimon and twenty of his backers there to notify him that he had been excommunicated! The Rivash was asked to rule whether Reuven was indeed in cherem because of Shimon’s declaration that he recited a bracha in vain, or, perhaps, Shimon should be placed in cherem for excommunicating someone without proper cause.

The Rivash ruled that Shimon was mistaken, and that one should recite mei’ein sheva when Shabbos follows Yom Tov. Therefore, he concluded that Reuven, who followed the correct halachah, could completely ignore the cherem placed on him. However, he also concluded that since Shimon thought he was acting correctly, we do not excommunicate Shimon for his actions (Shu’t HaRivash #34).

Yom Tov falls on Shabbos

When Yom Tov falls on Shabbos and we recite the bracha mei’ein sheva on Friday night, do we mention Yom Tov in the bracha mei’ein sheva?

The Gemara rules that when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos, the chazzan makes no mention of Yom Tov, since on Yom Tov we do not recite this bracha (Shabbos 24b).

Reciting mei’ein sheva on Shabbos Yom Kippur

Do we recite mei’ein sheva when Shabbos falls on Yom Kippur? Logically, there is a strong reason that we should not, since no one arrives that late to shul on Kol Nidrei night, and, furthermore, the many piyutim recited allow for ample time for someone to finish davening and not be left behind. Nevertheless, the poskim rule that we recite mei’ein sheva when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos (Kolbo #70).

Mei’ein Sheva and Seder night

What is the halachah regarding reciting mei’ein sheva when Seder night falls on Shabbos?

In the context of a different issue, the Gemara (Pesachim 109b) refers to Pesach night as leil shimurim, the night in which we are protected from harm (see Maharsha ad loc.). This is based on the pasuk that concludes: He [Hashem] will not permit the destroyer to enter your homes (Shemos 12:42). For this reason, many Rishonim rule that there is no reason to recite the mei’ein sheva on Seder night, since even in the era when the shullen were located outside the cities, the individual who arrived late was not in any danger, since Hashem guards us this night (Tur, Orach Chayim 487, quoting Rabbeinu Nissim and the Baal HaItur; Shu’t HaRivash #34; Ritva, Rosh Hashanah 11b; Kolbo #35, 50; Meiri, Pesachim 109b and many others). (The Rabbeinu Nissim quoted here is Rabbeinu Nissim ben Yaakov of Kairouan, North Africa, who was a contemporary and correspondent of Rav Hai Gaon and is sometimes called Rav Nissim Gaon, and should not be confused with the much later Rabbeinu Nissim ben Reuven of Gerona and Barcelona, Spain, known predominantly as one of the main commentators on the Rif.)

The Tur cites no disputing opinion to this statement of Rabbeinu Nissim, although when the Beis Yosef discusses this halachah, he quotes the Abudraham, who cites a dispute about the practice and concludes that common practice is to recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night. This is curious, because the Abudraham lived in Spain, whereas his contemporary, the Tur, who lived in Spain at the same time, mentions only the practice of omitting mei’ein sheva on Seder night. Another early authority who reports that one should recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night is the Shibbolei HaLeket (#219).

Other reasons to omit mei’ein sheva

In addition to the reason mentioned by Rabbeinu Nissim to omit mei’ein sheva on Seder night, I also found several other reasons to explain why one should not recite it then:

(1) According to the opinion of the Yerushalmi that mei’ein sheva was instituted to guarantee that everyone fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush Friday night, some authorities note that on Seder night, everyone would have wine for Kiddush and the arba kosos, thus rendering the bracha unnececessary (Mar’ei Kohen, Pesachim 117b).

(2) Since no one is permitted to work erev Pesach afternoon, there is no reason to assume that someone would come to shul late on Seder night.

(3) Everyone comes to shul early on Seder night so that they can get home early and begin the Seder in a timely fashion.

(4) The prayer is delayed anyway Seder night, because of Hallel. (I found all three of these last reasons in the anthology Sefer HaTodaah.)

