By Rabbi Mordechai Fishman
The שלחו ערוך (סימן רצ”א סעף ה’) brings four opinions as to what a person should eat for סעודה שלישית. The first opinion holds that one must eat bread. The second opinion holds that a person can fulfill his obligation by eating anything made from the חמשת מיני דגן, i.e. cake, cookies or crackers. The third opinion rules that one fulfills his obligation by eating fish or meat alone. The fourth opinion is the most lenient, holding that one can fulfill his obligation with simply eating fruit.
The שלחן ערוך concludes that we rule like the first opinion and a person should eat bread for סעודה שלישית.
The לבוש (סימן רצ”א) writes that since all three meals are derived from the same פסוק, it would stand to reason that all three meals have the same requirement of eating bread. However, if one is too full to eat bread and doing so would give him pain, he is not required to eat bread, since the obligation is intended specifically for עונג שבת and not to cause pain.
The לבוש explains that an exception is made when ערב פסח falls out on Shabbos, since we may not eat חמץ after the fourth hour of the day, we may fulfill our obligation with eating fish, meat or something similar.
When discussing the הלכה of when a person must repeat ברכת המזון if he forgot רצה, the שלחן ערוך (סי’ קפ”ח סעיף י”ח) rules that one does not need to repeat ברכת המזון if they forgot to say רצה during סעודה שלישית. The אליה רבה asks that it would seem from this ruling that the מחבר holds that one does not have to eat bread during סעודה שלישית (contradicting his aforementioned psak in OC 291:5).
The משנה ברורה addresses the question of the אליה רבה by explaining that although the מחבר holds one should eat bread for סעודה שלישית, since there are those who hold that you don’t have to have bread, we rely on those opinions not to repeat ברכת המזון.
. The שלחו ערוך הרב says that one should not rely on those who are lenient and should make sure to eat bread for סעודה שלישית (סימן רצ”א סעיף ז’). The ערוך השלחן goes a step further, using terms such as “חלילה” and “חס ושלום” for those who don’t eat bread by (שם סעיף י”ב) סעודה שלישית.
There is a well-known מגן אברהם in הלכות פסח who quotes the זוהר saying that when Erev Pesach fell out on Shabbos, ר’ שמעון בר יוחי would study תורה in place of eating סעודה שלישית. There are those who have tried deducing from this מגן אברהם that one can fulfill his obligation of סעודה שלישית with the study of Torah alone, without eating anything at all. However, the ערוך השלחן explains that when Erev Pesach falls out on Shabbos, one is not obligated to eat סעודה שלישית at all, and while ר’ שמעון בר יוחי would learn during the time that he usually ate, he was not in fact fulfilling the obligation of סעודה שלישית through his Torah study.
In Summation: It would seem that it’s almost unanimously held that the proper way of fulfilling one’s obligation is to wash, eat bread and have a proper סעודה , and only one who feels that he is too full to wash can rely on the lenient opinions and only eat “מזונות”.
Rabbi Mrdechai Fishman serves as Rav of Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel of Passaic-Clifton and is Menahel at Yehsiva Be’er Hagolah. He has over 1,000 shiurim available online at www.orachchaim.com and has authored Sifrei Oitzer HaShulchan on Orach Chaim and Yoreh Deah.