Eating Restrictions on Friday

We have non-religious relatives staying nearby on vacation and we’ve been trying to invite them for a meal. They have a busy schedule so we’ve been having trouble setting a date and time. Is there any issue inviting them on Friday, and if so, is there any distinction between the morning and the afternoon? They could not come for an entire Shabbos, but we even thought of serving them a pre-Shabbos “Shabbos meal” to give them some taste of our way of life.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It’s actually a little tricky. There are two closely-related relevant laws. One is that we may not eat a meal on Friday which is larger than usual. The second is that we should preferably not begin a bread meal in the last three hours of the day. (An “hour” in this context refers to 1/12th of the time interval between sunrise and sunset.)

The basic reason for these laws is so that we will have a good appetite when Shabbat begins. A second suggested reason for the first law is that eating a large meal on Friday will take much of our time and we will not be able to properly prepare for Shabbat.

Based on the above, you could only invite them on Friday if you are careful to serve them only an average meal, which might be an uncomfortable way to entertain guests. Also, in the final three hours of the day, you should preferably not serve them a bread meal at all.

If you do find yourself entertaining your relatives Friday afternoon, you could sit with them and sample the Shabbat food, but without serving them a bread meal. This is actually considered a mitzvah, tasting the Shabbat dishes beforehand to see if they need anything else. Make sure to give your guests enough time afterwards to make it to where they’re staying well before Shabbat.

(Sources: Talmud Gittin 38b, Shulchan Aruch O.C. 249:2, Mishna Berurah 249:10, 250:2.)

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