I keep hearing and reading various sources stating that it is absolute halachah that one must eat meat on Shabbat. Is this actual halachah, or just a custom (albeit a very widespread one), and what is the reasoning behind this law/custom?

The reason I ask is that my wife and I are vegetarians. I have been a vegetarian since I was a small child, because I simply do not like the taste of meat. If there is a halachah that I must eat meat to “enjoy Shabbat,” how can I enjoy eating something that I don’t enjoy?

Thank you in advance for your always wonderful and knowledgeable responses.


The prophet Isaiah enjoins us to “call the Shabbat a day of delight,” and as a reward, we will “delight in G‑d” in the time to come. What a great religion—you have a delightful day and you get rewarded for it!

But what exactly is “delight”? The rabbis of the Talmud determined that at least one major component of delight is by food and drink. In their days, a fine meal meant a big fish. In later times, meat usurped the place of honor of fish. Does that mean that today we must eat meat on Shabbat?

The best way to determine whether something is halachah or not is by seeing what the halachic authorities have to say. As it turns out, they say something quite different than what you have been told. Shulchan Aruch HaRav sums up the halachah as follows:

There is no obligation to eat meat or drink wine on Shabbat. Rather, since it is assumed that most people take more pleasure in eating meat than in other foods, and in drinking wine more than other drinks, therefore they should increase in [consuming] meat and wine according to their means.

In other words, what exactly the menu should consist of is entirely up to the tastes of the individual, with the stipulation that it be the best he can afford. The main thing is how you enjoy a meal—not how others think you should enjoy it. On the contrary, for people such as yourself, eating meat may be counter to Isaiah’s “making the Shabbat a delight.”

While on the topic, here’s an excellent essay on vegetarianism in Judaism.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Moshe Goldman

Isaiah 58:13.
Sifra, Emor 12; Mechilta, Bo 89.
Shulchan Aruch HaRav 242:1–2; Tur, Orach Chaim 242; Magen Avraham 242:13; Tosefot Ri, Berachot, sec. 83; Siftei Kohen, Yoreh De’ah 341:7.