Parashas Bereishis includes Hashem’s sanctification of the Shabbos: “Hashem blessed the day of Shabbos and He sanctified it.” The sanctification of Shabbos is associated with the mitzvos of Kiddush and Havdalah that we fulfill each week.
According to the Rambam (Positive Mitzvah 155; Hilchos Shabbos 29:1), Havdalah is a Torah obligation just as Kiddush, which he bases on the Pasuk: “Remember the Shabbos day to keep it holy.” The Rambam seems to understand that Kiddush and Havdalah are a single entity, a framework that opens and closes the day of Shabbos. Others learn that Kiddush is a Torah mitzvah, but Havdalah is rabbinic.
In the present article we will address the question of eating before Kiddush and Havdalah. Why is it forbidden to eat before Kiddush? Are there differences between Kiddush at night and Kiddush by day? What should a person who must eat before davening do? And is it permitted to eat or drink before Havdalah? These questions, among others, are discussed below.
Eating Before Mitzvah Performance
In several instances Chazal forbade eating before fulfilling mitzvos.
The Mishnah (Shabbos 9b) forbids eating a meal, among other activities, before davening Mincha in the afternoon. Although there is a disagreement among Rishonim and later authorities concerning the details and parameters of this prohibition, the basic principle, as explained by Rashi, is that we are afraid the person will get carried away with what he is doing and forget to daven before it’s too late.
A second example of the prohibition is eating before reading the Megillah on Purim night, even when this is after the fast of Taanis Esther. This prohibition is mentioned in the Tosefta (Shabbos 1:4).
Even concerning Torah mitzvos (the examples above refer to rabbinic mitzvos) we find in the Mishnah (Sukkah 38a) that one must even interrupt a meal to shake the Lulav (which is a Torah mitzvah on the first day of Sukkos), and thus of course one must not begin a meal before the mitzvah is performed. The same principle is applied to the mitzvah of Keriyas Shema (Berachos 4).
These rulings are cited by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 232:2 concerning Mincha; 235:2 concerning Keriyas Shema; 652:2 concerning Lulav; 692 concerning Megillah). In a previous article we have discussed the similar issue of eating before sounding the Shofar.
Eating before Kiddush
While the general prohibition against eating before fulfilling a mitzvah is limited to eating a proper meal, eating before Kiddush is different: it is forbidden to eat anything before making Kiddush on Shabbos (Pesachim 105b). As the Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 271:4), it is forbidden even to drink water before Kiddush on Shabbos.
The Gra indicates a reason for this stringency. The importance of the Shabbos day fixes the time for a special manner of eating and drinking, which can therefore only be done after Kiddush is made.
The prohibition against eating before Kiddush applies even to women who are also obligated in Kiddush. (For Kiddush in the day, see below.) But it is permitted for children under the age of mitzvos to eat or drink before Kiddush (see Chayei Adam 66:10; Mishnah Berurah 269:1).
Since the prohibition against eating begins when a person accepts Shabbos upon himself (or at sunset for somebody who didn’t bring in Shabbos early), women who must drink after candle-lighting should stipulate that they do not accept Shabbos until later (see Da’as Torah 271:4) if for some reason they can’t make Kiddush themselves.
Eating Before Kiddush on Shabbos Morning
Like Friday night, it is forbidden to eat or drink anything before Kiddush on Shabbos morning. However, for Shabbos morning the obligation of Kiddush is only after davening, since Kiddush requires wine and at least a mezonos meal, which can’t be eaten before davening, so that the obligation of Kiddush does not apply then. Thus, the special stringency of not eating and drinking before Kiddush applies only after davening, when the obligation exists.
Although it is generally forbidden to eat and drink before davening Shacharis every day, there are some things that are permitted. For instance, it is permitted to drink water even before davening. Also, it is permitted to drink coffee and the like—foods that can be helpful to ensure we are fully ready, alert and energized for davening. Strictly speaking, the Mishnah Berurah 89:22 only permits coffee and tea without milk or sugar, but he writes that the common custom is to have them with sugar. The Aruch Hashulchan 89:23 and other authorities are lenient to drink coffee with sugar and milk. Since this is before davening, it is permitted to do so even on Shabbos, since at that time there is no obligation for Kiddush, as we noted.
