By Yosef Brecher
Is one allowed to eat and drink before reciting kiddush Friday night?
Once Shabbos has begun, a person may not eat or drink anything until he has recited kiddush (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 271:4). The source for this prohibition, however, is not entirely clear. In explaining this halacha, the Be’er Haitaiv (O.C. 271:4) cites a Gemara in Pesachim (106b) that discusses whether someone who eats before reciting kiddush can still recite kiddush Friday night, or must he wait until the next morning to do so. This Gemara clearly seems to suggest that it is forbidden to eat before reciting kiddush.
The Gaon (O.C 271:4) cites a different source for this halacha: The Gemara in Pesachim (105a) tells us of the rule, “ke’shaim sheha’shabbos kova’as le’maaser, kach kova’as lekiddush.” This means that just as sunset is considered to mark the onset of Shabbos in regards to the laws of ma’aser, sunset is also viewed as marking the onset of Shabbos in regards to the laws of Kiddush Friday night. This statement is understood by the Rishonim (Rashi and Tosfos, ) as referring to the prohibition of eating before kiddush is recited. The Gemara here is telling us that once sunset has passed, nothing can be eaten until kiddush has been recited.
In truth, there is also a prohibition to eat prior to other mitzvohs de’orayso. For example, once the zman for Krias Shma has been reached, it is prohibited for one to begin eating a meal. This prohibition, however, is not as strict as the one we find regarding the laws of kiddush. While one is not forbidden to eat a light snack before reciting krias shma, one is forbidden to do so before reciting kiddush. What is the reason for this distinction? The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Shabbos 271:9) explains that by other mitzvohs, the prohibition to eat before preforming the mitzvah is based on a concern that the entire zman for the mitzvah will pass without it being fulfilled. To avoid this possibility, we need only to prohibit a person from beginning a lengthy meal once the zman for the mitzvah has begun. A small snack, though, will only distract a person for a short time, thus leaving plenty of remaining time to perform the mitzvah.
Regarding kiddush, however, the mitzvah is to sanctify the day of Shabbos “as it is entering”. In this case, therefore, our concern is not merely that one may entirely miss the zman ha’mitzvah. Rather, our fear is that one may miss preforming the mitzvah in its proper time i.e., the beginning of Shabbos. By kiddush, therefore, we must prohibit all eating and drinking once the proper time for the mitzvah has begun. Even a short preoccupation while eating a light snack may cause the “beginning” of Shabbos to pass.
The purpose of this column is not to render halachic decisions, but rather to provide readers with a helpful overview of basic hilchos Shabbos. All specific halachic inquiries should be directed to a local halachic authority. General questions about the content being discussed, however, are welcome and can be sent to: email@example.com.
©2013 Yosef Brecher