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 487:1), mentions only the practice of omitting mei’ein sheva on Seder night, which became the most common accepted practice. However, there are many places that do say mei’ein sheva on the first night of Pesach. For example, the old custom in many German communities was to recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night. Similarly, the Kaf HaChayim (487:22) quotes several prominent Sefardic authorities, including the Rashash and Rav Chayim Palachi, who recited mei’ein sheva on Seder night. The Kaf HaChayim furthermore quotes that the Sefardic minhag in Yerushalayim follows the practice of the Arizal, who recited mei’ein sheva on Seder night, although I found other sources quoting the Arizal as holding that one should not recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night (Shiyurei Bracha, Orach Chayim 642; Chazon Ovadiah, Pesach pages 231 and 235). The Kaf HaChayim quotes the Rashash as contending that, since the Gemara does not mention that Pesach should be treated differently because it is leil shimurim, one should recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night.

The question raised by these authorities is that there are several other occasions when the reasons for reciting mei’ein sheva do not apply, such as when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos, or when Yom Tov fell on Friday, and yet universal accepted practice is to recite mei’ein sheva on these occasions.

This last argument is countered by the Radbaz, who contends that when the original takkanah was made concerning mei’ein sheva, Chazal specifically exempted Seder night because it is leil shimurim, but they did not exempt any of the other dates mentioned (Shu’t HaRadbaz 4:16).

As a matter of practice, many congregations that follow the old German customs indeed recite the bracha of mei’ein sheva on Seder night, but other Ashkenazi communities do not. Among Sefardi authorities, Rav Ovadyah Yosef (Shu’t Yabia Omer 2:OC:25; 4:OC:21; Chazon Ovadyah) feels very strongly that one should not recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night, whereas Rav Ben Zion Abba Shaul ruled that each congregation should follow its custom (Shu’t Or LaTzion, Volume 3 page 174).

Thus, we see that, although the prevalent practice is to omit mei’ein sheva on Seder night, there are communities that do recite it. Now let us explain the other part of the question: “Which comes first, Hallel or the bracha mei’ein sheva?

Hallel in shul on Seder night

In several places, Chazal mention reciting Hallel in shul on the first night of Pesach. Why recite Hallel in shul, if we are going to recite it anyway, as part of the Seder? Several explanations are presented for this practice:

(1) In Chazal’s times, there were no siddurim, and therefore the common people davened together with the chazzan or by listening to the chazzan’s prayer. (This is one reason why the chazzan is called a shaliach tzibur, which literally translates as the emissary of the community, since he indeed prayed on behalf of many individuals.) On the days that we are required to recite Hallel, these people listened and responded to the chazzan’s Hallel, thereby fulfilling their mitzvah. However, how could they fulfill the mitzvah of reciting Hallel on Seder night when they were home? They did so by reciting Hallel together with the chazzan in shul, before coming home (see Gra, Orach Chayim 487).

(2) A different approach contends that the community recited Hallel in shul the first night of Pesach in order to fulfill the mitzvah with a large group. Although one may recite Hallel by oneself, reciting it communally is a greater observance of the mitzvah.

Hallel in shul without a bracha

Neither of these two approaches necessarily assumes that Hallel on Seder night requires a bracha. Indeed, the Chazon Ish recited Hallel in shul Seder night without reciting a bracha beforehand, and there are congregations in Bnei Braq that follow this approach.

Hallel Seder night with a bracha

(3) A third approach contends that the primary reason for reciting Hallel in shul is to recite a bracha beforehand. These poskim contend that Hallel at the Seder would require a bracha, if it were not interrupted by the meal. To resolve this predicament, Hallel is recited twice, once in shul with a bracha and without interruption, and then a second time, during the Seder. This is the prevalent practice by Sefardim, Chassidim, and the most common approach followed in Eretz Yisrael today (see Gra, Orach Chayim 487).

Now, the quiz question: Of what type of community is our gabbai a member? One finds the practice of reciting mei’ein sheva Seder night only among two communities: some Sefardim and some German kehillos. The German kehillos do not recite Hallel in shul Seder night, but the Sefardim universally do. Thus, our gabbai‘s community is a Sefardic congregation that has the practice of reciting mei’ein sheva Seder night.

