The Three Shabbat Meals

  • Rav Mordechai Friedman



            The Mishna in Shabbat states (117b):


Food for three meals may be saved. That which is fit for man – for man. That which is fit for animals – for animals. How so? If a fire broke out on Shabbat night, food for three meals may be saved. [If] in the morning, food for two meals may be saved. At [the time of] Mincha, food for one meal. Rabbi Yose says: At all times we may save food for three meals.


            The Mishna deals with the case of a fire that broke out on Shabbat, and from here the Gemara tries to understand how many obligatory meals must be eaten on Shabbat. It is in this context that the Gemara brings the following Baraita:


Our Rabbis taught: How many meals must a person eat on Shabbat? Three. Rabbi Chidka says: Four. Rabbi Yochanan said: Both expound the same verse: "And Moshe said, Eat that today; for today is a Sabbath to the Lord: today you shall not find it in the field" (Shemot 16:25). Rabbi Chidka maintains: These three "todays" are [reckoned] apart from the evening. And the Rabbis maintain: They include [that of] the evening.


            Rabbi Chidka seems to understand that the word "today" refers to the twelve hours of daytime, whereas according to the anonymous first Tanna it refers to the twenty-four hours that comprise an entire day. R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explained Rabbi Chidka's position differently: The sanctity of the night of Shabbat (i.e., Friday night) is different than the sanctity of the day of Shabbat. These are two distinct periods of time and are governed by different laws. Thus, regarding the obligation to eat three meals on the day of Shabbat, we are not to include the night of Shabbat, which constitutes a different period of time. This is also the reason that we are required to recite Kiddush both on Friday night and during the day of Shabbat – each period requiring its own Kiddush.


            In the continuation (Shabbat 118a), the Gemara explains that according to the anonymous first Tanna of the Baraita the aforementioned Mishna is dealing with a person who has not yet eaten, and therefore at night he has three more meals to eat, and in the morning two more meals. According to Rabbi Chidka, the Mishna is dealing with a person who has already eaten.




            The aforementioned Mishna teaches us another law as well. The Mishna states that if the fire broke out in the afternoon ("at [the time of] Mincha"), only one meal may be saved. The Rishonim infer from this that the third Shabbat meal must be eaten after Mincha and not like those who were accustomed to divide their morning meal into two in order to fulfill the obligation of eating a third meal. This custom appears in the Halakhot Gedolot, and it is based on the assumption that there is an obligation to eat three meals on Shabbat, but it makes no difference when they are eaten.


            The Rambam explicitly disagrees:


One is obligated to eat three meals on Shabbat: one at night, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. (Hilkhot Shabbat 30:9)


            The Tosafot (Shabbat 118a, s.v. ba-mincha) also disagree with the Halakhot Gedolot, writing as follows:


This implies that the time for eating the third meal on Shabbat is from the time of Mincha onwards, and not like those who divide the morning meal into two, and recite blessings between them… And furthermore, Ri says that this involves the prohibition of reciting an unnecessary blessing…."


            In other words, the Tosafot reject this practice not only because it fails to satisfy the requirements of the third Shabbat meal, but also because it leads to the recitation of an unnecessary blessing. The Or Zaru'a (Hilkhot Shabbat, no. 52) writes that even if no prohibition is violated, it is certainly not considered three separate meals.


            The Mishna in Sukka 27a records a disagreement between the Sages and R. Eliezer regarding the number of meals that must be eaten in the sukka over the course of the holiday of Sukkot:


Rabbi Eliezer says: A person must eat fourteen meals in the sukka – one during the day and one at night. And the Sages say: There is no set obligation, except for the night of the first Yom Tov. Rabbi Eliezer also said: One who did not eat on the night of the first Yom Tov, should make up for it on the night of the last Yom Tov.


            The Gemara (ad loc.) explains that these meals may consist of "minei targima." There are several explanations of "minei targima": foods made from one of the five species of grains, fruit, or foods eaten together with bread. The Tosafot (s.v. be-minei) write:


It cannot be inferred from here that "minei targima" may be eaten in fulfillment of [the obligation regarding] the three meals of Shabbat, for there it is different, because we derive [that obligation] from the fact that three "todays" are written with respect to the manna, which was in place of bread.


            One might, however, disagree with Tosafot and say that the derivation from manna relates to the number of meals, but not to their content. This question may depend upon the nature of the derivation from manna, as we shall explain.




