Dear Rabbi,

We are working on the menu for the festive meal at our daughter’s wedding.

We all agree that dairy tastes much better than meat. Is it okay for the meal to be a dairy one?

Answer:

The most important component of a festive meal in Jewish tradition is the bread. Compilers of Jewish law have referred to bread as “the substance of life,” stating that, without bread, one’s eating is not considered a meal.1 For this reason, meals considered to be essential festive meals (seudat mitzvah), such as the Sabbath meal,2 the meal at a ritual circumcision (brit milah) or at a Jewish wedding, would always include bread.

Rabbi Moshe Isserlis,3 in his gloss on the Code of Jewish Law, writes that one is allowed to have meat and wine at a festive meal, even at a time when meat and wine are otherwise forbidden (during the nine days of mourning before the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av).4 Many deduce from here that it was the Jewish custom at the time to include wine and poultry in a festive meal.

The reason for eating meat and wine is for the pleasure and honor it brings to the festive occasion. Therefore, while meat is in fact the favorite dish of many people, it is not obligatory to eat it. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi5 writes in his Code of Jewish Law in regards to the laws of Sabbath:

What gives you pleasure? In the times of the Talmud it was large fish. In every place, one should eat according to what they consider pleasurable. In fact, there is no obligation to eat meat and drink wine, only most people find it pleasurable to eat meat more than other foods and drink wine more than other drinks. Whatever they enjoy, they should have as much as they can afford.6

When it comes to meals on the festivals, Rabbi Shneur Zalman writes:

It is a commandment to be joyous, as it states, “And you shall rejoice in your festival.”7

How are you joyous? You give children roasted seeds and nuts, for the women you buy clothes and jewelry, according to your financial situation, and for the men… there is no happiness without wine, as the verse says, “And wine, which cheers man's heart.”8

It is not incumbent on the person to eat meat; however, it is good to eat meat since it states, [when it mentions] meat, the concept of rejoicing.9

According to the above, it is best to include meat and wine in the meal at any joyous occasion; however, if for whatever reason those who are invited to the event will have more pleasure eating foods other than meat or wine, one can certainly have a festive meal that is dairy.10

Dovid Zaklikowski
for The Judaism WebsiteChabad.org