Halachic conclusion

Someone creating a new kehillah and establishing new customs should certainly not recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night, since this is the opinion of most Rishonim, and is followed by the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch and the vast majority of later authorities. In addition, the rules of safek bracha lehakeil imply not to recite a bracha when there is a question whether one should do so or not. Nevertheless, in a congregation or community where the practice is to recite mei’ein sheva Seder night, one should do so before Hallel.

Sheva Berachos at the Seder

Although most people grimace at the thought of attending a wedding the week before Pesach, much less making one, scheduling a wedding that week also includes the possibility of making sheva brachos at the Seder. Certainly for those who relish long, drawn-out sheva brachos, what could be more exciting than combining sheva brachos with the Seder! And, in addition to the time-honored question whether a choson wears a kittel at the Seder, this Seder has an additional question: Over which kos does one recite the first six brachos of the sheva brachos? Although this question may seem trite, many responsa and dozens of pages of halachic dialogue discuss it. In order to explain what the commotion is about, we need to understand its halachic basis.

Ordinarily, after a sheva brachos meal we take out three cups and fill two of them with wine. The person leading the bensching holds one of the full cups, while the second cup remains on the table until bensching is completed. The second cup is then handed consecutively to six honorees who recite the first six sheva brachos. (Although many authorities oppose dividing the blessings among six different honorees, this approach is commonly followed.) The person who led bensching then recites the last of the sheva brachos, borei pri hagafen while holding the first cup. He then drinks from his cup, the wine in the two cups is mixed together (using the third cup for this purpose), and finally the wine of the second and this cups are presented to the choson and the kallah.

(This is the prevalent custom, the basis of which is recorded by Derisha [Even HaEzer 62:4] and Nishmas Odom [68:2]. Some poskim recommend that the honoree leading the bensching hold the kos to be used for the sheva brachos while reciting the prayer dvei hoseir [which is inserted before bensching at a sheva brachos meal] and then put that kos down and pick up the first kos for bensching [Taz, Even HaEzer 62:7]. I have never seen anyone follow this practice. According to a third opinion, the second kos should not be filled until after bensching is completed [Magen Avraham 147:11 and Be’er Heiteiv, Even HaEzer 62:11].)

Why do we use two different kosos? Why not use the same cup for both bensching and sheva brachos? Actually, the poskim dispute this issue, as I will explain.

The Gemara (Pesachim 102b) teaches that if (for some unusual reason) someone bensches and recites Kiddush at the same time, he should not recite both of them over the same cup. Rather, he should recite Kiddush while holding one cup of wine and bensch while holding a different one. The Gemara then queries why it is necessary to take two different cups, to which it answers: “We do not recite two kedushos over the same cup. Why not? Because we do not bundle together several mitzvos, ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos.” Using the same kos for both mitzvos gives the impression that we view these mitzvos as a burden, rather than treating each mitzvah with due respect by designating for it its own cup of wine. This concept of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos is often simply referred to as the problem of “chavilos chavilos.”

BUT DON’T WE RECITE KIDDUSH AND HAVDALAH OVER ONE CUP?

When Yom Tov falls on a Sunday, we recite Kiddush for Yom Tov and Havdalah for Shabbos as part of the same ceremony, all while holding the same cup. Why is this not a problem of chavilos chavilos, since it “bundles together” the two mitzvos of Kiddush and Havdalah?

The Gemara (Pesachim 102b) explains that Kiddush and Havdalah are considered one mitzvah – thus, reciting them over one cup is not considered bundling mitzvos together.

I can now explain why we recite bensching and sheva brachos over separate cups. Tosafos quotes a dispute whether one recites sheva brachos on the same cup that one recites bensching or over a different cup. Rabbeinu Meshulam maintains that reciting sheva brachos and bensching over the same cup of wine is not a problem of chavilos chavilos, since we do not recite the sheva brachos without bensching. Thus, since bensching causes the recital of the sheva brachos, this is not bundling separate mitzvos together. According to Rabbeinu Meshulam, we fill one cup with wine and hand it to the person leading the bensching. When he finishes bensching, he hands that kos to the honoree who recites the first of the sheva brachos, who then hands it to the next honoree and so on until the kos returns to the person who led the bensching, so that he may hold the kos while reciting the borei pri hagafen. However, Tosafos quotes a differing opinion that contends that one should recite bensching and sheva brachos over separate cups, since they are, essentially, two separate mitzvos.

