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Shabbat with Food: From Biblical Prohibitions to Rabbinic Feasts



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Sarit Kattan Gribetz





Shabbat with Food: From Biblical Prohibitions to Rabbinic Feasts






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Shabbat with Food: From Biblical Prohibitions to Rabbinic Feasts

Biblical prohibitions against preparing food on Shabbat are further developed in the Second Temple and rabbinic periods. At the same time, a new emphasis emerges: celebrating Shabbat with festive meals.


Shabbat with Food: From Biblical Prohibitions to Rabbinic Feasts

A table at a Jewish home set for the Shabbat meal.  Cathy Yeulet  -123rf

The Minimarket Bill

On January 9, 2018, the Knesset passed a law nicknamed the “minimarket bill,” which prohibits stores from opening on Shabbat without the interior minister’s approval. The bill passed on a narrow vote, 58–57, and without extra budgetary resources for its enforcement. The Knesset’s official press release in the wake of the bill’s passage highlighted the centrality of Shabbat as “the Jewish Day of Rest.” But the next day, a petition was filed with the High Court of Justice, arguing that the law was unconstitutional.[1]

Although it technically encompasses the status of almost all stores except convenience stores at gas stations, the Knesset’s law mainly responds to the desire to open supermarkets in certain Israeli cities on Shabbat. The law’s opposition argued that those who do not observe Shabbat should have easier access to food on the day of rest.

The weeks leading up to and following the Knesset’s deliberations were filled with lay and religious figures debating the nature of time, the definition of rest, and the role of the state in mandating how people spend their Saturdays.

Closing Shops on Shabbat: Nehemiah

The Knesset’s minimarket law has ancient precedent. In the Second Temple period book of Nehemiah, we learn of a number of Shabbat infractions that the people in Judah were accused of committing: pressing wine, carrying grains and other fruits into Jerusalem, and selling food.

נחמיה יג:טו בַּיָּמִים הָהֵמָּה רָאִיתִי בִיהוּדָה דֹּרְכִים גִּתּוֹת בַּשַּׁבָּת וּמְבִיאִים הָעֲרֵמוֹת וְעֹמְסִים עַל הַחֲמֹרִים וְאַף יַיִן עֲנָבִים וּתְאֵנִים וְכָל מַשָּׂא וּמְבִיאִים יְרוּשָׁלַ‍ִם בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת וָאָעִיד בְּיוֹם מִכְרָם צָיִד.
Neh 13:15 At that time I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on Shabbat, and others bringing heaps of grain and loading them onto donkeys, also wine, grapes, figs, and all sorts of goods, and bringing them into Jerusalem on Shabbat. I admonished them there and then for selling provisions. (NJPS with adjustments)

Then, Nehemiah accuses the Tyrians of causing the people in Judah to violate Shabbat by bringing fish and other things to sell to the Jerusalemites on Shabbat:

נחמיה יג:טז וְהַצֹּרִים יָשְׁבוּ בָהּ מְבִיאִים דָּאג וְכָל מֶכֶר וּמֹכְרִים בַּשַּׁבָּת לִבְנֵי יְהוּדָה וּבִירוּשָׁלָ‍ִם.
Neh 13:16 Tyrians who lived there brought fish and all sorts of wares and sold them on Shabbat to the Judahites in Jerusalem.

Nehemiah pleads with the nobles of Judah to stop profaning Shabbat (vv. 17–18).[2] He then proactively takes matters into his own hands by closing all of Jerusalem’s stores on Shabbat:

נחמיה יג:יט וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר צָלֲלוּ שַׁעֲרֵי יְרוּשָׁלַ‍ִם לִפְנֵי הַשַּׁבָּת וָאֹמְרָה וַיִּסָּגְרוּ הַדְּלָתוֹת וָאֹמְרָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִפְתָּחוּם עַד אַחַר הַשַּׁבָּת וּמִנְּעָרַי הֶעֱמַדְתִּי עַל הַשְּׁעָרִים לֹא יָבוֹא מַשָּׂא בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת.
Neh 13:19 When shadows filled the gateways of Jerusalem at the approach of Shabbat, I gave orders that the doors be closed, and ordered them not to be opened until after Shabbat. I stationed some of my servants at the gates, so that no goods should enter on Shabbat.

Nehemiah’s action is reminiscent of the Knesset law, since he uses his political authority to close down the markets on Shabbat and ensure that the people of Judah keep Shabbat “properly” whether they wish to or not. And yet Nehemiah does not expect the people to fast on Shabbat. He only maintains that they should have their food purchased and prepared in advance.