            The Levush writes that the obligation to eat three meals on Shabbat is by Torah law, because the obligation is derived from the manna. Others write that it is only by Rabbinic decree, the biblical verses serving merely as an asmakhta. According to the second view, there is certainly no need to agree with Tosafot. According to the Levush, however, the question may be raised whether the derivation from manna is all-inclusive or limited.


            The Mordekhai (Shabbat, no. 397) expresses a position similar to that of Tosafot:


R. Eliezer of Metz wrote that even the third meal must include bread, because we need food that requires Birkat ha-Mazon. The reason is that the verse from which the [obligation of] three meals is derived deals with bread. As it is written: "This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat" (Shemot 16:15). And regarding Birkat ha-Mazon, bread is mentioned.


            In the continuation of the passage, the Mordekhai cites the position of the Ra'avya who permits minei targima for the third meal, for it suffices that it be plainly evident that a third meal is being eaten.


            The discussions among the Rishonim are limited to the third meal – its nature and parameters. It would appear, however, that the disagreement relates to all three meals, only that the first two meals surely require bread for a different reason, namely, because of the requirement that Kiddush be recited in the context of a meal.[1]


"In remembrance of the manna" or "Oneg shabbat"


            Rabbenu Tam[2] writes that women are bound by the obligation of eating three meals on Shabbat because they too were involved in the miracle. He is clearly referring to the miracle of the manna. According to him, the three Shabbat meals serve as a reminder of the miracle of the manna. The Ramban writes that Rabbenu Tam's explanation is superfluous, because a woman is obligated in all matters of Shabbat law just like a man, because of the analogy between "zakhor" and "shamor."


            Was Rabbenu Tam unaware of this fundamental principle? It seems that we are dealing here with a disagreement regarding the very essence of the mitzva of eating the third Shabbat meal. According to the Ramban, it is entirely a matter of oneg Shabbat, "taking delight in Shabbat" (and so too is the mitzva explained in the aforementioned Or Zaru'a). For this reason it is included in the analogy between "zakhor" and "shamor," like all the other laws of Shabbat. According to Rabbenu Tam, on the other hand, the third Shabbat meal is eaten in remembrance of the miracle of the manna. Thus, it is not part of the system of Shabbat obligations and prohibitions. This disagreement regarding the essence of the obligation of eating the third Shabbat meal has several practical ramifications:


1)         In light of these two explanations, we can understand the disagreement between the Tosafot and Ra'avya. According to the Tosafot, bread is required in remembrance of the manna, whereas according to Ra'avya, a person can eat anything that brings him delight, even minei targima, for that suffices for the mitzva of oneg Shabbat.


2)         We can now explain the disagreement between the Halakhot Gedolot and the rest of the Rishonim regarding dividing a meal into two. According to the Halakhot Gedolot, the eating of three meals serves as a reminder of the manna, and therefore one may eat two meals in rapid succession, provided that they can be defined as separate meals. According to the other Rishonim, however, the meals cannot be eaten in that manner, because that manner of eating does not constitute oneg Shabbat.[3]


3)         In the Otzar Ge'onim (no. 329), the question is raised whether a person for whom eating a third meal would be distressing is in fact exempt from doing so. The Ge'onim rule that that such a person is exempt from eating the third Shabbat meal because in any event there is no oneg Shabbat. According to those who maintain that the three meals are eaten in remembrance of the manna, such a person may indeed be obligated to eat the third meal, because there is insufficient cause to exempt him. Regarding this point, the Shibbolei Ha-leket (no. 93) writes that even if eating is injurious to a person's health, he should still eat a small amount and not pass up on three Shabbat meals. His position may be based on the assumption that the three Shabbat meals are eaten in remembrance of the manna, and not because of oneg Shabbat, and therefore there are no grounds for exemption.


4)         There is yet another practical difference between these two approaches regarding the question whether one who did not eat on Friday night is obligated to make up the missing meal and eat three meals on Shabbat day. If we are dealing with a remembrance of the manna, he should be obligated to make up the required quota, and so writes the Rosh in Pesachim (chap. 10, no. 5). If, however, we are dealing with the mitzva of oneg Shabbat, it stands to reason that he is not required to make up the missing meal.


It should be noted that this principle of oneg Shabbat is a matter of consensus having a halakhic ramification unconnected to this disagreement. We saw earlier that the Tosafot establish a specific time for the third Shabbat meal – after Mincha. Why must the meal be eaten at this specified time? It is possible that the period before noon and the period after noon are two separate time periods (similar to what we saw earlier in the name of Rav Soloveitchik). A similar idea is found in Responsa Min ha-Shamayim (no. 14, cited by Shibbolei Ha-leket) – each of the Shabbat meals must be eaten in a particular time period. This seems to follow from the fact that a person takes delight in the Shabbat meals, and in each period of Shabbat he must take delight in a different meal.[4]






            The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chayyim 291:1) emphasizes the importance of the third Shabbat meal:


One should be exceedingly careful to fulfill the third meal. Even if one is satiated, he can fulfill it with food in the amount of an egg. But if he cannot eat at all, he is not obligated to cause himself distress.


