Shabbat Without Gluten

I am celiac and am allergic to all foods containing gluten. Thus, I never eat bread. What should I do on Shabbat? Do I wash without eating bread? Can I say the grace after meals (birkat hamazon)?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I’m sorry to hear of your health issue. Celiac disease is a much more prevalent condition than previously believed. Some estimate that it affects 1 in 40 individuals, the vast majority of them undiagnosed.

The biggest issue for the Shabbat meals is fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush. We are obligated to recite (or hear) Kiddush at the start of both the night and the day meals. This obligation is only fulfilled if we eat a meal immediately after Kiddush. But in the eyes of the Sages, only a bread-meal is considered a true “meal”. (Cake, crackers or other grain foods are also acceptable – as is often done at synagogue Kiddushes, but not relevant given your health issue.) As a last resort, drinking an extra cup of wine or grape juice after Kiddush can constitute a “meal”.

Thus, ideally you should find a way to begin your Shabbat meals with bread. This is possible by using the one bread grain which is naturally gluten free – oats. (The five grains which are acceptable for bread (or for matzah on Passover) are wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt.) It should be possible to purchase gluten-free oat rolls specially made for Shabbat. They are generally available commercially in most Jewish communities. (Make sure not to buy “challahs” made of rice- or corn-flour, which just look like challahs but are not true bread and do not fulfill the obligation.)

If you do eat oat rolls, you will wash for them and recite the grace after meals after them as for regular bread. (This is what one of my sons does regularly.) It’s even more important to buy oat-matzot for the Passover Seder (which are expensive but easy to purchase).

If oat rolls are not possible for or available to you, you can still fulfill Kiddush by drinking an additional cup of wine or grape juice at the start of the meal, as we mentioned above. The amount would be the same size as a Kiddush cup, which should contain 4.42 ounces (130.7 ml) at night (when there is a Torah obligation to make Kiddush) and 3 ounces (88.7 ml) on Shabbat day. It should be drunk at once. Note that if you are not making Kiddush yourself but are hearing it from someone else, you need drink only one cup yourself. If you are making Kiddush, for Kiddush it’s enough to drink the majority of the amounts above, and afterwards you should drink a second cup of the entire amount.

If you fulfill Kiddush by drinking wine, then you would make brachot (blessings) on the foods you eat during the meal – but not on the drinks you drink, since the bracha on the wine covers them. You would not say birkat hamazon but the after-blessing (bracha acharona) for wine and borei nefashot on the other foods you ate.

Finally, if due to allergies or other health issues you are not able to consume oats or wine, you would eat without Kiddush (since of course someone who cannot make Kiddush does not have to starve). It is better, though, if possible, for Friday night to have someone else make Kiddush for you where you will be having your meal. If this is not possible, you should say the verses at the start of Kiddush and think through the main blessing of the Kiddush in your mind. (This is only necessary for the Friday night Kiddush, which is a Torah obligation (and from Torah law can be fulfilled even without a meal). In the day you would just eat without Kiddush.)

I wish you good health!

(Sources: Shulchan Aruch O.C. 273:1,3,5, Mishna Berurah 25-27, Sha’ar HaTziyun 29, Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchatah 47:4, footnote 19, 53 footnote 50, Igrot Moshe O.C. IV 40:25, Minchat Shabbat 77.)

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