Monday, May 20, 2019

Do I Need a Havdalah Set?

Do you need a havdalah set to "do" havdalah properly?

In short, nope. It's absolutely not required to make a kosher havdalah.

But is it nice? Did I spend years thinking my life would be better if I had one?


But there was never enough money for it. I always needed books (or rent inside the eruv) more. A havdalah set is a piece of art, really, and its price reflects that.

So What's a Havdalah Set? 

The premise of a havdala set is "hiddur mitzvah," beautifying a mitzvah. Doing a mitzvah well and beautifully is a mitzvah too. The purpose of a havdalah set is to beautify your practice of havdalah. That's all.

So what is a havdalah set? Havdalah is the (very short) ritual that marks the end of Shabbat. It requires a multi-wicked candle, wine or grape juice (other beverages can be substituted, but that's a longer conversation), and spices. 

A havdala set just holds each of those pieces. There's a wine cup, a candle holder (doesn't look like a normal candlestick), and what's called a spice box.

There are two traditional designs, one silver and the other ceramic, usually blue and white. Wooden sets painted with bright colors are also quite popular. There are differences among them, but here are three representative, mid-priced sets: 

Silver Havdalah Set:

Ceramic Havdalah Set:

Wooden Havdalah Set:

How to DIY Havdalah

How can you do that yourself, without a specialized set? 

Use your kiddush cup (or whatever you use as a kiddush cup). You can use it for both purposes. 

A lot of people hold the candle, over a paper plate or paper towel or a small plate that you're ok with getting candle wax on. They even make little plates for this purpose if you want something specific to havdalah but have a smaller budget. 

Spices are the easiest: keep them in the container you bought at the grocery store. Cinnamon is my favorite, but cloves is probably the most popular. You could be a renegade and get pumpkin spice or nutmeg! I don't know whether it's required to be set aside the spices specifically for use during havdalah, but I think that's a good idea either way. Just place it with your other Judaica, wherever you keep your kiddush cup (which also doesn't have to be a special cup but I also recommend setting one aside just for Jewish purposes).

Here is the set-up we've used for years, though of course I forgot to include our kiddush cup because it was in the dishwasher. We use the same cup for kiddush and havdalah. Just a candle (like this), something to hold spices, matches, and a havdalah plate we received for our wedding (I don't see anything similar on Amazon).

What Do You Really Want When You Want a Havdalah Set?

So what did I want when I wanted all those havdalah sets? Stuff, quite frankly. Jewish stuff that would prove I was "really" Jewish. Stuff that would make my house look Jewish, make my actions look Jewish. And because I also love beautiful things and the rush of buying something. I'm an American raised on rampant, unbridled consumerism, of course.

Do I have a havdala set now? Yes, actually. I got it secondhand, for free, and only a few months ago. Close to 15 years after I first began dreaming of having one. Would I buy one? If I felt it was the right use of my finances at the time, yes. That's why I feel like a havdalah set is a great gift to give (if that's the price point for your gift). I would have a hard time spending that much money on one for myself, but I would have an easier time purchasing it for someone else. If I'm honest with myself, I always admitted there was a better use for 60+ bucks. Usually books, of course.

I haven't always kept my eye on what matters and turned down the shiny object of my desire when it wasn't the best use of my time and money, but I did here. 

What really matters to you? And what's distracting you from that?