Kiddush is a Hebrew word that literally means “sanctification”. It is a blessing recited over grape juice or wine to sanctify the Jewish and Shabbat holidays. Many families have a special goblet or glass for the blessing, this vessel is called the Kiddush cup.
The Kiddush tradition is said to have originated between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE. The text that is used nowadays originates from around the time of the Talmud, which is 200-500 CE. In general, drinking wine before a meal (specifically a festive meal) is derived from the first part of the first century CE. The rabbis used the practice to distinguish between drinking wine on ordinary days and on the Sabbath or on holidays. This religious rite is very important to Jews. It gives them the space to thank God for the receipt of the Sabbath as appreciation for the creation of the World and the Exodus from Egypt. Kiddush became an accepted part of Shabbat services at the synagogue during the Middle Ages. This meant that those who were away from home could be included and could hear the blessing. Often, people who are travelling will be accepted into a home, so they can hear the Kiddush in the home. However, to this day, the synagogue still performs the Kiddush.
The Kiddush Cup
Traditionally a Kiddush cup will be crafted out of gold or silver, however they can also be crafted from pewter, fine china or pottery. They are often ornately decorated with fruit; often grapes to symbolise the wine or grape juice that is going to be blessed. Occasionally they will have animals or bird decoration, sometimes there are initials or a name engraved on the cup, perhaps even a bible passage. Another common motif is an architectural scene. Many Kiddush cups depict a simple town scape, often featuring a synagogue, although it isn’t certain exactly why we see these town scenes. We do know however, that many Jewish families had their own Kiddush cups crafted; therefore the scenes likely depict their originating village, town, or synagogue.
Kiddush cups cannot be crafted out of disposable materials, for example, a plastic cup cannot serve as a Kiddush cup. Moreover, a Kiddush cup cannot be used if it is chipped or malformed. This is because a vessel that is involved in a blessing has to be in perfect condition. Therefore, it is essential to treat a Kiddush cup with care, and to inspect the cup to make sure it isn’t damaged before Kiddush is performed.
A Kiddush cup can come in a variety of forms and sizes. It is just as common to have a stem on a Kiddush cup as it is to have a stem-less Kiddush cup. The crucial thing for a Kiddush cup is its size; it must hold a revi’it of liquid. A revi’it is approximately between 90.7 millilitres and 161.5 millilitres.
There are rules regarding the type of wine a Kiddush cup can be filled. Firstly, wine cannot be libation, due to previously been given as an offering to pagan deities. Since that time, it has been forbidden to use wine which has been handled by Gentiles- unless it is a cooked wine. Kiddush cups can be filled with wine, even if not cooked, and that has come from a sealed bottle. Secondly, Kiddush cups must be filled with fresh wine, if someone has already sipped the wine it cannot be used and is deemed as tainted. In order to make the wine untainted, it is enough to mix with a small drop of untainted wine. It is best to use wine from a wine bottle that was sealed prior to opening. If wine isn’t available, grape juice can be used.
How is the Kiddush performed?
There are some differences around the world and within different communities, as to how the Kiddush is performed. As has been previously mentioned, the Kiddush cup is used, to sanctify and elevate the Kiddush. This cup is then placed on a dish or a tray to catch any spilled wine. A bencher, a small book with prayers, blessing and songs, a bottle of kosher wine is also present.
At the synagogue, Kiddush will be recited over the Kiddush cup, which will be filled with either wine or grape juice. Next, an appointed person or all of the children there will take part in sipping some of the wine or grape juice.
In the home, the head of the household usually recites Kiddush over the Kiddush cup and then pours some for everyone into smaller glasses.
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