Seudah shlishit presents a vexing logistical difficulty when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat. The third Shabbat meal is normally eaten in the afternoon, yet no bread can be eaten after midday on Passover eve. Chametz is biblically proscribed at that time, and Chazal prohibited eating matzah on Erev Pesach to ensure its specialness at the Seder (Yerushalmi, Pesachim 10:1). How, then, can one eat seudah shlishit?
Rashi states that in fact, one simply forgoes seudah shlishit on Erev Pesach (Pesachim 13a s.v. “mezon shtei”).[i] Rashi makes this statement in commenting on the following ruling of R. Elazar ben Yehuda of Bartota (which the Talmud states is normative):
When Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat, one should destroy all terumah that is chametz on Friday except for two meals’ worth for consumption on Shabbat (Pesachim 13a). Since the Gemara states that one should only set aside two meals’ worth of chametz, Rashi deduces that only two seudot are required on such a Shabbat. Rashi’s ruling also reflects the discussion of this topic in the Zohar (Emor 95a).
Tosafot, however, maintains that this Gemara cannot be regarded as definitive proof that one need not eat three meals on Shabbat Erev Pesach (Shabbat 118a s.v. “bamincha”; many other Rishonim echo this sentiment). The Gemara never states explicitly that eating two meals on Shabbat suffices; it merely states that one should set aside enough food for two meals. But that food can be used for three meals – one on Friday night and two mini seudot on Shabbat morning.
Yet, Tosafot rejects the idea that one should wash and bentch twice on Shabbat morning. First, the Mishnah states clearly that if a fire breaks out on Shabbat afternoon, one may rescue food for one meal (Shabbat 16:2), which seems to indicate that seudah shlishit should be eaten in the afternoon. Second, subdividing a meal into two would mean reciting birkat ha’mazon and then hamotzi again in quick succession, which runs afoul of the prohibition against making unnecessary blessings.[ii]
Halachot Gedolot (quoted in the Ran on the Rif, Shabbat 43b), however, argues that the Mishnah is not legislating specific times for the Shabbat meals, but merely addressing the usual schedule of Shabbat meals, which are spread out throughout the day. Halachically, says Halachot Gedolot, it is perfectly acceptable to have seudah shlishit in the morning rather than the afternoon (see also Teshuvot HaGeonim Shaarei Teshuvah 148).[iii]
The fact remains, though, that the overwhelming halachic consensus is that seudah shlishit cannot be eaten before mincha gedola (half an hour after midday). According to the majority view, then, is there any possible way to fulfill the halacha of eating shalosh seudot when Shabbat is also Erev Pesach?
Rabbeinu Tam has an ingenious solution: eat matzah ashirah (Tosafot, Pesachim 99b s.v. “lo yochal”). According to the Talmud Bavli, the Torah’s description of matzah as “bread of poverty” (Deuteronomy 16:3) precludes fulfilling the mitzvah of eating matzah on the first night(s) of Pesach with matzah kneaded with fruit juice or oil, since that would be considered “rich matzah” (today, such matzah usually includes eggs and is known as “egg matzah”). Since the prohibition to eat matzah on Erev Pesach presumably only includes matzah with which one fulfills the mitzvah at night, one could have “rich matzah” on Erev Pesach in the afternoon since it is neither chametz nor full-fledged matzah.
In Tosafot’s view, the Mishnah itself indicates that matzah ashirah is permitted on Erev Pesach. The Mishnah states that one may not eat on Erev Pesach after “samuch lemincha” (mid-afternoon; Pesachim 10:1). The Mishnah is clearly not forbidding the consumption of chametz or regular matzah, which are in any event prohibited at that time. It also cannot be proscribing snack foods (minei targima), which the Gemara states are permitted all afternoon (107a).
Thus, the Mishnah must be referring to matzah ashirah, which is permitted on Erev Pesach until samuch lemincha. One therefore has a two-and-a-half hour window in which to eat seudah shlishit – from mincha gedola until samuch lemincha.
