of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel


Bet Midrash Virtuali


250:1-2 Laws Concerning the Preparation Of Meals For Shabbat

One should rise early on Friday to prepare what will be needed for Shabbat. Even if a person has several servants he should make the effort himself to prepare something towards what will be needed for Shabbat in order to [thus] honour it. Rav Ĥisda used to cut the vegetables very thin; Rabba and Rav Yosef used to chop the wood; Rabbi Zera would light the fire; Rav Naĥman would clean the house, bring in the [special] Shabbat utensils and remove the weekday utensils. Everybody should learn from them: one should not say 'this is beneath my dignity', because it redounds to one's honour that one honours Shabbat. Note: The knives must be sharpened on Friday because it is part of the honouring of Shabbat that one prepares oneself for dining.

One should prepare as much meat, wine and sweets as one can afford.


The contents of section 250 obviously reflect to a certain extent the way of life of a bygone age. But the main intent of the section is clear and as relevant today as it was in years gone by. It seems to me that four main points are made:

  1. to start the preparations for Shabbat early on Friday;
  2. that everybody in the household should be involved in these preparations;
  3. that no one should feel that participating in these preparations is 'beneath his dignity';
  4. and that the cutlery must be honed on Friday in preparation for Shabbat.

One would think that in this modern age less time would be needed to prepare for Shabbat, and that if, in previous centuries, people had to rise early in order to manage to get everything done in time - nowadays we can permit ourselves to start the preparations later. Those who regularly engage in the actual preparations for Shabbat will greet such a thought with a wry smile. Experience seems to teach us that for committed Jews a special kind of Parkinson's Law operates on Fridays: it doesn't matter how early or how late Shabbat begins, the preparations will always continue until the very last minute!

Actually, we have already seen that in the households of many of the sages the preparations for Shabbat began almost immediately after Havdalah. In Shabbat 002 we noted that it is related [Betzah 16a] of the great Sage Shammai that

whenever [during the week] he came across a fulsome piece of meat he would [set it aside and] say, "This is for Shabbat". If [later in the week] he found something even better he would set aside [for Shabbat] the second item and eat the first [right away].

We also noted that Shammai's even more illustrious colleague, Hillel, would not act thus, but would 'make Shabbat' from whatever 'the Lord provided' when the time came. Clearly, Shammai was the more wealthy, while Hillel lived within the parameters of economic constraint. In his commentary on our present section - a commentary called Mishnah Berurah - Rabbi Israel Me'ir Kagan (the renowned Ĥafetz Ĥayyim) states that most authorities agree that ideally the way of Shammai is the more correct one and that one should follow the way of Hillel only when acting under financial constraints.

In that same shiur [Shabbat 002] we noted the ancient ruling concerning laundry: in days when all the clothes that ordinary people wore were kept clean by hand washing the rule was that the household laundry was to be done on Thursdays. This was to ensure that Friday would be kept free for the more essential preparations for Shabbat. From this, perhaps, we can extrapolate: we should try to effect before Friday as many preparations as we can that are not directly concerned with the essential preparations for Shabbat.

The essential preparations for Shabbat are the preparation of food, the preparation of the home and the preparation of one's own person. Cooked food that is to be eaten on Shabbat must be prepared and cooked before Shabbat begins since the act of cooking, as we shall see, is not permitted on Shabbat. We have already noted that the Shabbat meals should be as plentiful as possible; this means that considerable time and care must be taken in preparing for these meals. In addition, the home should be as clean and as tidy as possible - as befits a palace where a resplendent queen will spend a night and a day! As we shall see in due course, time must also be found for personal ablutions, so that when we greet the queen-bride we are resplendent in our best clothes with all the grime and sweat of the humdrum week washed away.

We have mentioned on several occasions that part of the magic of Shabbat is created by preparatory anticipation. Everybody in the family who is capable of understanding that Shabbat is coming should, ideally, have some task in the preparation, from the youngest to the oldest. It is not only shopping that must be done and food that must be cooked. In earlier times the home had to be prepared: oil placed in the lamps and the wicks prepared; dusting, bed-making, and so forth - and all such activities have their modern counterparts. Rabbi Karo, in Section 250:1, points out that some of the greatest sages of the Talmudic period chose for themselves tasks that others might have considered to be menial; but they saw their jobs as the greatest of honours. Even though from the halakhic point of view anything done in my name by a properly appointed deputy is considered as if I had done the deed myself [sheluĥo shel adam kemoto], nevertheless, generally speaking, this is not the case when a mitzvah must be performed by me physically. And preparing for Shabbat is just such a responsibility, and it is not one that should be delegated to hired help.

The necessity of honing the cutlery today must seem very quaint to us, but it would not be too difficult to suggest modern equivalents. The polishing of silver so that it will gleam in the light of the candles and on the dining table immediately comes to mind.

The second paragraph in Section 250 is very short. As far as is within one's means one should prepare food for Shabbat in abundance. One should not take the examples given literally: those who do not eat meat do not have to eat meat; those who may not drink wine are not forced to do so; those for whom sweets are anathema may forego them. The general idea is that one should prepare in plenty those foodstuffs that will give one pleasure and will enhance the beauty and joy of the occasion.


In our last shiur we had occasion to mention the fact that a circumcision should take place as early on Fridays as possible. Ruth Lapid-Gortzak writes:

I thought the reason for a circumcision to take place early in the morning, does not only apply to Fridays, but to all days, and is thought to stem from practical reasons - being that there was no electricity, having a brith early in the morning would give you the longest time of daylight to discover potential problems and treat them.

I respond:

There is merit to this consideration, but it cannot be the rationale for the ruling since there would be ample reason, nowadays, with powerful electric lighting, to permit the holding of a circumcision (on all days of the week) at any hour that is convenient - even at night. And, of course, this is not the case. However, Ruth is correct when she says that performing a circumcision early in the day applies to all days of the week. The reason usually given is that zerizim makdimim le-mitzvot - we are eager to perform a mitzvah at the earliest possible time - in this case, as early as possible on the eighth day.