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Why is it customary to eat fish on Friday night?

Why is it customary to eat fish on Friday night?


At times one does something so often that he stops thinking why he is doing it. I am glad to pause for a moment to understand this staple of our Friday night meal.

The prophet Isaiah (58:13) tells us "and you will proclaim the Sabbath 'delight,' and the holy [day] of G‑d 'honored.'" Our Rabbis explain that one honors the Shabbat by wearing special clean clothes and has pleasure on Shabbat by enjoying delightful food and drink on this day.

In the days of the Talmud, the food that was considered delightful and was used for this purpose on Shabbat was fish. Meat and wine were added to the Shabbat meal since most people enjoy these foods too. One can and should eat any specific Kosher food that they consider pleasurable.

In addition to this there are interesting reasons given for this custom. G‑d blessed three things consecutively as they were created. He blessed fish on Thursday, man on Friday, and the Shabbat on Saturday. "A three-stranded cord will not quickly be broken."1 Thus, we combine the three: 'man' eats 'fish' on 'Shabbat' thus causing that he should be blessed with the threefold priestly blessing:2

May the L-rd bless you and watch over you.

May the L-rd shine His countenance upon you and grant you grace.

May the L-rd raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.

Additionally, fish are creatures that do not have eyelids and thus never close their eyes. This is a metaphor for G‑d, whose eyes and gaze are always upon those who follow in His way to administer to them with His great mercy.

All the best,

Rabbi Shmuel Kogan,

Rabbi Shmuel Kogan of Brooklyn, NY, is a responder for's Ask the Rabbi feature.
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Yehuda Shurpin for June 24, 2013

Re: Sources in the Talmud for fish and meat on Shabbat The source for eating fish on Shabbat can be found in the Talmud Shabbat 118b. With regards to meat I would refer you to Do I Have to Eat Meat on Shabbat?

Additionally, it should be noted that with regards to meat, their is a difference between Shabbat and holidays. For more on that see Laws of Yom Tov. Reply

Ari Wilkes-Barre June 16, 2013

Where is the source in the Talmud for 'delight' being fish and meat? Reply

Anonymous May 10, 2013

Re: Fish on Friday? As far as my understanding as an ex-Catholic who is now learning to observe Torah, Catholics abstinence from meat - which is only observed between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, the "Lenten Season" of roughly a month depending on the calendar that year - originally meant having absolutely no meat for all of Lent. Fish could be had instead, but adults were expected to eat no food at all on Fridays in Lent.

Somewhere in or after the 18th century, Roman Catholic practice allowed for food consumption on Lenten Fridays as long as meat was absent. With fish/fisherman symbolism a common element in both Eastern Orthodox and Holy Roman teachings, fish was an obvious choice as a meat substitute once Lenten fasting requirements were eased.

Lent "Fish Fridays" have been around at least as long as my parents, but I'm not sure how much longer. The generation before them certainly had knowledge of the older tradition, as I remember a priest who tried full Friday fasts and wound up passing out. Reply

Ed Greenberg Queensbury NY April 10, 2013

I also heard... ... that we consider the fish to be special since G-d did not destroy them in the flood. Reply

Anonymous NY, NY June 28, 2008

Other significan shabbos foods I have heard that there are other foods that have special significance oin shabbos like eggs or onions but Im not sure what there significance is or whgat all the foods are. Reply

Stephen Weinstein Camarillo, CA via November 18, 2007

Fish on Friday ? An alternative, more practical, although less spiritual, explanation is that Friday may have been the day when fish was most widely sold, because (until recently) Catholics were prohibited from eating meat on Friday. Reply

yid August 8, 2007

Thank you very much This is really very enlightening. Thank you and Shabbat Shalom. Reply

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