Not all authorities, however, agree that matzah ashirah is permitted on Erev Pesach. The Vilna Gaon writes that Tosafot’s opinion is based on the assumption that minei targima are completely unrestricted on Erev Pesach, which would mean that the Mishnah’s proscription of eating after samuch lemincha must concern a different type of food (Bei’ur HaGra on Orach Chayim 444:1).
The Vilna Gaon notes, however, that the Rambam maintains that the Mishnah is simply prohibiting satiation after samuch lemincha, not a particular type of food (Hilchot Chametz uMatzah 6:12). According to the Rambam, there is no reason to interpret the Mishnah as relating to the consumption of matzah ashirah specifically.
Although the Vilna Gaon does not cite a definitive proof for the assertion that matzah ashirah is forbidden on Erev Pesach, he does seem to be inclined to the view that all matzah is prohibited for consumption that day, not just matzah with which one can fulfill one’s obligation at the Seder. This prohibition, therefore, would apply as well, notes the Vilna Gaon, to boiled matzah – which one could also presumably use for seudah shlishit on Erev Pesach according to Tosafot (although Tosafot does not say so explicitly) since one cannot fulfill the mitzvah at the Seder with it.[iv]
The accepted halacha, however, is that the prohibition of matzah on Erev Pesach applies only to matzah useable for the mitzvah.[v] The Shulchan Aruch therefore recommends eating seudah shlishit with “rich matzah,” following the suggestion of Rabbeinu Tam (Orach Chayim 444:1).
The Rema (ad. loc.), however, notes that this option is not feasible for Ashkenazim, who (with the exception of the elderly and infirm among them – see ibid. 562:4) refrain from eating matzah ashirah on Pesach entirely for fear that it might be chametz. Although the majority opinion of the Rishonim is that dough kneaded entirely with liquids other than water can never become chametz, Ashkenazic custom follows a minority opinion (notably of Rashi) that holds that it can leaven even faster than dough kneaded with water. (However, dough with no water whatsoever can never become full-fledged chametz to the extent that one would be liable to receive the penalty of kareit for eating it.)
Furthermore, we are concerned that a bit of water will have gotten mixed into the fruit juice, thereby allowing the dough to become full-fledged chametz quickly according to all opinions. Since Ashkenazim generally eat no matzah ashirah at all, they may not follow the suggestion of Rabbeinu Tam to use it for the third meal on Shabbat Erev Pesach. Rather, says the Rema, Ashkenazim should fulfill seudah shlishit with non-bread foods such as fruit, meat, or fish.
Although the consensus of halachic authorities is that seudah shlishit requires bread just like the other Shabbat meals, there is a minority view that one may use non-bread foods (see Orach Chayim 291:5, based on Sukkah 27a). When one has no other choice, such as on Erev Pesach, one may rely on this view.
This ruling of the Rema seems to imply that Ashkenazim may not consume matzah ashirah after the time the chametz becomes prohibited on Erev Pesach (biblically, at midday; rabbinically, two hours prior). At first glance, this makes perfect sense, since Ashkenazim consider matzah ashirah to potentially be a form of chametz.
R. Yechezkel Landau, however, assails this ruling (Responsa Noda Biyhuda, Mahadura Kama, Orach Chayim 21). He claims that since matzah ashirah is completely permitted even on Pesach according to most Rishonim, and even those who forbid it agree that one is not liable for kareit for eating it on Pesach, and since on Erev Pesach one is not punished with kareit even for eating full-fledged chametz (although doing so is biblically prohibited after midday), there is no reason to be stringent not to eat matzah ashirah on Erev Pesach.
The Aruch HaShulchan seems to agree with the reasoning of R. Landau, and further argues that even the Rema never meant to say that the custom to refrain from matzah ashirah begins on Erev Pesach (Orach Chayim 444:5). The Rema’s exact phraseology is “In these lands where we are not accustomed to eating matzah ashirah…one should fulfill seudah shlishit with fruit, or fish and meat.” The Aruch HaShulchan interprets these words to mean – not that Ashkenazic Jews refrained from eating matzah ashirah on Erev Pesach for halachic reasons – but rather that matzah ashirah was simply unavailable in Ashkenazic countries since it wasn’t consumed on Pesach, and no one was interested in making the effort to bake a small quantity of matzah ashirah just for Erev Pesach.
