What is the source or origin of the custom to dip one's fingers in the wine poured over the candle to extinguish it at the conclusion of Havdalah?

As a side note, and a reason I'm tagging it this way, is that I always joke that it's 'Avodah Zarah (often while actually doing it). It's not ... is it?


Rema, Orach Chaim 296:1:

גם שופכים מן הכוס לאחר הבדלה ומכבין בו הנר ורוחצים בו עיניו משום חבוב מצוה

"We also pour out [some of the wine] from the cup after havdalah, and extinguish the candle with it, and wash our eyes with it as an expression of love for the mitzvah."

An earlier source is Tur, Orach Chaim 299, citing R. Amram Gaon. So it goes back a long way.

  • 3
    Alex, how about the ideas that some people have of putting the wine not on their eye(lid)s but eyebrows (or just above them), the backs of their necks, their pockets (for Parnassah), and anywhere they have aches or pains?
    – Seth J
    Dec 6 '11 at 21:36
  • 1
    @msh210 Question asked. judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/12061/…
    – Seth J
    Dec 7 '11 at 4:30
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    Alex, is there any indication of a preference for (a) particular finger(s) - eg., pinkies?
    – Seth J
    Dec 7 '11 at 4:31
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    My father who was born in Slovakia to a father who had smicha from the Pressburg Yeshiva, had the custom of dipping pinkies in the havdallah wine and tapping them to his forehead and pants' pockets. He told me that it was in hopes of not having any headaches (physically or spiritually, I presume) and having parnassah throughout the week. He died when I was 15, so I never had a chance to ask him any other details. But if this is what he learned at home, it must have been quite acceptable.
    – Madeleine
    Jan 12 '12 at 19:04
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    @SethJ: it probably belongs more as an answer to the related (spinoff) question. I'll write it up there.
    – Alex
    May 17 '12 at 4:24

An early source for this is the Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer (ch. 20) which states that it is a mitsvah to add some water to the havdala cup and drink it to show love for the mitsvot, and to put some of the remaining water (presumably wine-water) onto the eyes, as the sages said that remnants of a mitsvah prevent punishment (cf. Succah 38a):

רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר לְאַחַר שֶׁשּׁוֹתֶה אָדָם כּוֹס שֶׁל הַבְדָּלָה, מִצְוָה לְהַטִּיל מְעַט מַיִם בְּכוֹס שֶׁל הַבְדָּלָה וְשׁוֹתֶה כְּדֵי לְחַבֵּב אֶת הַמִּצְוֹת, וּמַה שֶּׁיִּשָּׁאֵר בַּכּוֹס מִן הַמַּיִם, מַעֲבִירוֹ עַל גַּבֵּי עֵינָיו. לָמָּה, מִשּׁוּם שֶׁאָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים שִׁיּוּרֵי מִצְוָה מְעַכְּבִין אֶת הַפֻּרְעָנוּת

Presumably the application was performed with a finger.

However, this is not found in the Higger edition of the PDR.

The earliest source I have found, is a responsum of R. Natronai Gaon (ed. Ofeq OH 90) which states:

ולהטיל מים בכוס של הבדלה לאחר ששותהו, כך אנו רגילין (לעשות) וכך שמענו מרבותינו שמצוה לעשות כך, כלומר (סוכה לח רע"א) שירי מצוה מעכבין את הפורעניות. ומה שנשתייר מן המים {אנו} מטילין {אותו} על ידינו ומעבירין {אותן} על פנינו, כדי לחבב את המצוה.

He writes explicitly that the water is applies with the hand to the face, and that the whole procedure indicates appreciation for the mitsvah.

This is also found in the Seder Rav Amram Gaon (ed. Harpennes: Seder Motsaei Shabbat).

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