Tasting the Shabbat Food

It is considered a great a mitzva to taste the Shabbat food every Friday afternoon[1] in order to ensure that it is tasty and fit to be served at the Shabbat meal.[2] A hint for this custom can be found in the Shabbat Mussaf prayers which include the words "Those who taste it will merit long life".[3] Although "taste it" in this context refers to Shabbat observance, poetic license allows these words to be interpreted as referring to the Shabbat foods, as well. There are those who take this teaching quite literally and insist that those who taste the Shabbat foods are assured a long life![4]

Others suggest that the source for this custom derives from a mishna[5] which enigmatically records that "Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai was given from the foods to taste." Some commentators suggest that this is a reference to the Shabbat foods which Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai would taste every Friday afternoon.[6] It is interesting to note that according to the Zohar, the mitzva of tasting the Shabbat food applies on Friday night and not prior to Shabbat, as most are accustomed to.  According to this approach, the reason for tasting the food Friday night is to ensure that the daytime Shabbat foods are tasty.[7] This opinion is puzzling, however, since once Shabbat has begun all further cooking is forbidden. In most cases it is not even permissible to add spices or do anything else to a food which is cooking on the fire. 

It is noted that the custom of tasting the Shabbat foods on Friday afternoons is one which is quite widespread.[8] Some authorities suggest that the mitzva of tasting the Shabbat food pertains specifically to the chulent[9] though most others insist that it applies equally to all the foods which one will be eating throughout Shabbat.[10] The kabbalists were especially diligent to taste the Shabbat food on Erev Shabbat, comparing it to the exacting preparations one undertakes in order to properly prepare for the arrival of an important guest.[11]

There is another, somewhat unfamiliar, explanation for the custom of tasting the Shabbat foods, as well. There are those who suggest that the custom derives from an ancient practice to fast every Friday until shortly before the arrival of Shabbat. As fasting on a Friday is generally forbidden, the custom of tasting the Shabbat foods close to the onset of Shabbat was born. In this way, through the requirement to taste the Shabbat foods Friday afternoon, those who were fasting could rest assured that their fast didn’t accidentally extend into Shabbat, which would be forbidden. So too, it ensures that one will not enter Shabbat in a state of discomfort or outright hunger. In fact, in some communities this tasting ritual was known as the "boi kalla" meal.[12]

There are a number of authorities who maintain that one is not obligated to taste every single Shabbat dish. So too, it suffices for the lady of the house to taste the food in the course of her cooking to ensure that all the Shabbat foods are tasty.[13] Similarly, there are those who suggest that in the event that one knows exactly how the Shabbat foods taste (i.e. the same recipe and results week after week) there is no obligation to do so. In fact, it might be a greater display of honor to Shabbat not to taste such food beforehand and to rather save the gastronomic pleasure exclusively for Shabbat itself. Nevertheless, in order to satisfy most opinions one should be sure to taste at least one dish in honor of Shabbat every Friday afternoon.[14]

[1] Torat Menachem 18 p.104.

[2] Mishna Berura 250:2.

[3] Elya Rabba 250:6.

[4] Machzor Vitri 181; Shibolei Haleket 82; Beit Yosef, OC 286

[5] Sukka 26b.

[6] Torah Chaim 250:2.

[7] Zohar, Bereishit 48b.

[8] Mateh Moshe 408.

[9] Yosef Ometz, Minhagei Frankfurt 576.

[10] Magen Avraham, OC 250:1; Shulchan Aruch Harav, OC 250:8.

[11] Shulchan Aruch Ha'arizal 260:5; Pri Eitz Chaim, Shaar 18:3; Shaar Hakavanot, Tevilat Erev Shabbat.

[12] Aseh Lecha Rav 3:14.

[13] Piskei Teshuvot 250:1.

[14] Nimukei Orach Chaim 250.