HOW DO WE PASKIN?

The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 62:9) quotes both opinions in this dispute, and mentions that the custom is to use only one cup for both bensching and sheva brachos, following Rabbeinu Meshulam. (One should note that Sefardim recite all seven of the sheva brachos only when the meal is celebrated in the hall at which the wedding took place. The reason for this practice is beyond the scope of our current discussion, but see Tosafos Sukkah 25b s.v. ein simcha and Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 62:10.) The Rama notes that the custom among Ashkenazim is to use two different cups. The Chida (Shu’t Yosef Ometz #47), who was the posek hador of his generation among the Sefardim, notes that, although at the time of the Shulchan Aruch the custom among the Edot Hamizrach (the Sefardim) was to recite the sheva brachos on the same cup as the bensching, in his day (the Chida’s) a separate cup was used for sheva brachos. Thus, the minhag had changed among the Sefardim. It is also worthwhile to note that the Chida, who lived most of his life in Eretz Yisroel, traveled extensively through Northern Africa and Europe and was very familiar with the customs of many places. (As an aside, wherever the Chida visited he researched whatever seforim, both published and in manuscript, were available and recorded his findings. He later published his discoveries in an encyclopedic work, Shem HaGedolim, which is a monumental bibliography of seforim and authors.) Other Sefardic authors of the last several hundred years record two customs, some following Rabbeinu Meshulam (like the Shulchan Aruch recorded) and others using separate cups for the two mitzvos (like the Chida) (Otzar HaPoskim 62:9:53). The predominant custom today is to use two separate kosos.

WHY IS THIS NIGHT DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHER NIGHTS?

If, on all other nights, we use separate cups for bensching and sheva brachos, why should we entertain the thought that on this night of Pesach we should use only one cup?

The background behind this question requires an additional introduction:

Chazal instituted that every individual should drink four cups of wine at the Seder in order to commemorate the four terms used by Hashem in the Torah to prophesy the redemption from Egypt: vihotzeisi, I will take you out of Mitzrayim; vihitzalti, I will save you; viga’alti, I will redeem you; vilakachti, I will take you to me as a nation (Rashi and Rashbam, Pesachim 99b, quoting Midrash Rabbah; cf. Rashi ibid. 108a, who provides a different reason). “The Rabbis instituted four cups as a means of demonstrating that we gained freedom – each one of them should be used for a mitzvah” (Pesachim 117b). Therefore, we use the first cup for Kiddush; on the second we recite the bracha, asher ga’alanu; we recite the bensching while holding the third cup of wine, and Hallel while reciting the fourth.

When celebrating a sheva brachos at a Seder, we are faced with the following dilemma:

If we drink an extra cup of wine at the Seder for sheva brachos, it gives the impression that we are drinking five cups of wine at the Seder, when Chazal instituted that one should drink only four special cups. This is referred to as “adding to the cups,” mosif al hakosos, which is a rabbinic violation. On the other hand, if we do not add a cup, we are bundling together the mitzvah of sheva brachos with the mitzvah of bensching. Thus, the principle of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos, which is the reason why we use separate cups for bensching and for sheva brachos; has now become the basis for a difficulty.

Furthermore, there is another problem, in that once one drinks the third cup of wine one is prohibited from drinking another cup until after the fourth cup has been drunk (Mishnah Pesachim 117b).

The shaylah what to do in this predicament is discussed by many prominent poskim, with the earliest published discussion on the issue going back six hundred years and responsa on the question continuing up to our time.

I am aware of at least five different approaches mentioned by poskim to resolve this issue.

