Reading a Menu or a Guest List on Shabbos

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: Before Shabbos (or Yom Tov), a hostess might prepare a menu, a guest list or a seating plan in order to remember which foods to serve, where to seat the guests, etc. Is it permitted to use such lists on Shabbos?

Discussion: In general, it is rabbinically prohibited to read all kinds of documents or lists on Shabbos. Chazal were primarily concerned about reading business-related documents such as contracts and invoices129; informal household “documents” such as a menu or a guest list would have essentially been permitted. However, Chazal determined that people would blur the distinction between business and non-business documents and end up allowing themselves to read business documents on Shabbos. Chazal were therefore forced to expand the edict and prohibit the reading of non-business-related “documents” as well. In addition, Chazal were aware that last-minute changes are often made to menus or guest lists, and they were concerned that a person might inadvertently erase or alter the list as he reviews it on Shabbos. Thus, they banned reading all types of lists and menus on Shabbos. It follows, therefore, that hostesses should not read from these types of lists on Shabbos and Yom Tov.130

Still, if a woman feels that serving family or guests on Shabbos without such lists will cause her anxiety or distress, she may prepare a menu or a guest list,131 but it may be read only in one or other of the following two ways:

  • She may ask another household member, e.g., her husband or daughter, to read the menu or list to her.132 Alternatively, another household member should read the menu or guest list along with her.133
  • She may also glance at the list.134

129. Mishnah Berurah 307:52, based on the Mishnah, Shabbos 148b.

130. Mishnah Berurah 307:47.

131. There are several grounds for leniency in this case, among them: 1) A Shabbos meal can be considered a seudas mitzvah, in which case the edict against reading household documents is suspended. 2) Avoiding a stressful situation is considered tzarchei ha-guf, in which case the edict against reading household documents is also suspended.

132. Since the concern is only that the person in charge of the meals — in this case, the hostess — may alter or erase the menu or list, (Ayil Meshulash, Shta’arei Hediotos ch. 3 note 35, citing R’ Nissim Karelitz).

133. When two or more people read the list together, the likelihood that both will forget that it is Shabbos is virtually nil; based on O.C. 275:2. See Shulchan Shlomo 307:16.

134. Shulchan Shlomo, footnote 6 to 307:18.