Shabbat Food Laws in the Torah

The attempt to balance the need to have food on Shabbat with the prohibition of purchasing or preparing food on Shabbat can already be seen in Pentateuchal sources.

Prohibition of Gathering Food on Shabbat (Manna Story)

When the manna first descends for the Israelites in the wilderness (Exod 16), the people are told that on the sixth day of every week, they are to gather a double portion, so that they will have enough to eat for two days, as the manna would not be provided on Shabbat morning (v. 5).[3] This they do, after which they go to Moses for further explanation and instruction (v. 22). Moses explains:

שמות טז:כג הוּא אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְ־הֹוָה שַׁבָּתוֹן שַׁבַּת קֹדֶשׁ לַי־הֹוָה מָחָר אֵת אֲשֶׁר תֹּאפוּ אֵפוּ וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר תְּבַשְּׁלוּ בַּשֵּׁלוּ וְאֵת כָּל הָעֹדֵף הַנִּיחוּ לָכֶם לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת עַד הַבֹּקֶר.
Exod 16:23 This is what YHWH meant: Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy shabbat of YHWH. Bake what you would bake and boil what you would boil; and all that is left put aside to be kept until morning.

The people do this (v. 24) and the next day, Moses tells them:

שמות טז:כה…אִכְלֻהוּ הַיּוֹם כִּי שַׁבָּת הַיּוֹם לַי־הֹוָה הַיּוֹם לֹא תִמְצָאֻהוּ בַּשָּׂדֶה. טז:כושֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תִּלְקְטֻהוּ וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לֹא יִהְיֶה בּוֹ.
Exod 16:25 Eat it today, for today is a shabbat of YHWH; you will not find it today on the plain. 16:26 Six days you shall gather it; on the seventh day, Shabbat, there will be none.

When some Israelites ignore Moses’ command and search for food anyway, only to find none, the message is reiterated by God that people should not be gathering food on Shabbat but rather staying home with the food that they already gathered the previous day.[4]

Prohibition of Kindling Fire for Cooking

One of the few explicit prohibitions regarding activities on Shabbat outlined in biblical sources bans the kindling of fire on Shabbat:

שמות לה:ג לֹא תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת.
Exod 35:3 You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the sabbath day.

Though fire is useful for a number of tasks, such as heating or metal work, its most mundane and widespread use would have been for cooking. This ban on kindling a fire on Shabbat, therefore, would have affected the ability to prepare food on the day of rest and necessitated advance planning in order to avoid cooking on Shabbat. Abraham ibn Ezra (1089–1167) makes this point explicitly (short commentary, Exod 35:3):

אסר עשות מאכל הנפש בשבת, כי לא יעשה מאכל כי אם בהדלקת האש.
This is forbidding the preparation of food on Shabbat, since food cannot be cooked without lighting a fire.

In fact, this is the dividing line between what is prohibited on Shabbat and what is permitted on other festival days:

שמות יב:טז כָּל מְלָאכָה לֹא יֵעָשֶׂה בָהֶם אַךְ אֲשֶׁר יֵאָכֵל לְכָל נֶפֶשׁ הוּא לְבַדּוֹ יֵעָשֶׂה לָכֶם.
Exod 12:16 No work at all shall be done on them; only what every person is to eat, that alone may be prepared for you.

Rashbam (R. Samuel ben Meir, ca. 1085–1158) clarifies the connection between these verses (Exod 35:3):

לא תבערו אש – לפי שבימים טובים כת’: אשר יאכל לכל נפש הוא לבדו יעשה לכם (שמות י”ב:ט”ז), שם הותרה הבערת אש לאפות ולבשל, אבל בשבת כת’: את אשר תאפו אפו (שמות ט”ז:כ”ג) – מבעוד יום, ואת אשר תבשלו בשלו, לכך מזהיר כי בשבת לא תבערו אש למלאכת אוכל נפש,
“You shall kindle no fire”—since with regard to festival days, it says: “only what every person is to eat, that alone may be prepared for you,” there it permits lighting fire in order to bake and cook, but on Shabbat it says (Exod 16:23), “bake what you would bake”— on Friday—“and boil what you would boil.” Therefore, on Shabbat it warns not to kindle fire in order to prepare food.

