The word kiddush has at least three meanings, each one built on the one before it. Let’s start at the beginning.
1. Sanctifying Shabbat
The Hebrew word kiddush translates as “sanctification” or “separation.” It’s a mitzvah to verbally declare Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, separate and holy. We do this on Friday nights—once during prayers, and then again holding a cup of wine before we begin our evening meal. This declaration of sanctification is known as kiddush.
The declaration is comprised of three parts: recitation of verses from the Torah regarding the holiness of Shabbat (taken from the verses in Genesis that describe the first Shabbat in history, right after G‑d created the world), the blessing over the wine, and a blessing in which we thank G‑d for having chosen our nation and given us the gift of Shabbat.
You can find the text for the Friday night kiddush here.
2. Shabbat Morning Reception
As an extension, we also hold a cup of wine and recite Shabbat rest–related verses and a blessing over wine before we begin our Shabbat daytime meal.
You can find that text here.
In many synagogues, morning services are followed by a reception. Since it is preceded by the blessing over wine, the reception is often called a kiddush as well. (It is sometimes called an oneg.) Kiddush fare can range from basic herring and crackers to elaborate meals with carving stations and sushi. People often sponsor these kiddush receptions in honor of milestones, in memory of loved ones, or just because.
3. It’s a Girl!
It is customary to sponsor a Shabbat morning kiddush in honor of the birth of a new baby girl. These receptions can take place anywhere, in synagogues or even in private homes. There are a number of reasons for this custom:
- We thank G‑d for the gift of a new baby girl.
- People often hold the kiddush following the service when they named their new baby at the Torah. The Jewish soul enters the body at the time of the baby-naming, and the celebration is in honor of the new soul. (Note that the Chabad custom is to name the baby at the earliest opportunity, even if it is not Shabbat, but the kiddush is held on Shabbat.)
- At the kiddush, it is customary to wish the parents that they raise their child to “Torah, chuppah, and maasim tovim [good deeds].” Blessings are very potent, and the kiddush celebration is a great way to snag as many blessings as possible.
Note: When a person says he is “making kiddush,” you know he is referring to the blessing over wine. However, if he says he is “making a kiddush,” you can assume it means he will be sponsoring a reception on Shabbat morning.
More Miscellaneous Meanings
Kiddush Wine: Since kiddush is the way that Jews honor the beloved Shabbat, at times people went through great effort to secure wine. For a long time most Jews could only afford cheap, sweet wine (sometimes made from raisins). To this day, thick, sweet kosher wine is often referred to as “kiddush wine.”
Kiddush Cup: You can use pretty much any cup for kiddush, provided that is holds a significant amount of wine (and it isn’t disposable, according to some). People tend to have special cups just for this mitzvah, often made of silver or other decorative materials. This cup is also called a becher, a Yiddish word probably related to the English word “beaker.”
Holiday Kiddush: Like Shabbat, we say declarations over wine before the meals on major Jewish holidays. These are also known as kiddush.
Kiddush Levanah: Once a month, there is a special prayer thanking G‑d for the moon. It is called kiddush levanah, “sanctification of the moon,” and is unrelated to the blessing said over wine. Learn more
Kiddush Hachodesh: In ancient times, the Jewish month would begin after two witnesses would testify before the court that they had seen the “new” moon. The court would then declare the start of a new month. This is called kiddush hachodesh, “sanctification of the month.” Learn more
Kiddush Hashem: This phrase means “sanctification of the [Divine] name.” We Jews are G‑d’s ambassadors to the world. When we act in accordance with His will, we sanctify His name (reputation) here on earth. The prime example of a kiddush Hashem is when a person sacrifices his or her life rather than transgress the Torah. A less extreme, and thankfully more common, example is when a person acts in an ethical, moral and gracious way, causing people to have positive feelings toward G‑d and His people. Doing this is making a kiddush Hashem. Learn more