of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel


Bet Midrash Virtuali


249:2 Laws Concerning the Day Before Shabbat

It is forbidden on Friday to arrange a celebratory dinner or a banquet - one that is unusual for a weekeday - even if it is a wedding banquet. This is because of the honour due to Shabbat: that one should enter Shabbat eager to eat. This prohibition applies to the whole day. Note: But it is permitted to hold a celebratory dinner whose appointed time is Friday, such as a circumcision or a pidyon ha-ben. This appears to me to me [to be the ruling] and this is [indeed] the accepted custom. To start eating and drinking, without arranging a special meal - even one that is [generally] customary on weekdays - is permitted throughout the day according to [the strict letter of] the law, but it is worthy to refrain from eating a meal which is customary on weekdays from the 9th hour onwards.


We have already explained several times that everything must be done to enhance one's anticipation of Shabbat, for this is one of the main ingredients of the recipe for making its magic work. As we shall see in a much later shiur, a major part of the Shabbat celebration consists of the meals that one eats throughout the day - and most especially on Friday night, the Sabbath eve. The shabbat meals are celebratory, liesurely, and as rich as one can afford. The whole effect will be severely marred, if not entirely destroyed, if one enters Shabbat just having eaten one's fill at a previous celebratory banquet.

This is the reason why someone for whom Shabbat is precious will not arrange such a banquet on a Friday. And this is why someone for whom Shabbat is precious will not attend such a banquet even when arranged by someone else on a Friday.

Lately, in the State of Israel, it has become customary among many young couples to arrange their wedding for Friday noon. This is because the banqueting halls, with an eye to profitably filling an empty space, offer greatly reduced terms for a celebration held on a Friday. Now, there is no halakhic reason not to perform a ĥuppah [marriage ceremony] on a Friday: it is not the ĥuppah which is out of place; it is the celebratory banquet which always follows a ĥuppah which is the subject of the prohibition in our present section. It follows from what we have just said that there is no reason to refrain from attending a marriage ceremony that is held on a Friday; but one for whom Shabbat is important will either refrain from joining the wedding banquet which follows or will eat very sparingly and leave with plenty of time to spare before the onset of Shabbat.

Rabbi Moshe Isserles interpolates into the text prepared by Rabbi Yosef Karo a note about a special kind of celebratory meal. The meals we eat on Shabbat are called in Hebrew se'udat mitzvah. This means that the meal celebrates our happy performance of a mitzvah - a religious obligation. Now a wedding banquet is also a se'udat mitzvah. The reason why such a meal should not be held on a Friday is because it is quite possible to arrange for the marriage to be held on a different day of the week. But there are other celebrations which also require a se'udat mitzvah whose time is fixed by halakhah and cannot be moved. Isserles gives the two most obvious examples: a circumcision and a pidyon ha-ben.

The Torah [Genesis 17:1-14] requires us to circumcise every male child on the eighth day of its life:

Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And throughout the generations, every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days... Thus shall My covenant be marked in your flesh as an everlasting pact. And if any male who is uncircumcised fails to circumcise the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his kin; he has broken My covenant.

Since we count the day on which the child is born as being the first day it follows that a child born on a Tuesday will be circumcised the following Tuesday. The only reasons acceptable for a postponement of the circumcision are medical considerations. In other words, if the child is healthy the circumcision must take place on the eigth day - even if that day is Shabbat, or Tish'a b'Av or even Yom Kippur. (Obviously, if a circumcision must take place on one of those fast days the celebratory se'udat mitzvah should be postponed to after the end of the fast.) From what we have just said it follows that if a child is born on a Friday and is healthy the circumcision must take place the following Friday. In such circumstances the ceremony should take place as early in the day as possible and since the hour is early the circumcision may certainly be followed by a modest se'udat mitzvah. (I should perhaps add here parenthetically that while the circumcision of a healthy baby boy must be held on the eigth day, if the circumcision has to be postponed for medical reasons it may not be performed on Shabbat etc. and should be postponed until after the holy day.)

The Torah [Numbers 18:8-16] also requires us to 'redeem' a firstborn son on the thirty-first day of his life:

God spoke further to Aaron: ...The first issue of the womb of every being, man or beast, that is offered to God, shall be yours; but you shall have the first-born of man redeemed... Take as their redemption price, from the age of one month up, the money equivalent of five shekels by the sanctuary weight, which is twenty gerahs.

A naturally born baby boy who is the first child to which his mother has ever given birth must be redeemed on the thirty-first day (unless that day is a holy day): the boy's father must symbolically hand over to the kohen [priest] of his choice the equivalent of five biblical shekels. This ceremony too should be followed by a se'udat mitzvah, and what we said above about the celebratory meal after a circumcision applies also to the pidyon ha-ben [redemption of the firstborn]. (Let me clarify: the child that must be redeemed is a male child that is the firstborn of his mother: if the mother had previously given birth to a girl or if the boy himself or an elder brother was delivered by caesarian section there is no pidyon ha-ben. Also, if the father of the child is a Kohen or a Levi, or if the child's mother is the daughter of a Kohen or a Levi, there is no pidyon ha-ben. However, what matters here is the mother's firstborn, not the father's; therefore it is quite possible that a man married more than once might have to perform the redemption ceremony for a firstborn son more than once.)

Obviously, one is not required to forego one's usual meals on Friday. However, from the 'ninth hour' of the day onwards one should refrain from sitting down to a meal so as to enter Shabbat later on ready and eager for the celebratory meal. The actual time of the 'ninth hour' can be ascertained by dividing by twelve the total amount of time that elapses on any given day between sunrise and sunset and then multiplying by nine: if sunrise is at 6 am and sunset is at 6 pm then the ninth hour commences at 3 pm. In the summer, when the days are longer, the 'ninth hour' will be later; in the winter, when the days are shorter, the 'ninth hour' will be earlier. So let us say that one should cultivate the habit of not sitting down to a meal on Fridays from the early afternoon onwards.