In short, the basic assumption of the Pentateuchal texts is that, whereas people should be eating on Shabbat, they should neither be gathering food nor cooking it on Shabbat.

List of Food Preparation Prohibitions – Damascus Document

The emphasis on food preparation prohibitions on Shabbat continues in the Second Temple period. For example, the Damascus Document (late 2nd/early 1st cent. B.C.E.), a text discovered in various versions both among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran as well as in the Cairo Genizah, outlines many Shabbat prohibitions. Among the Sabbath practices mentioned in the Damascus Document is a set of rules about eating and drinking on Shabbat:

‎אל יאכל איש ביום השבת כי אם המוכן
No one is to eat on the day of Shabbat except what has been prepared;
ומן האובד ב֗ש֗ד֗ה 〚 〛 ואל יאכל ואל ישתה כי אם היה במחנה
and from what is lost in the field he should not eat, nor should he drink except of what there is in the camp.
בדרך וירד לרחוץ ישתה על ע֗ומדו 〚 〛 ואל ישאב אל כל כל<י>
On the road, if he goes down to bathe, he should drink where he stands. But he is not to draw (water) with any vessel.[5]

Here, we again encounter two biblical prohibitions, the first forbidding cooking food and the second forbidding carrying items (including food). In this passage, we read explicitly that no food preparations are permitted on Shabbat, and also that it is prohibited to collect fruit that has fallen to the ground in fields or orchards, or to draw fresh water. Like many other laws articulated in the Damascus Document, these resonate with later rabbinic rules as well.[6]

Jesus’ Disciples Prepare Food on Shabbat

The problem of gathering food on Shabbat comes to a head in a story that appears in the New Testament Gospels (late first century C.E.), books that tell stories of Jesus’ life, work, death, and resurrection. In one story, which appears in all three synoptic gospels (Mark 2:23–3:6; Matthew 12:1–14; Luke 6:1–11), Jesus’ disciples begin plucking (or rubbing) heads of grain. Another group of Jews, the Pharisees, confront Jesus and ask him why his disciples are violating Shabbat with this behavior.

Jesus replies by referring to the story in 1 Samuel 21 about David, who comes to Ahimelek the priest and asks for loaves of bread to bring back to his men. The priest, however, doesn’t have any bread except for the tabernacle’s showbread. David assures the priest that his men are pure, and the priest gives them the consecrated bread. In other words, Jesus justifies his disciples’ violation of Shabbat by harvesting grain to eat by turning to the precedent set by David, who violated a different prohibition (eating consecrated food) at a time of need.[7]

It is striking that on one hand, Jesus’ followers’ violation of Shabbat is exemplified through gathering food, and on the other, Jesus justifies their actions by explaining that when people are hungry one is allowed to feed them, even if certain halakhot are violated. Here again we see an attempt to balance the need to eat on Shabbat with the prohibitions of preparing food on Shabbat.

Celebrate with Food and Drink, But Prepare It on Friday – Jubilees

Jubilees (2nd century B.C.E.) tries to strike a balance between two poles, enjoying Shabbat meals, but not preparing them on Shabbat. Jubilees first discusses the obligation to observe Shabbat at the very beginning of the text, in a section that retells the Genesis creation story.

In addition to the creation of the earth, the animals, and humans, Jubilees’ creation account describes God’s creation of the heavenly angels. These angels play an important role throughout the story that Jubilees tells, especially in contexts of worship, and it is also the angels who narrate the text in the first person.

In its section on Shabbat, the text explains that Shabbat is a sign that distinguishes Israel from everyone else, and that Israel celebrates Shabbat on earth in synchrony with the angels in the heavens. This celebration, at least for Israel—perhaps also for the angels and for God?—consisted of eating, drinking, and blessing God:

And He told us—all of the angels of the Presence and all of the angels of sanctification, these two great kinds—that we might keep Shabbat with Him in heaven and on earth… And thus He created therein a sign by which they might keep Shabbat together with us [the angels] on the seventh day, to eat and drink and bless the one who created all things just as He blessed and sanctified for Himself a people who appeared from all the nations so that they might keep Shabbat together with us.[8]

Jubilees imagines the celebration of Shabbat through three activities, two of which involve the consumption of food. But the passage continues by listing prohibitions related to food as well:

And (make known) that they should not prepare thereon anything which will be eaten or drunk, which they have not prepared for themselves on the sixth day. And (make known that it is not lawful) to draw water or to bring in or to take out any work within their dwellings which is carried in their gates.[9]

Here, all food—including drinking water—must be prepared on Fridays, in anticipation of Shabbat. This list is reminiscent of what we saw in the Damascus Document, which is hardly surprising since both texts were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran and must have been important for that community.

