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There is a minhag which many have while reciting kiddush which is to hold the kiddush cup in the palm of the hand, with the fingers pointing upward without touching the cup. I have heard two explanations for this custom:

  • We avoid placing the fingertips directly on the kiddush cup because impurities in the hand are actually transmitted through the fingertips, and we want to avoid contaminating the cup and/or wine
  • There is a Kabbalistic custom whereby the palm (Hebrew: yod) and five fingers (Hebrew: hey/5) form the first two letters of the Tetragrammaton; holding the cup in this way sanctifies G-d

Can someone explain what the origin for either/both of these customs are? I have heard it said that kiddush in some way commemorates the Temple service. Assuming this were the case, could it be possible that part of the kiddush tradition we follow derived from the practices the priests would have followed when performing a libation?

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The commentators talk about a practice like the one described on Shulchan Aruch 183:4. Though the distance of the fingertips isn't mentioned explicitly, Mishna B'rura, Magen Avraham and others cite the Sh'nei Luchos Hab'ris as a source (in turn citing earlier kabala) for sitting the cup on the palm with fingers erect. The Magen Avraham seems to think it means - or should mean - holding a cup the usual way one holds a cup:

ובשל"ה כתו' בשם המקובלים שיעמיד הכוס על כף ימינו והאצבעות יהיו זקופים סביב הכוס וכ"מ בזוהר בראשי' ומ"מ אינו מוכח כ"כ די"ל דיקיפם באצבעותיו כדרך אחיזה

(In that case the practice as described would either be a mistake, or of unrelated origin.)

It could also be an undocumented interpretation of the requirement of "itur" (="coronation") for kidush that is listed among 9 others in B'rachos 51. A couple practices are recorded there for how individuals would accomplish the enigmatic "crowning" requirement, but this finger placement could be another way to do it, as some contend (e.g. P'ninei Halacha).

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I have a book at home that discusses specifically customs of Shabbat. In it I recall reading that this is a reference to the wine steward's (the one that Pharaoh jailed and for whom Joseph interpreted his dream) who said, "I squeezed the grapes into the cup and I placed the cup on Pharaoh's palm."

B"N, when I locate the book, I will edit in its name.

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