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Shabbat Parashat Ki Teitzei 5775

Ask the Rabbi: How Can We Say Things of Minhag Before Kiddush?

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: The Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Gra, Pri Megadim, etc. (Orach Chayim 271) all mention the need to rush to make Kiddush and eat as soon as Shabbat commences. Yet, I have never seen a household that doesn't first sing Shalom Aleichem (which contains problematic elements) and Eishet Chayil. Also, making Kiddush is a mitzva (d’oraita, for those who did not daven Ma’ariv, and d’rabbanan for those who did) while the singing is just a very nice (recent) minhag. Since when does a minhag take precedence over a mitzva?! Shouldn't we make Kiddush (and Hamotzi) first?


Answer: Regarding presenting sources, as we like to do, we have little to add, but we will try to add a little perspective. 

The Tur and Shulchan Aruch (OC 271:1) do say: “When one comes to his house, he should hurry to eat right away.” Although the idea of hurrying does not seem to be found in the gemara or early Rishonim, these are still weighty sources. Let us understand the need for hurrying. The Beit Yosef (OC 271) explains that the issue is not the delay per se, and the meal is not the problem. Rather, since Kiddush is made to sanctify Shabbat as it enters, it should be close to the beginning of Shabbat (see Pesachim 106a with Rashi). The Taz (271:1) seems to understand it to also hint that one can make Kiddush even before nightfall. Thus, davening earlier, faster, or at a shul that is closer to home is as valuable in this regard as skipping the pre-Kiddush zemirot.

There also is no question that one can fulfill the mitzva of Kiddush any time during the night and, on a certain level, even during the day if he missed it at night (Shulchan Aruch ibid. 8; see Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 47:(31)). Considering that according to most Rishonim, those who have davened have already fulfilled the mitzva of Kiddush from the Torah (see Magen Avraham 271:1), one need not be as pressured by the matter as the simple language of the Shulchan Aruch implies. As one example, the Mishna Berura (271:1) says that if the family does not have much of an appetite when people come home from shul, they do not need to make Kiddush and eat right away.

I do not claim to understand the full depth of the timing or even content of these zemirot, but it does not seem that they are given greater importance than Kiddush, but that they are intended to set the tone for the upcoming Kiddush. It is similar in that way to the p’sukim we say before a brit mila or the “Hineni muchan u’mezuman” that some say before performing mitzvot. Even the detractors of the latter minhag (see Noda B’yehuda I, YD 93), do so based on content, not on the issue of delaying the mitzva. 

After completing the specific, technical part of the question, we will move on to the general, philosophical part, which we believe is the more instructive element of the answer to your question. Shalom Aleichem and Eishet Chayil were written/instituted for recital on Shabbat evening within the Kabbalistic community of 16th century Tzfat. This is a continuation of the work of that community which introduced to the world Kabbalat Shabbat, including Lecha Dodi. Not being Kabbalists, we cannot explain to you the full depth of all of these tefillot. I cannot explain why it was worthwhile to “fiddle around” with the tried and tested Shabbat tefillot or delay the beginning of Ma’ariv, Kiddush, etc. Who knows?! If we were 16th century rabbis, we might have spoken out against it, using your arguments. However, we are firm believer in the collective wisdom of the rabbinic and serious laity of Bnei Yisrael. As the gemara (Pesachim 66a) says: “Leave Israel alone. If they are not prophets, they are the sons of prophets.” So, if (almost) all homes do it, it is a minhag we accept even without knowing why it is important. (While understanding is worthwhile, it is not necessary.) Making a statement by action or not careful words against an accepted practice (including the one in question) can raise issues of appearing “holier than thou” and sometimes causes machloket, and we are sure that this is not your intention.


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