I would like to know whether it is permitted to eat on Shabbat morning before going to the synagogue for prayers. I was told that this is normative behavior in Chabad circles.


Indeed, the Code of Jewish Law1 states that one may not eat or drink before the morning prayers. It is explained that it is an act of haughtiness to tend to one's personal needs before praying to G‑d. The only exception to this is water.2 Yet, the Code continues, this rule does not apply to an ill individual, nor to one whose hunger or thirst would affect his ability to concentrate on his prayers. Maimonides explicitly states3 that one who is hungry and feels that he will not be able to concentrate should eat before praying.

Though this applies to every day of the week, it is more likely to feel hungry on Shabbat due to the fact that morning services often begin at a later hour than during weekdays, and last much longer.

The Rebbe encouraged4 the practice of eating and drinking a bit before prayers if feeling hungry, stressing that it is practically inevitable that a hungry person's prayers will be better as a result of a morning snack.

So, eating before praying is not unique to Chabad – as demonstrated above, it is normative Jewish law. Nevertheless, it is more prevalent in Chabad because in Chabad it is traditional to study chassidic teachings before the morning prayers, especially on Shabbat, thus delaying the start of the prayers.

It is important to note that one should recite the morning blessings and the Shema before partaking of any food.

Allow me to conclude with a story:5

When Rebbetzin Rivkah (wife of Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe) was eighteen, she fell ill and the physician ordered her to eat immediately upon awakening. She, however, did not wish to eat before praying, so she woke up even earlier and prayed—so that she could eat breakfast at the time she had been used to waking up beforehand. Understandably, her new schedule, with now reduced sleep time, did not cause her health condition to improve...

When her father-in-law, the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel, third Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe) learned of his daughter-in-law's behavior, he said to her:

"A Jew must be healthy and strong. Regarding mitzvot, the Torah says: 'Live in them,' meaning, one should bring vitality into the performance of the mitzvot. To be able to infuse mitzvot with vitality, one must be strong and joyful."

He concluded: "You should not be without food. Better to eat for the sake of praying than to pray for the sake of eating..."

Let me know if this helps.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar