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Home » General » The Havdalah Ceremony

The Havdalah Ceremony

Written by Zev on March 16, 2009 – 2:44 am -

Havdalah is a Jewish ceremony that is performed to mark the end of Shabbat, and many other festivals that are part of the Jewish calendar. It is best described as marking the transition from the ‘holy’ back to the ordinary.

Whilst being a short and simple ceremony, is one that has great significance in the Jewish religion. Havdalah when literally translated from Hebrew to English means “to differentiate”.

Jewish people observe Havdalah to define the transition from a day of specific religious contemplation to the ordinary days of the week or year. The ceremony of Havdalah can be enacted either in a synagogue to mark the end of the evening prayers or in a family home.

The service begins with prayers at the end of the evening service. A cup of wine is held in the right hand of the person who is leading the service who recites the relevant Havdalah prayer.

The Havdalah prayer blesses God for making a distinction between right and wrong, between Shabbat, the Jewish Festivals and the rest of the days of the year, as well as between Jews and Non Jews.

Once Shabbat has drawn to a close, indicated by at least three stars lighting up the sky, two additional prayers are recited.

The first Havdalah prayer is recited over sweet-smelling spices – the most popular spices are bay leaves, cloves and cinnamon, which are placed in a special ornamental container. During the prayer, the spices are handed out to the congregation so that they can enjoy their pleasant and soothing aroma.

The second prayer, which concludes Havdalah, is made in the presence of a lit candle, to to thank G-d for creating light and fire. For this prayer, a special Havdalah candle is used. The candle has two wicks, and has been braided. The custom in Judaism is that while the prayer is being recited, those in attendance stand in a circle and do not stare directly at the candle. Instead they watch the reflection of the flames in their fingernails.

Here is a video that demonstrates the elements of the Havdalah ceremony:

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