Jubilees brings up Shabbat again at the end of its narrative (chap. 50). By starting and ending the entire composition with discussions about Shabbat, the text highlights the centrality of Shabbat to Israel’s identity and Israel’s unique status in relation to the rest of the world: the text argues that just as Israel was chosen by God, so too Shabbat was chosen by God, and thus observing Shabbat marks Israel as chosen. This final chapter reiterates the importance of celebrating Shabbat with food while avoiding prohibited food preparation:

You shall not do any work upon the day of the Sabbath except what you prepared for yourself on the sixth day to eat and to rest and to drink and to observe a Sabbath from all work of that day and to bless the Lord your God… For great is the honor which the Lord gave to Israel to eat and drink and to be satisfied on this day of festival and to rest in it.[10]

The text here seems to have the manna story in mind when it emphasizes that Israel is required to eat what it prepared on the previous day. Nevertheless, unlike the other sources surveyed thus far, Jubilees emphasizes the importance of enjoying Shabbat through eating and drinking. In other words, it isn’t merely that it is permitted to eat and drink on Shabbat, but that food is at the center of the proper way to celebrate Shabbat.

We see this same attitude in the writings of the first-century Jewish historian, Josephus Flavius, who mentions that assemblies and other activities ceased early on Fridays because “our laws require us to go to dinner on Sabbath days,” though he doesn’t reveal what those dinners entailed.

Though neither Jubilees nor Josephus mention the reason or biblical source for such feasting, the sentiment is reminiscent of Isaiah 58:13–14, which encourages Shabbat to be marked as a time of delight in order to thereby delight God.

ישעיה נח:יג אִם תָּשִׁיב מִשַּׁבָּת רַגְלֶךָ עֲשׂוֹת חֲפָצֶיךָ בְּיוֹם קָדְשִׁי וְקָרָאתָ לַשַּׁבָּת עֹנֶג לִקְדוֹשׁ יְ־הֹוָה מְכֻבָּד וְכִבַּדְתּוֹ מֵעֲשׂוֹת דְּרָכֶיךָ מִמְּצוֹא חֶפְצְךָ וְדַבֵּר דָּבָר. נח:יד אָז תִּתְעַנַּג עַל יְ־הֹוָה.
Isa 58:13 If you refrain from trampling Shabbat, from pursuing your affairs on My holy day; if you call Shabbat “delight,” YHWH’s holy day “honored”; and if you honor it and go not your ways nor look to your affairs, nor strike bargains, 58:14 then you can seek the favor of YHWH.

This theme, that Shabbat is a day of feasting, becomes a major element of Shabbat in rabbinic thinking.[11]

Shabbat Is Blessed with Food – Genesis Rabbah

While it is certainly true that rabbinic texts legislate and even expand upon the need to avoid certain types of food preparations on Shabbat,[12] they emphasize the importance of feasting in an unprecedented manner.

For instance, the 11th chapter of Genesis Rabbah, the 5th century midrashic source compiled in the Roman Galilee, includes several stories outlining how food contains a different quality to it on Shabbat because of how sacred that day is, which transforms it from a day of rest to a day of culinary delicacies.

Genesis Rabbah is attempting to answer what it means, practically and materially, that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ, Gen 2:3). What is so essentially different, blessed, and sacred about this day? Two of the answers presented are food related.

Blessed with Manna

The very first answer, which is rather conventional, is about the manna:

ר’ ישמעאל אומר בירכו במן וקידשו במן, בירכו במן שכל ימות השבת היה יורד עומר אחד ובערב שבת שני עמרים, וקידשו במן שלא היה יורד בשבת כל עיקר.
R. Ishmael says: “He blessed it with manna and hallowed it with manna. He blessed it with manna, for every day of the week there descended one ‘omer [per person], but on the eve of Shabbat two ‘omers. And He hallowed it through manna, which did not descend on Shabbat at all.”[13]

This interpretation explains the difference between God’s “blessing” (vayivarekh) and “hallowing” (vayikadesh) Shabbat in Gen 2:3, explaining the blessing as the prepared food from Friday and the hallowing as not allowing manna to fall on Shabbat, thereby ensuring that no food is prepared on Shabbat itself.