Today, egg matzah is commercially produced and widely available. According to the Noda B’Yehuda and the Aruch HaShulchan, then, it would be proper even for Ashkenazim to use matzah ashirah for seudah shlishit on Shabbat Erev Pesach nowadays so as not to forgo fulfilling the mitzvah of seudah shlishit in its proper manner – in the afternoon, and with bread. Some poskim (e.g. Rav Hershel Schachter) rule accordingly.
The usual Ashkenazic practice, however, is to refrain from matzah ashirah after the time that chametz is prohibited on Erev Pesach (and, as mentioned, some opinions forbid matzah ashirah the entire day of Erev Pesach due to the prohibition of eating matzah).[vi]
If one does not use matzah ashirah (or cooked matzah)[vii] for seudah shlishit, one clearly cannot optimally fulfill the requirement of seudah shlishit. One must rely either on the minority view that permits eating seudah shlishit in the morning or on the minority view that permits eating seudah shlishit without bread. Several Acharonim, in fact, recommend doing both – eating two seudot in the morning as well as a non-bread meal in the early afternoon (Magen Avraham 444:1; surprisingly, the Vilna Gaon agrees with this in practice despite leaning strongly towards the view that there is no requirement of seudah shlishit on Shabbat Erev Pesach).
When eating two meals in the morning, however, one could easily run afoul of the issue of reciting unnecessary berachot. Therefore, one should ideally leave a significant amount of time or take a walk between the two meals so as to mark a clear separation between them. However, the required break adds an additional time commitment to an already packed schedule on the morning of Shabbat Erev Pesach, and would require that services be held even earlier than they would otherwise need to be.
Furthermore, it would seem a bit odd that the Shabbat meals – which are rooted in the requirement of oneg Shabbat (enjoying Shabbat) – would instead become a source of anxiety and pressure. In any event, the Mishnah Berurah states clearly that two morning meals should only be attempted if there is plenty of time to conduct them properly (444:8).
Indeed, it is difficult to accept the idea that fulfilling the mandate to eat seudah shlishit on Shabbat Erev Pesach requires calculated effort and halachic contortions. After all, the simplest understanding of the halacha is that there is no requirement of shalosh seudot at all when Shabbat is Erev Pesach. As such, it seems that the most natural approach is that of the Rema: Chametz bread for the Friday night and Shabbat morning meals,[viii] and a breadless meal for seudah shlishit.
Today’s culinary habits have strengthened the halachic appeal of the Rema’s Shabbat Erev Pesach menu. In the olden days, a “meal” without bread would have been regarded as more of a snack rather than a full meal and thus truly inappropriate for a Shabbat seudah; nowadays, bread is much less of a staple and many people do not consume bread even at important meals. Of course, this dietary change does not normally exempt one from washing and eating bread (with lechem mishneh) at Shabbat and Yom Tov seudot. Those with gluten intolerance, however, eat breadless meals even on Shabbat and Yom Tov (with halachic sanction); in the afternoon of Shabbat Erev Pesach, we are all “gluten intolerant,” as it were.
In conclusion: Although the many early sources indicate that there is no obligation to eat seudah shlishit when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat, we have a strong halachic tradition to attempt to eat seudah shlishit nonetheless. There are several customs that exist regarding how to do so; each has its halachic upsides and downsides.
In practice, it seems that the most compelling approach is that of the Rema. One should eat normal chametz bread on Friday night and Shabbat morning. After mincha gedola, one should eat a meal consisting of non-bread foods such as fish, meat, fruits, and vegetables.[ix] This meal should be eaten no later than half an hour prior to mincha ketana. If one failed to eat seudah shlishit at this time, one may still eat it later, but one must take care not to eat to satiation.
