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The Shabbat Primer


Pre-Shabbat Meals

Thursday Dinner And Friday Lunch

By Thursday night, and certainly by lunch time on Friday, you are probably up to your neck in Shabbat preparations. When all your thoughts and energies are focussed on finishing a glorious carrot kugel, three side-dishes, and a new Morrocan cholent recipe, the last thing you need is to devote hours to pre-Shabbat meals.

The answer is literally "Let 'em eat cake." There's a well established and very practical custom in traditional Jewish homes to "taste of the Shabbat" before it actually comes. "Those who savor it (the Shabbat) will merit eternal life,"[10] Thus, in observant homes there is often a delicious dish from the Shabbat dinner to come, a bit of the kugel, for example, sitting in the kitchen on Friday for kids and adults alike to "nosh" on. Offering just a preview of the upcoming feast, it nevertheless satisfies afternoon hunger pangs and keeps whining children off a busy mother's back.

There are other tactics for reducing demands on you at this hectic time. Eating dinner out on Thursday night is, of course, the most convenient of all, if you can manage it. Families who go out to eat one night a week can choose to make it Thursday. The only disadvantage is that, with the mother's thoughts on all her work at home, dinner may be rushed and not very enjoyable. In many cases, then, the most practical solution is for the father to take all the kids out to a kosher fast-food restaurant, bring the mother's meal home, and let her get on with her work. In our neighborhood in Jerusalem that's just what many families do. The local pizza parlor is jammed on Thursday night with unescorted fathers and their broods. A slightly less convenient solution is to buy several carry-out dishes from a kosher restaurant and have a quick, easy dinner at your own table, perhaps using paper plates.

If, on the other hand, you are cooking Thursday night dinner yourself, make it simple. After all, you're not neglecting anybody. You'll demonstrate your love for your family with the next night's meal, and you're also heightening their anticipation of it. Chana, for example, serves yogurts, cottage cheese and noodles, canned fruit salad, cheese sandwiches - anything that involves just opening a container. Shaina serves "kosher pizza, pareve (vegetarian) hot dogs - whatever is store-bought and ready." A quick cold "breakfast at night" is fun sometimes. Sarah makes a giant pot of vegetable soup on Wednesday which she serves Wednesday, Thursday, and sometimes Friday lunch as well. And finally, of course, there are countless "heat and serve" kosher packaged dinners which don't dirty even a single pot.

At Friday lunch time the pace quickens still more, and it's even less advisable to fuss. As we mentioned before, many women give their family something from the Shabbat night meal they have already cooked. Leftovers, chicken from the soup, and sandwiches are good choices, too. If you are at the bakery anyway buying challah or cake, you might pick up something for lunch, such as bourekas or filled pastries.

Our resource women with small children almost unanimously recommend an easy, but filling lunch, such as kugel, spaghetti, chicken from the soup, or hefty sandwiches. This accomplishes two things. First, as we said earlier, it assures that their lunch will hold them until dinner time without additional attention on your part. Second, it soothes any guilt pangs you may have about whether they've been adequately nourished that day. Then, if a child just nibbles at the challah or soup at Shabbat dinner, as often happens, and refuses anything else, at least you know that he was well fed at lunch.

Rachel adds a word of sage advice: "Don't make extra dirty dishes at this time. If you don't have a dishwasher, use paper plates."


Late Afternoon Snacks

Since adults are not permitted to eat between candle-lighting and kiddush at dinner, you might also want to have a light snack on hand in the late afternoon, especially for guests who have traveled some distance and arrived before Shabbat begins. On those summer days when kiddush doesn't begin until seven o'clock or later, your family will appreciate a late afternoon snack, too.

If sensible steps like these are taken, you will save energy, and your family and guests will arrive at the Shabbat dinner table, not famished, but eagerly awaiting the feast.


  1. (Back to text) From the Shabbat Musaf Amidah prayers. On the custom of tasting food before Shabbat, see Magen Avraham, 250.
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