A Culinary Highlight

The other food related interpretation, which is both fantastic and unconventional, connects Shabbat to feasting:

ברכו במטעמים—רבנו עשה סעודה לאנטונינוס בשבת, הביא לפניו תבשילים צונן, אכל מהם וערב לו, עשה לו סעודה בחול הביא לפניו תבשילים רותחין, אמר לו אותן ערבו לי יותר מאלה, אמר לו תבל אחד הן חסירין, אמר לו וכי הקילרין שלמלך חסר כלום אתמהא, אמר ליה שבת הן חסירין, אית לך שבת אתמהא.
Blessed with delicious foods—Our Teacher (=R. Yehudah HaNasi) made a meal for Antoninus on Shabbat. Cold dishes were set before him; he ate them and found them delicious. [On another occasion] he made a meal for him during the week, when hot dishes were set before him. Said [Antoninus] to [R. Yehudah HaNasi]: “These others I enjoyed more.” “These lack a certain condiment,” [R. Yehudah HaNasi] replied. “Does the royal pantry lack anything?” [Antoninus] exclaimed.[14] “They lack Shabbat,” [R. Yehudah HaNasi] retorted, “do you indeed possess Shabbat?”[15]

This brief story is not a historical account of an emperor visiting a rabbi for Shabbat lunch. Rather, the rabbinic narrative uses the figure of Antoninus—likely a reference to Emperor Antoninus Pius (reigned 138–161 C.E.)—to articulate that Shabbat food, even though it must be prepared in advance (and therefore might be mistaken for tasting stale and cold), is delicious, and indeed it is delicious because God has blessed the day’s foods.

A similar story appears in the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 119a). This story features an encounter between an anonymous emperor and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananiah:

אמר לו קיסר לרבי יהושע בן חנניא: מפני מה תבשיל של שבת ריחו נודף? – אמר לו: תבלין אחד יש לנו, ושבת שמו, שאנו מטילין לתוכו – וריחו נודף. אמר לו: תן לנו הימנו! – אמר לו: כל המשמר את השבת – מועיל לו, ושאינו משמר את השבת – אינו מועיל לו.
The emperor said to R. Joshua b. Hanania, “Why has the Shabbat dish such a fragrant odor?” “We have a certain seasoning,” replied [R. Joshua], “called the Shabbat, which we put into it, and that gives it a fragrant odor.” “Give us some of it,” asked [the emperor]. “To him who keeps the Shabbat,” retorted [R. Joshua], “it is efficacious; but to him who does not keep Shabbat, it is of no use.” (Soncino trans. adjusted)

While the story in Genesis Rabbah describes the emperor partaking of Shabbat food with the rabbi, in the Babylonian Talmud’s story, only those who observe Shabbat can taste the deliciousness of its festive foods.

Saving Your Best Food for Shabbat

A related theme in rabbinic texts is praise for those who save their best food for Shabbat. For example, later in the same Genesis Rabbah text, we are told that the great merit of Jews living in the Roman diaspora lies in how they honor Shabbat. The narrative examples given are connected to food:

אמר ר’ חייא בר אבא פעם אחת זימנני אדם בלודקיא והביא לפנינו טרפיזין טעון בי”ו מוטות ובו מכל מה שנברא בו’ ימי בראשית… אמרתי לו בני מאיכן זכיתה לכל הכבוד הזה, אמר לי טבח הייתי וכל בהמה שהייתי רואה טובה הייתי מפרישה לשבת.
R. Hiyya bar Abba said: “I was once invited by a man in Laodicea; they brought before us a table borne on sixteen staves, and on it was everything created in the first six days… Said I to him, ‘My son, whence did you merit all this wealth?’ ‘I was a butcher,’ he replied, ‘and whenever I saw a well-favored animal, I set it aside for Shabbat.’”[16]

Once again, we see here that respect for and observance of Shabbat is expressed through the preparation of delicious meals, and rewarded by God with resources for even more feasts to come.

