Parashas Beshalach includes the chapter dealing with the manna—the miraculous food, labelled mon in the Pasuk, which the Jewish People ate upon their leaving Egypt — and the manner of its descent from the skies.

During the week, a portion of mon descended each morning, appropriate for that day’s consumption.  However, on Friday a double portion fell, sufficient for both Friday and Shabbos. Baffled by this surprise amount, the people turned to Moshe, who explained that the mon would not fall on Shabbos, hence the double portion. Unlike on weekdays, leftover mon would not rot overnight.

When the day of Shabbos came, and the leftover mon did not rot, Moshe spoke again to the people: “Moshe said: Eat it today, for today is Shabbos to Hashem; today you will not find it in the field” (Shemos 16:25).

The Gemara (Shabbos 117b) writes that this Pasuk reflects the obligation to eat three meals on Shabbos. The term for “today,” hayom, is mentioned three times in the verse. Each one of them alludes to another of the three Shabbos meals.

We dedicate the present article to a halachic analysis of the obligation to eat three meals on Shabbos. What is the nature of this obligation? Does one need to eat a third meal even when satiated? When do the meals need to be eaten? And which foods qualify for the meals? These questions, among others, are discussed below.

Source of the Obligation

The Mishna states (Shabbos 117b) that in case a fire breaks out on Shabbos, it is permitted to save “food for three meals.” In the context of this teaching, which indicates the number of meals we eat on Shabbos, the Gemara cites a baraisa:

“Our Rabbis taught: How many meals must a person eat on Shabbos? Three. Rabbi Chidka says: Four. Rabbi Yochanan said: Both derive [their respective rulings] from the same verse: And Moshe said, Eat that today; for today is Shabbos to Hashem: today you will not find it in the field.” Rabbi Chidka maintains: These three “todays” are [considered] apart from the evening. The Rabbis maintain: they include the evening.”

According to Rabbi Chidka, the word “today” refers to the literal day, during which three meals must be eaten. Added to this is the night meal, giving a total of four meals on Shabbos. The Rabbis, however, understand that “today” refers to the entire day of Shabbos, beginning in the evening and continuing through the day, so that three meals are eaten altogether.

Torah or Rabbinic Obligation

The derivation of the three Shabbos meals from the Pasuk seems to indicate that the obligation to eat the meals is Torah law.

However, the Rambam (Shabbos 30:9) includes eating three Shabbos meals in his discussion of oneg Shabbos, the concept of physical enjoyment on Shabbos. At the beginning of the same chapter the Rambam makes clear that the idea of oneg Shabbos is a Rabbinic (midivrei sofrim), rather than a Torah obligation. This therefore implies that eating three Shabbos meals fulfills a rabbinic law, rather than a Torah law.

Based on the Gemara, there are some authorities who dispute the Rambam, and rule that the obligation of three meals on Shabbos is Torah law. Prominent among these are the Levush (Orach Chaim 291), the Taz (Orach Chaim 677:1) and the Aruch Hashulchan (274:1; the Aruch Hashulchan mentions a number of supports for this position). The Peri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 291:1) mentions this opinion, but argues that the obligation is rabbinic, and that the scriptural derivation is only an asmachta—an allusion to the duty but not a real source for the obligation.

In reconciling the Rambam’s opinion, the Aruch Hashulchan cites the statement of the Tur (Orach Chaim 274), that Hashem ensured that each person was supplied with three portions of mon for Shabbos, thereby indicating that one needs to consume three meals on Shabbos. Based on this, the Aruch HaShulchan suggests that the obligation to eat three meals was established by Moshe, who based the enactment on the pattern of the mon. While it remains an enactment of the Sages (and perhaps of Moshe), the three meals are thus mentioned in the Torah, giving the obligation a special status.

When to Eat Shabbos Meals

The Halachos Gedolos mentions an ancient custom of splitting the Shabbos morning meal into two, thereby eating two of the three Shabbos meals in one meal. However, other rishonim dispute this custom, and rule that splitting the morning meal is ineffective for consuming two meals. This opinion is noted by the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 30:9), who writes that “one is obligated to eat three meals on Shabbos—one at night, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon.”

Tosafos (Shabbos 118a) note the position of the Halachos Gedolos, and also dispute it, explaining that the Mishnah (which mentions saving one meal if a fire breaks out at the time of Mincha) implies that the time for eating the third Shabbos meal is from the time of Mincha onwards. In addition to this, Tosafos write that splitting the meal in two will cause an unnecessary blessing, which is another reason to defer the custom (see also Or Zaru’a, Shabbos 52).