Ill and elderly people are permitted to eat and drink before davening, if this is required for their health. However, in such cases the question arises: since it is permitted for such a person to eat an entire meal before davening, perhaps he becomes obligated to make Kiddush and may not eat before Kiddush?
The Mishnah Berurah (Biur Halacha 289) rules that for such a person it is obvious that he must make Kiddush before eating. Based on this ruling, it would be forbidden for such a person to even drink water before making Kiddush, just as it is under regular circumstances for people before Kiddush (see Nishmas Avraham, Vol. 1, p. 54). However, if water or coffee suffices for him, he can do so without Kiddush.
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shut Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim 2:28, at the end) suggests that the rabbinic obligation of Kiddush during the day only applies after davening, but concludes that the Mishnah Berurah’s ruling remains decisive. In another teshuva (2:26), he adds that if a person needs to eat bread or pastries he should make a full Kiddush (as the Mishnah Berurah rules), but if it suffices for him to eat foods other than bread or baked mezonos products he should not make Kiddush, and should rather eat before davening without Kiddush.
Kiddush for Women
The Ramban rules that that women are obligated to daven just as men (Hasagos Lesefer Hamitzvos 5; see Mishnah Berurah 106:4). It therefore seems that women are also prohibited from eating before davening. However, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach is cited (Halichos Bas Yisroel 2:10) as permitting girls who daven together in school to eat before they daven. The reason for this is that because davening in school is part of their education, therefore one can rely on the opinion of the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch who rule that a short tefillah is sufficient to fulfill their obligation.
If a woman (or girl) must eat before davening, she should therefore first recite a prayer that contains the basic elements of davening (praise of Hashem, a request, and thanksgiving), fulfilling the requirement of prayer according to the Rambam (the Magen Avraham 106:2 writes that this is the custom of most women). Yet, doing so on Shabbos will obligate the person in Kiddush (Pri Megadim, Eshel Avraham 289:4), so that it will be forbidden to eat before Kiddush (see also Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 52:13).
Some Poskim rule that for married women, the obligation of Kiddush does not commence until the time of the meal for their husbands, which is only after davening in Shul. This ruling is given by Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shut Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:101). Thus, it will be permitted for them to eat even after their own davening, so long as it is before davening in Shul concludes. Rav Moshe emphasizes that the lenient ruling will not apply after the time of davening in Shul and will likewise not apply to unmarried women.
Other authorities have not concurred with this ruling (see Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 52, note 46), and the common custom is for married women to refrain from eating before Kiddush.
Eating Before Havdalah
The Gemara (Pesachim 105a) distinguishes between Kiddush and Havdalah. While somebody eating on Friday must interupt his meal to make Kiddush as soon as Shabbos enters, the same does not apply to somebody eating a meal at the end as Shabbos terminates. It is permitted for him to continue eating the Shabbos meal, and there is no obligation to stop and make Havdalah. Yet, somebody who is not in the middle of a meal may not begin to eat something after sunset on Shabbos.
Note that the leniency of continuing to eat applies only to a bread meal (see Aruch Hashulchan 299:5, who writes that it does not even apply to somebody eating mezonos).
One should preferably refrain from eating after shkiya (sunset) and ensure one begins se’uda shelishis before this time. For somebody who was late to begin, the Mishnah Berurah (299:1) rules that one can begin eating even after sunset up to half an hour before nightfall, based on the nightfall of Rabbeinu Tam.
However, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shut Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:69, sec. 6) expresses some wonder at this ruling, since this means beginning to eat after nightfall has already been reached according to the opinions of the Gra and the Geonim. The Chazon Ish (Dinim Vehanhogos 10, 13) was also stringent on this matter. As Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa (52, note 17) points out, according to some opinions one must refrain from beginning to eat straight after shkiya.
Another distinction made by the Gemara between Kiddush and Havdalah is that it is permitted to drink water before Havdalah. This is ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (299:1).
Somebody who was unable to do so on Motza’ei Shabbos, may make Havdalah until the end of Tuesday. While there is no expectation that a person should fast until Tuesday, the Mishnah Berurah (296:21) rules like the opinion in Shulchan Aruch that one should strive to refrain from eating and drinking (other than water) until midday on Sunday, in the hope that Havdalah will be made by then. Where this is difficult, or if a person knows that Havdalah won’t be made by this time, it is permitted to eat after reciting ata chonantanu in the Maariv prayer.