Similarly, the Babylonian Talmud has a story about someone who was known to spend an inordinate amount of money to ensure that he had good food for Shabbat:

יוסף מוקיר שבי, הוה ההוא נכרי בשבבותיה, דהוה נפישי נכסיה טובא. אמרי ליה כלדאי: כולהו נכסי – יוסף מוקר שבי אכיל להו. אזל זבנינהו לכולהו ניכסי, זבן בהו מרגניתא, אותבה בסייניה. בהדי דקא עבר מברא – אפרחיה זיקא, שדייה במיא, בלעיה כוורא. אסקוה אייתוה אפניא דמעלי שבתא. אמרי: מאן זבין כי השתא? אמרי להו: זילו אמטיוהו לגבי יוסף מוקר שבי, דרגיל דזבין. אמטיוה ניהליה, זבניה. קרעיה, אשכח ביה מרגניתא, זבניה בתליסר עיליתא דדינרי דדהבא. פגע ביה ההוא סבא, אמר: מאן דיזיף שבתא – פרעיה שבתא.
Joseph-who-honors-Shabbat had in his vicinity a certain gentile who owned much property. Soothsayers told him, “Joseph-who-honors-Shabbat will consume all your property.” [So] he went, sold all his property, and bought a precious stone with the proceeds, which he set in his turban. As he was crossing a bridge the wind blew it off and cast it into the water, [and] a fish swallowed it. [Subsequently] it [the fish] was hauled up and brought [to market] on the Shabbat eve towards sunset. “Who will buy now?” they cried. “Go and take them to Joseph-who-honors-Shabbat,” they were told, “as he is accustomed to buy.” So they took it to him. He bought it, opened it, found the jewel therein, and sold it for thirteen roomfuls of gold denarii. A certain old man met him [and] said, “He who lends to Shabbat, Shabbat repays him.”[17]

Eating on Shabbat Saves you from Gehenna – Talmud

Perhaps the strongest statement about the importance of eating on Shabbat appears in the Babylonian Talmud’s discussion of the three Sabbath meals (b. Shabbat 118a):

אמר רבי שמעון בן פזי אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי משום בר קפרא: כל המקיים שלש סעודות בשבת ניצול משלש פורעניות: מחבלו של משיח, ומדינה של גיהנם, וממלחמת גוג ומגוג.
R. Simon bar Pazi said that R. Joshua ben Levi said in the name of Bar Kappara: “Someone who observes three meals on the Sabbath is saved from three evils: the travails of the messiah, the retribution of Gehenna, and the wars of Gog and Magog.”

These rabbinic sources emphasize that eating three meals on Shabbat protects a person from the three devastations: the chaos and destruction that precedes the arrival of the messiah, the punishments of the afterworld, and the apocalyptic battles at the end of time. By presenting Shabbat meals as having such positive cosmic effects on those who eat them, the text emphasizes that eating a good meal is not only appropriate on Shabbat, but that it is an essential element of honoring it.

Moreover, the rabbis present the fact that Jews like to eat fancy meals on Shabbat and that these meals are tasty as something well-known even to gentiles. Finally, these sources claim that God notices when Jews honor Shabbat by eating good meals and rewards them for it, whether by making the food extra tasty, by granting such pious people extreme wealth, or by ensuring that they will be saved from the anticipated suffering in the world to come and at the end of time.


Contemporary (Shabbat) Food for Thought

The emphasis on food as an integral part of Shabbat observance has continued into modern times and is part of contemporary attempts to promote Shabbat. A few years ago, the Jewish Federation of America and the Education Department of Israel, through its Sifriyat Pijama project (a program that freely distributes Hebrew children’s books with Jewish themes to Jewish children across the United States), sent a Hebrew children’s book titled The Missing Spice, written and illustrated by Devora Omer, to hundreds of American Jewish children across the United States.[18] This book retells the story of Antoninus and Rabbi sharing a Shabbat meal together, based on Genesis Rabbah 11:4, and hopes to share the joy of Shabbat—specifically through a story about food—with American Jewish children.

Contemporary Shabbat movements in the US promote Shabbat through encouraging young adults to build communities around sharing meals together on the day of rest. To cite just one example: OneTable encourages people to host Shabbat meals for friends and strangers, and offers instructions through “Noshpitality” workshops for how to prepare in advance for Shabbat through teaching “cooking, challah baking, cocktail making” and more.[19] In these contemporary initiatives, as with the rabbinic stories mentioned above, the specialness of Shabbat is expressed through Shabbat food.


March 8, 2019


Last Updated

April 12, 2024


View Footnotes

Dr. Sarit Kattan Gribetz is Associate Professor of Theology in the Theology Department at Fordham University and the co-director of Fordham's Center for Jewish Studies. Her first book, Time and Difference in Rabbinic Judaism, received a National Jewish Book Award in Scholarship and a Jordan Schnitzer Book Award from the Association for Jewish Studies. Her next book, A Queen in Jerusalem: Helena of Adiabene through the Ages, is under contract with Princeton University Press.