(1) The Chida (Shu’t Yosef Ometz #47) quotes a very creative approach to resolve this problem, although he does not approve of it: Prior to bensching, one should fill two minimum-shiur cups. The person leading the bensching holds one of these cups, while the other is held by the honorees while they recite the sheva brachos. Following the completion of the sheva brachos, one pours the two cups into one large cup, and one of the participants drinks the large kos as the third kos. Thus, since each kos was initially separate, one used two cups for the two mitzvos and did not violate the precept of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos, while at the same time one did not add an extra kos, since only one cup was drunk.

The Chida disapproves of this solution, although he does not explain why. Presumably, he contends that one violates the prohibition of adding to the kosos by using a separate cup for the sheva brachos, even if it is later poured together with the bensching cup. Thus, there is no advantage to this approach.

(2) Another approach to resolve this problem is to recite the sheva brachos on a cup that is then set aside for someone to use for the fourth kos. (The Yaavetz, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Even HaEzer 62:18, mentions this approach.) This opinion holds that since this kos is ultimately used for one of the four cups of the Seder, one cannot say that it is “adding to the cups.” And to avoid violating the prohibition against drinking between the third kos and the fourth, the cup is drunk as the fourth kos.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:95) writes that he does not understand this opinion. Simply put, the cup of sheva brachos in this case is serving two different purposes, the sheva brachos and the fourth cup. Thus, it is directly violating the prohibition of making mitzvos into bundles (ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos), without the advantage of Rabbeinu Meshulam’s opinion that the sheva brachos cup and the bensching cup may overlap. Thus, one is doing mitzvos chavilos chavilos in a worse way than if he had simply used the sheva brachos kos for bensching. (Shu’t Igros Moshe suggests an approach how this opinion may have addressed this question.) Presumably because of this criticism, the later poskim abandon this suggestion.

(3) The Chida cites another approach, which is to leave everyone’s cup a bit empty, and then fill each one with the wine from the sheva brachos kos. He does not like this approach, because he says it makes the mitzvah look like a joke, although he does not explain why. Presumably, the concern is that this approach does not treat the kos of sheva brachos with proper kavod.

(4) Other solutions are suggested. Many contend that one should recite both the sheva brachos and the bensching over the same kos (Yaavetz; Chida). Their reason is that, although we usually assume that this violates ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos, Rabbeinu Meshulam held that reciting sheva brachos and bensching over one cup does not violate this rule. Therefore, on Seder night, when the alternative is to create a problem of adding an extra kos to the Seder, it is preferable to combine the two kosos of sheva brachos and bensching together. According to this opinion, one should recite the sheva brachos over the cup used by the person leading the bensching, and then each individual should drink from his own kos.

(5) The Rama (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 473:4) cites a different resolution to this dilemma. He rules that the person leading the bensching should hold his kos while reciting the bensching, and that those reciting the sheva brachos should hold the kos of the choson while reciting these brachos. Rama does not discuss who drinks the respective kosos, but I presume that the person who led the bensching drinks the first kos and the choson drinks the second.

There is an obvious problem with this approach. Since each person holds his kos for bensching at the Seder, the kos of the choson is also a kos of bensching. Therefore, what have we gained by having the sheva brachos recited over a different kos from the bensching? There are still two mitzvos being performed over this kos — bensching and sheva brachos — and we have the problem of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos. This is why several of the above-mentioned poskim reject this approach.

Evidently, this opinion contends that, although all of the assembled hold their cups during the bensching, their cups are not considered the bensching cup. Only the kos of the person who leads the bensching has the halachic status of performing this mitzvah. The other cups are in fulfillment of Chazal’s having instituted the four kosos, preferring that we use each cup for a mitzvah. Therefore, it is not osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos when one uses this cup for sheva brachos. (As noted before, in this instance the choson and kallah do not drink from that cup, but drink from their own cups.)

Those who disagree with this approach contend that, at the Seder, each person’s kos is indeed a kos of bensching. Thus, there is no advantage to reciting the sheva brachos over the choson’s kos.