            The Shulchan Arukh implies that the three meals serve as a remembrance of the manna, and therefore even one who is satiated is obligated to eat three meals. A person who cannot eat any more is exempt from the third meal because for him it would fall into the category of gluttonous eating (akhila gasa).




            Regarding the time of the third meal, the Shulchan Arukh writes as follows:


Its time is from when the time for Mincha arrives, that is, from six-and-a-half hours and on. If he ate the meal earlier, he did not fulfill the mitzva of the third meal. (ibid., no. 2)


            And in the next paragraph:


If the morning meal dragged on until the time for Mincha arrived, he should interrupt the meal, recite Birkat ha-Mazon, wash his hands, recite the ha-Motzi blessing, and eat.


            From here we see that the Shulchan Arukh partially accepted the viewpoint of the Tosafot. He maintains that there is no problem here of an unnecessary blessing, but it is necessary to eat the third meal after midday.


            The Mishna Berura (no. 14) adds that one should go for a short walk between the two meals in order that they not be regarded as a single meal.




            The Shulchan Arukh writes that even at the third Shabbat meal, the ha-motzi blessing should be recited over lechem mishne (two loaves of bread).[5] At first glance, this does not fit in with the approach according to which lechem mishne serves as a remembrance of the manna, for Shabbat's manna fell on Friday, and by Shabbat afternoon they had only enough left for a single meal!


            It may be argued that lechem mishne is required at every Shabbat meal as a reminder that when the Shabbat manna descended from heaven, a double amount came down, and it is irrelevant how many meals are left at any given point in time.


            (It is interesting to note that regarding the law of lechem mishne as well, some Rishonim[6] propose an additional reason – the honor of Shabbatkevod Shabbat.)




            The Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 30:10) writes that wine should be drunk during the third meal. The Tur understands from what he writes (no. 291) that Kiddush must be recited at the third meal. He even brings the words of the Rosh who disagrees on this point, and says that the Kiddush recited on Shabbat morning suffices.


            The Bet Yosef (ad loc., s.v. be-emet) writes that even the Rambam might agree that there is no need to "sanctify" the third meal. Rather, wine is required in order to establish the meal over wine. And so rules the Shulchan Arukh that there is no need to recite Kiddush at the third meal. The Mishna Berura (291, no. 21) writes that one should try to drink wine at the third Shabbat meal, in order to fulfill the position of the Rambam.




            As for the requirement of eating bread at the third Shabbat, the Shulchan Arukh (par. 5) records four different opinions as to what must be eaten:


1)         Bread.

2)         Grains.

3)         Foods that are eaten with bread.

4)         Fruit.


The Shulchan Arukh himself rules in accordance with the first opinion that unless one is exceedingly satiated, one must eat bread. In light of this, one who forgets the "Retze ve-hakhalitzenu" addition in the Birkat Ha-mazon of the third Shabbat meal must go back, just as he must go back at the other two meals, where there is an obligation to eat bread. The Shulchan Aurkh, however, writes (188, no. 8) that one does not go back. This is because according to some there is no obligation to eat bread, and we are concerned about reciting an unnecessary blessing.



In this lecture, we discussed the foundation of the obligation to eat three Shabbat meals: Do these meals serve as a remembrance of the manna, or are they part of oneg Shabbat? We also discussed the practical ramifications of this question. In addition, we dealt with a number of issues connected to the three Shabbat meals: What must be eaten, at what time must they be eaten, and other questions.




*This lecture was delivered in Yeshivat Har Etzion in 1995, and was summarized by Matan Glidai. Rav Friedman reviewed this summary.


[1] Though, according to the established Halakha, foods prepared from grains suffice for this purpose. This, however, is not the forum to discuss this issue at greater length.

[2] Cited by Ramban, Shabbat 117b, s.v. matzati.

[3] This explanation is stated explicitly in the Or Zaru'a.

[4] This parallels the three prayers of the day – during each period of the day we are obligated to pray a different service.

[5] So too in the Mordekhai in the name of the Maharam of Rotenburg (in the aforementioned passage).

[6] Ritva on Shabbat.


(Translated by David Strauss)