In our last two editions of S.A.L.T., we’ve addressed the question regarding the recitation of havdala when Tisha B’Av is observed on Sunday. Since the fast begins immediately on Motzaei Shabbat, havdala – which includes, of course, the drinking of wine – is delayed until Sunday night, when Tisha B’Av ends. However, the accepted practice is that an ill patient who is exempt from the fast must first recite havdala on Tisha B’Av before eating in this case, since Halakha forbids eating or drinking after Shabbat before reciting or hearing havdala. This gives rise to an interesting question in the case of a woman who is ill, in light of the Rama’s ruling (O.C. 296:8) that women should (at least preferably) not recite havdala on their own, and should instead hear it recited by a man. As we saw the last two days, there is some discussion as to whether the case of a woman who is ill on Tisha B’Av marks an exception, and she should recite havdala herself, or if it is preferable for a man to recite havdala for her, and she then drinks the wine.
There is, however, also a third possibility. Rav Moshe Sternbuch, in Moadim U-zmanim (7:255), writes that it is preferable in this case for the woman to simply eat without reciting or hearing havdala at all. This is also the ruling of several other halakhic authorities, including Rav Efrayim Greenblatt (Rivevot Efrayim, 3:371.) The basis for this ruling is the halakhic concept of sefeik-sefeika, which states that we may be lenient in cases of halakhic doubt if two uncertainties are involved. In the case under discussion, there are two possible reasons to absolve the woman from havdala. First, as we have seen, the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 296:8) cites two views as to whether women are included in the obligation of havdala. Thus, although Halakha follows the view that women should hear havdala every Motzaei Shabbat, this is a point of uncertainty. Secondly, the Ramban, in his Torat Ha-adam (cited by the Rosh, end of Masekhet Ta’anit), ruled that the obligation of havdala does not apply at all, to anybody, when Tisha B’Av is observed on Sunday. The reason for the Ramban’s ruling relates to the history of havdala, as discussed by the Gemara in Masekhet Berakhot (33a). The Gemara tells that at one point, when economic conditions in Eretz Yisrael became dire, and people could not easily afford wine for havdala every week, the Sages instituted the recitation of Ata Chonantanu in the arvit prayer on Motzaei Shabbat in lieu of the recitation of havdala over a cup of wine. Later, when financial conditions improved, the recitation of havdala over a cup of wine was reinstated. The Ramban claimed that on Tisha B’Av, when we are forbidden to eat or drink, we are considered “poor” and we therefore revert back to the previous practice of reciting Ata Chonantanu in place of havdala. In any event, although the Ramban’s position is not accepted, it nevertheless creates a second safeik (uncertainty) regarding a woman’s obligation to recite havdala in the case we are discussing. It should also be noted that the Bach (O.C. 556) ruled that in light of the Ramban’s ruling, which makes it questionable whether one must recite havdala when Tisha B’Av begins after Shabbat, one should not recite havdala in such a case (following the famous rule of safeik berakhot le-hakel). Accordingly, Rav Sternbuch suggests applying the rule of sefeik-sefeika to absolve the woman of the requirement to recite havdala in the case under discussion, as her obligation hinges on two assumptions which are both subject to debate – that women are included in the havdala obligation, and that the havdala obligation applies when Tisha B’Av is observed on Sunday.
Rav Asher Weiss, in his discussion of this topic, parenthetically notes that this line of reasoning affects a woman’s status vis-à-vis havdala when Tisha B’Av is observed on Sunday even if she is not ill and completes the fast. In such a case, according to Rav Sternbuch’s ruling, she should not recite havdala, and is, in fact, not even required, strictly speaking, to hear havdala, due to the two points of uncertainty involved.
Regardless, as noted yesterday, Rav Weiss maintains that if a woman is ill and cannot fast in this case, it is preferable for her to hear havdala from a man and then drink the wine (or give the wine to a child who has reached the age of chinukh but is not old enough to fast).