There is a historical curiosity about this debate. Two very prominent early poskim, the Yaavetz and the Chida, discuss this issue and conclude (#4, above) that one should rely on Rabbeinu Meshulam when celebrating sheva brachos at the Seder, and recite the sheva brachos and bensching over the same cup. The Chida published two different responsa on this shaylah, reaching the same conclusion both times; but, in his earlier responsum, he does not mention that the Rama cites the opposite conclusion. In his later responsum, the Chida mentions that someone had criticized him for having previously written a responsum on the subject and ignoring the Rama’s comments on the subject. In his later responsum, he explains that since he had quoted Rav Yaakov Emden, who in turn quoted the Rama’s source and disagreed with it, he saw no need to point out that the Rama had quoted these comments.

It is also interesting that Rav Moshe also disagreed with the Rama, yet felt bound to follow Rama’s approach because of the Rama’s greatness, whereas both Rav Yaakov Emden (the Yaavetz) and the Chida decided not to follow Rama’s approach, but to rule that one should use one kos for both bensching and sheva brachos.

In conclusion, those privileged to celebrate a sheva brachos for a newlywed couple at their Seder could either have all the brachos recited over one kos, or have the sheva brachos recited over the kos of one of the other celebrants. In any case, the practice of mixing wine from the two kosos together should not be followed at the Seder.

Only the Choicest of Wine – What’s Best for Kiddush and Arba Kosos?

clip_image002Yankel enters my study, with one of his inquisitive looks on his face.

“Rabbi,” he begins, “I have heard that it is best to use red, non-pasteurized wine at the seder. However, my father-in-law likes Chablis, which is a white wine, and my mother-in-law never drinks any wine. The grape juice she likes is from concentrate, and someone told me that one cannot use it for kiddush. What should I do?”

Knowing that Yankel likes very complete explanations, I prepared myself for a lengthy conversation.

“Let us divide your shaylah into its four constituent parts: Color, cooked (mevushal), alcohol, and concentrate. We’ll discuss each part of the shaylah separately and then we’ll see what is preferable to use.”

RED OR WHITE

The Gemara (Bava Basra 97b) quotes the following discussion: Rav Kahana asked Rava “May one use chamar chivaryin, white wine.” Rava answered him by quoting a pasuk in Mishlei (23:31), “Do not pay attention to how red your wine becomes,” (meaning focus your life on permanent, spiritual values and not on the transient and physical). The pasuk implies that the redder the wine, the better its quality.

This Gemara, which is discussing the requirements of wine for kiddush and other mitzvos, implies that one may not use white wine for kiddush, and indeed this is the way the Ramban rules (ad loc.). However, Rashbam concludes that the Gemara is discussing only whether white wine is kosher for nisuch (libation) on the mizbeiach, but it may be used for kiddush. Others reach the same conclusion that our white wine is acceptable for kiddush, but for a different reason. They contend that the Gemara is not discussing quality white wine, but inferior wine that has no color at all (Tosafos). (White wine is always light-colored or yellowish.) According to this opinion, quality white wine is acceptable even for the mizbeiach.

The halacha is that one should preferably use a red wine unless the white wine is better quality (Rama 472:11; Mishnah Berurah 272:10). At the seder, there is an additional reason to use red wine, because it reminds us of Pharaoh’s slaughter of Bnei Yisroel (Mishnah Berurah 472:38). Therefore, if one chooses to use white wine, some suggest mixing red wine into the white wine to give it a little red color (Piskei Tshuvos 472:10). When mixing the wine, it is preferred to pour the red wine into the cup first and then add the white. If one adds red wine to white wine he will color the white wine, which is prohibited on Shabbos and Yom Tov according to some poskim because of the melacha of tzove’a, dyeing or coloring (see Mishnah Berurah 320:56).

MEVUSHAL (Cooked)

Cooking wine harms it, and cooking grape juice affects its ability to ferment naturally. Indeed, some winemakers never pasteurize the juice from which they produce their wines because heating compromises the taste. For these reasons, halacha views wine that is mevushal as inferior, and this has several ramifications. The prohibition not to use wine touched by a gentile, stam yeinam, does not exist if the wine was mevushal before the gentile handled it (Gemara Avodah Zarah 30a). This is because no self-respecting idolater would consecrate cooked wine to his deity (Rambam, Hilchos Maachalei Asuros 11:9; cf. Rosh, Avodah Zarah 2:12 who explains the halacha somewhat differently).