This is clearly the majority and halachic ruling, as ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (291:2). Thus one must eat the third Shabbos meal in the afternoon (from a half-hour after Chatzos).

The Shulchan Aruch (291, 3) writes that “if the morning meal continued until the time for Mincha arrived, one should interrupt the meal, recite Birkas Hamazon, wash his hands, recite Hamotzi, and eat.” The Mishnah Berurah adds one should go for a short walk between the two meals, so that the two parts are not regarded as a single meal.

What to Eat

Concerning what may be eaten for qualified Shabbos meals, Tosafos (Sukkah 27a) write that by contrast with Sukkos meals, Shabbos meals must include bread, since they are derived from the manna, which was in place of bread (and is called “bread from the heavens”). The Mordechai (Shabbos 397) writes similarly, citing Rabbi Eliezer of Metz, that “even the third meal must include bread, because we need food that requires Birkas Hamazon.”

However, the Mordechai notes the opinion of the Ra’avya who allows the consumption of minei targima (see below) as a fulfillment of the third meal. Although the three Shabbos meals are derived from the manna, this opinion holds that the derivation relates to the number of meals, and not to their content.

The Shulchan Aruch (274:4) rules that the first and second Shabbos meals must include bread because these are the essential meals. However, concerning the third meal the Shulchan Aruch (5) mentions several opinions. According to one opinion one must eat bread, but others permit grains, foods eaten with bread, and some even say fruit alone is sufficient.

The Shulchan Aruch himself rules that one must eat bread unless satiated, in which case one may eat something else. Since there are opinions that it is not a full obligation to eat bread, one who forgets the Shabbos addition in Birkas Hamazon does not return to the beginning (Orach Chaim 188:8).

Women for Se’udah Shlishis

Are women obligated to eat the three Shabbos meals?

Rabbenu Tam (cited by Ramban, Shabbos 117b) writes that women are obligated to eat three meals on Shabbos because “they too were involved in the miracle.” The Ramban, however, writes that this explanation is superfluous, since a woman is in any case obligated in all matters of Shabbos. This general rule is derived from the analogy between the positive “zachor” and the negative “shamor.”

It is possible that according to Rabbeinu Tam the reason for the enactment of the three meals is not oneg Shabbos, but rather as a commemoration of the manna, so that women are only obligated because they, too, were included in the miracle of the manna.

The standard commemoration of the manna comes in the form of lechem mishneh, the two loaves of bread that we make Hamotzi over in Shabbos meals. The Shulchan Aruch (291:4) rules that this should be done even for the third meal.

Wine at Se’udah Shlishis

Concerning drinking wine at the third meal, the Shulchan Aruch rules that unlike the first meals, there is no need to open the third meal with a cup of wine.

The Rambam (Shabbos 30:10), writes that wine should be drunk during the third meal. The Tur (no. 291) understands that according to the Rambam Kiddush must be made again (and cites the Rosh who disagrees), while the Beis Yosef mentions that even according to the Rambam, it is possible that wine is required not for sanctification, but to establish it as an “important meal” that includes wine.

While as noted, the Shulchan Aruch rules that there is no need to drink wine at the third meal, the Mishna Berurah (291:21) writes that one should make an effort to drink wine at the third Shabbos meal, so that he will fulfill the position of the Rambam.


Making an Effort 

The Otzar Hage’onim (no. 329) notes that a person for whom eating a third meal will be distressing is exempt from eating the third Shabbos meal. The reasoning for this is that the rationale for eating Shabbos meals is oneg Shabbos, and when eating the meal will not bring a person oneg, he is exempt from doing so.

However, other authorities differ. For instance, the Shibbolei Haleket (no. 93) writes that even if eating will be (somewhat) detrimental to a person’s health, he should still eat a small amount. This opinion is ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (291:1), who stresses the importance of the third meal, and writes that even “even if one is satiated he can fulfill it with food in the amount of an egg.” He adds that “if he cannot eat at all, he is not obligated to cause himself distress” (this would be considered gluttonous).

Even if the purpose of the meals is for oneg Shabbos, we can explain that once Chazal enacted the obligation to eat three meals, fulfilling the obligation is no longer contingent on the actual oneg one derives from eating. Rather, it is a duty we need to fulfill even when it is difficult.


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