Rabbi Yaakov Hoffman leads Washington Heights Congregation (“The Bridge Shul”). He has semicha Yoreh Yoreh and Yadin Yadin from RIETS and is a practicing Sofer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
[i] Rashi’s explanation for forgoing seudah shlishit is actually somewhat difficult to understand. Rashi does not mention the prohibitions of eating chametz and matzah on Erev Pesach. Instead, he explains that having seudah shlishit is impossible because “on Erev Pesach it is forbidden to eat after mincha” (referencing Pesachim 10:1). However, the mincha this mishnah refers to is mincha ketana (mid-afternoon, see Pesachim 107a), whereas one can already start eating seudah shlishit after mincha gedola (half an hour after midday). The Acharonim struggle to understand Rashi.
[ii] A minority view, however, maintains that if they are needed to fulfill the mitzvah of seudah shlishit, the blessings cannot be considered “unnecessary” (see Magen Avraham 115:6).
[iii] Many Rishonim (including Tosafot) record that subdividing the morning meal into two to fulfill the requirement of shalosh seudot was, in fact, a common practice (every Shabbat, not only Erev Pesach); most, however, cite this practice in order to critique it. It is interesting that in earlier times, it seems that laxity about the timing of seudah shlishit was common, whereas having seudah shlishit without bread was not. Today, everyone is careful to eat the third meal in the afternoon, whereas some people are not diligent about having bread (although of course it is much more correct to wash and have lechem mishneh). Such individuals essentially follow the Rema’s schedule for the Shabbat Erev Pesach meals every Shabbat (see below).
[iv] Kneidlach (matzah balls), however, would be permitted since they have completely lost their status as matzah due to their being finely ground before being cooked.
[v] According to many Rishonim, the prohibition of eating matzah only kicks in at the time chametz becomes prohibited. (Indeed, some interpret the Tosefta [Pischa 3:9] as implying that matzah is eaten on Shabbat Erev Pesach, see Tosefta Kifshutah). Although according to the normative view eating matzah is prohibited after dawn, one may perhaps rely on the lenient opinion vis-à-vis the chumra not to eat matzah ashirah on Erev Pesach. While this logic does not help for seudah shlishit, it is useful for those who wish to keep no chametz in their homes over Shabbat and use matzah ashirah for the Friday night and Shabbat morning meals.
[vi] The Rambam holds that only dough kneaded with olive oil, wine, milk, or honey has the status of matzah ashirah (Hilchot Chametz uMatzah 6:5). Since most contemporary egg matzah is made with apple juice, the Rambam would hold that one may use it for the mitzvah at the Seder and thus may certainly not eat it on Erev Pesach. Although the Rambam’s opinion is not normative, it’s yet another reason to avoid egg matzah on Erev Pesach (unless it’s made with grape juice).
[vii] Some poskim prefer boiled matzah to matzah ashirah since it tastes less matzah-like and thus will not have as much of an impact on eating matzah at the Seder with relish. Furthermore, boiled matzah retains the blessing of hamotzi according to all opinions (provided it remains whole, or at least if the pieces are larger than a kezayit), whereas the blessing on egg matzah is mezonot unless one uses it instead of bread at a meal (kovea seudah). According to some opinions, one must eat the volume of 4 eggs of egg matzah if one is to use it for a seudah; most, however, are lenient, especially when it’s used at a Shabbat meal.
[viii] If one is extremely nervous about having any chametz in one’s home over Shabbat, one may use egg matzah for these meals (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:155). Under normal circumstances, though, it is better to use chametz in order to satisfy those who forbid eating egg matzah on Erev Pesach. Furthermore, it may be better to use chametz on Shabbat morning in order to clearly delineate the time of chametz’s halachic change in status from permitted to forbidden (cf. Maaseh Rav 185).
[ix] Despite the suggestion of Aruch HaShulchan that it’s better to use fruit for seudah shlishit on Shabbat Erev Pesach because it’s less filling (Orach Chayim 444:5), most authorities assume that as long as one will retain an appetite for the Seder, it’s more proper to use more substantive and fancier foods for seudah shlishit as one would on any other Shabbat (Magen Avraham 444:2).