Similarly, one may not pour cooked wine as a libation for a korban. Some poskim contend that mevushal wine is so inferior that one does not recite hagafen on it but shehakol, and that it is invalid for kiddush and arba kosos (see Tosafos Bava Basra 97a s.v. ileima; Tur Orach Chayim, Chapter 272). Although we recite hagafen on mevushal wine and rule that it is kosher for kiddush and arba kosos (Shulchan Aruch 472:12), one should try to use uncooked wine unless the mevushal wine is superior (Rama 272:8; Mishnah Berurah 472:39).

There is one situation where one must use mevushal wine, and that is when gentiles might handle open bottles of wine. This is why most hechsherim insist that all wine served in restaurants and at catered events be mevushal.

Incidentally, almost all bottlers in North America pasteurize their juice before bottling. Commercial pasteurization of juice products is usually at about 180° Fahrenheit.

BUT I HEARD THAT PASTEURIZATION DOES NOT NECESSARILY EQUAL BISHUL?

The early poskim state that heating wine until it begins to evaporate makes it mevushal (Shach, Yoreh Deah 123:7, quoting Rashba and Ran). How hot is this temperature? Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that 175° Fahrenheit is definitely hot enough to be considered mevushal (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:52; see also 3:31), although some poskim contend that wine must be heated to a much higher temperature (see Darchei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 123:15; Minchas Shlomo 1:25). Because of this dispute, some hechsherim rule that only wine and grape juice that is heated until boiling is considered mevushal, whereas others consider all commercially available grape juice as mevushal.

However, some poskim contend that the laws of mevushal wine do not apply to contemporary pasteurized juice since the processing is made in a way that the wine does not taste inferior (Shu”t Minchas Shlomoh 1:25). Thus, one could use wine made from pasteurized juice or pasteurized juice without any concern, but one should not use wine that was cooked after fermentation which definitely tastes inferior. According to this opinion, a gentile touching pasteurized wine or grape juice will make it prohibited.

At this point in my monologue, Yankel interjected a question:

“I am not sure if I understood you correctly. If grape juice is usually pasteurized, then according to Rav Moshe’s psak, it is all mevushal. And, since one should preferably not use mevushal wine, one should not use grape juice for kiddush or arba kosos?”

“That is correct,” I responded. “Actually, there is also another reason why it is preferable to use wine for arba kosos.”

WINE VS. GRAPE JUICE

One may use freshly pressed grape juice for kiddush, even though it contains no alcohol (Gemara Bava Basra 97b). However, one should preferably not use grape juice for the seder as I will explain.

In the time of the Gemara, wine was so strong that people diluted it with three parts water (per one part wine) before using it for kiddush and other mitzvos. The Gemara teaches that someone who drank the wine without dilution fulfills the mitzvah of drinking four cups of wine, but does not fulfill the mitzvah of cheirus, freedom (Pesachim 108b). This is because the complete mitzvah of arba kosos requires drinking wine with a pleasurable amount of alcohol. This undiluted wine is too strong and not pleasurable. We derive from this Gemara that wine is better for the seder than grape juice, because the alcoholic content of the wine provides the element of cheirus.

However, someone who cannot drink wine may fulfill the mitzvah of arba kosos with grape juice.

Yankel interjected another question. “My mother-in-law never drinks wine the rest of the year. If I tell her that she should drink wine, she will do it because of the mitzvah. How much wine must she drink?”

“She can use a small cup that holds exactly a revi’is of wine with very low alcohol content or even mix wine and grape juice in the cup so that one can barely notice the alcohol and she will fulfill this mitzvah,” I replied. “The poskim dispute how much is a revi’is, with different opinions ranging from three ounces to five ounces. This the minimum amount of wine for each of the four cups. She is required to drink only a little more than half the cup, although it is better if she drinks the entire cup. She should drink the entire last cup in order to recite the bracha acharonah.”

RECONSTITUTED GRAPE JUICE

Reconstituting grape juice involves evaporating at least 80% of the water that is naturally part of the juice, and then later adding water back. (Juice is concentrated and then reconstituted because it saves tremendous amounts of shipping and storage costs, and because the concentrate has a longer shelf life.) It is important to note that the concentrate is not drinkable before adding water.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach has a lengthy tshuvah whether reconstituted grape juice may be used for kiddush and whether its correct bracha is shehakol or hagafen. The basis of his discussion follows:

The correct bracha on all beverages except wine is shehakol. Wine merits a unique bracha because it is special in that it “makes man and Hashem happy” (see Mishnah and Gemara Berachos 35a). Men appreciate the intoxicating properties of wine, and in addition, it is the only liquid that the Torah commands us to pour on the mizbeiach every day. (Water, the only other liquid ever poured on the mizbeiach, is only poured on the mizbeiach during Sukkos.)

Grape juice does not have all of these qualities since it does not contain any alcohol. However, since it can potentially become wine, it merits the special bracha of hagafen and may be used for kiddush.

Rav Shlomo Zalman posed the following question: Do we consider natural grape juice as a mixture of the tasty part of the grape and plain water, or do we make no distinctions and consider grape juice as a mixture of everything inside the grape?

Obviously, everyone will conclude that grape juice is what grows inside the grape. Although natural juice is over ninety percent water, the water that grows inside the grape is considered grape juice, not water. However, water added to concentrate does not metamorphose into juice but remains water. Thus, he rules that the finished product is concentrate mixed with water and not pure grape juice.

“I understand that the water in a cup of reconstituted grape juice should not be counted and therefore you should not use it for kiddush,” Yankel interjected. “But I don’t see why there is a shaylah what bracha to make since you are tasting and drinking natural grape juice?”

“Good question,” I responded. “However, Rav Shlomo Zalman points out that the concentrate may not be considered grape juice since during the processing it becomes undrinkable. Therefore, the juice is no longer a prize beverage that warrants its own unique bracha, nor can it potentially become wine. This is why Rav Shlomo Zalman conjectures that even after the juice is reconstituted, its bracha may be shehakol, not hagafen (Minchas Shlomoh #4). Although some poskim disagree with Rav Shlomo Zalman’s conclusions, it is advisable not to use reconstituted juice for kiddush and arba kosos (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 8:14; ViZos HaBeracha pg. 116; Piskei Tshuvos, 272:2).

Yankel had one more question. “I was told that one should not drink a new wine during the seder meal that was not on the table at the beginning of the seder. Is this true, and if so, why?”

“Answering this question requires an introduction,” I responded.

HATOV VEHAMEITIV

When there is one wine on the table and the host serves another variety of wine, Chazal instituted a special bracha called “Hatov vehameitiv.” This bracha demonstrates our appreciation of the increased joy brought about by having varieties of wine (Mishnah Berurah 175:2). (Some authorities explain that the reason for this bracha is the exact opposite. To make sure that the additional wine does not cause too much frivolity, we recite a bracha that reminds us of the destruction of Beitar when the Romans crushed the Bar Kochba rebellion [Kad HaKemach]. Chazal instituted the fourth bracha of bensching, which is also called “Hatov vehameitiv,” when the Jews finally received permission to bury the thousands of people killed. Thus, the bracha on the new wine reminds us of the bracha recited because of that tragedy.)

Someone who brings out a new bottle of wine in the middle of the seder should technically recite the bracha of hatov vehameitiv. However, many poskim contend that reciting an extra bracha on a cup of wine makes it appear that one is adding another cup to the four that Chazal instituted (Maharil, as explained by Mishnah Berurah 175:2). Therefore, they ruled that one should not bring out a new variety of wine during the seder meal.

Yankel prepared to leave. “So which wine is choicest?” I asked him.

“One should drink a red wine that has never been cooked. However, if a white or cooked wine is better, one should use the better wine. Someone who does not like wine may mix grape juice with wine as long as they can still taste the alcohol, but they should not use reconstituted grape juice.”

“May we all have a Yom Tov of freedom and celebration!”