Hello, I am relatively new to being more observant and was hoping for some guidance.I know that it is proper to have three bread meals on Shabbat. However, out of preference (not health or need) I like to eat dinner later. Now that it is getting dark earlier, is there a way to fulfill the mitzvah and have seudat shelishit and still eat dinner after sundown? How important is bread at SS? Would it be acceptable to have the two meals as usual, fruit (even just a banana) before sunset and then dinner (with or without bread) anytime that evening?
If not, are there any other potential ways to do it?
thank you so much
Thank you for your question. The question of how to have three Shabbat meals in a way that suits your eating habits is a good one. Let’s try to address it with some background first.
On Shabbat a person should have (at least) three meals. One in the night, and two in the day (preferably one being in the first half of the day, and the other in the second half of the day). For the night meal, and the first day meal, one should certainly start the meal with bread (saying the ha’motzi blessing over two complete loaves, and slicing (at least) one of them to eat from at that meal). Concerning the third meal, the law is somewhat more lenient.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orech Haim, 291,5) records that ideally one should fix this meal on bread also. However, he continues that there are opinions that hold that this third meal can be fixed on mezonot (crackers, cookies etc). And there are even those who are of the opinion that one could eat only meat or fish. Lastly, there is an opinion that believes that eating even fruit or vegetables is enough. The conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch is “the first opinion is the major one, and one needs to fix the meal on bread, unless they are very full”.
Now, as to the exact definition of feeling “very full” – this is not so clear. Everyone would agree that under no circumstances should a person make themselves sick in order to eat bread at the third meal. On the other hand, this is a mitzvah, and one should go to certain lengths to fulfill it. The Shulchan Aruch writes (ibid 1) that one should fulfill the mitzvah even if they are full and satiated, because one does not have to eat a lot – even an amount the size of an egg is enough. (So you may find that you could wash and have a very small meal of bread - one slice would be enough – and this would not upset your regular eating routine very much). You write that you have “a preference” to eat latter. It is not so clear how much this should be taken into account, and in the end of day, you will need to decide yourself as to how much of a need you have to rely on the lenient opinions not to wash and have bread at the third meal. Even then, it would be better to then have a “mezonot”, or at least a cooked dish (perhaps cereal), so as to meet the level of the secondary opinions.
Another factor is the timing of the third meal. Even though the preference is to eat the third meal after having prayed the afternoon service, one is allowed to have the meal any time in the second half of the daylight hours (technically that is half an hour after the sun has hit midpoint of the day – a time that changes with the seasons). This too might help you, as you might want to eat this meal earlier, and then still have room for a meal latter in the evening, after Shabbat.
Now, all this related to the third meal. However (and I hope I’m not giving you too much information here), there is a mitzvah to have a meal after Shabbat is over. This is called Malaveh Malkah. For this meal it is good to wash and have bread, but it is much less of an obligation, and many religious Jews make do with something lighter. From your question, I understood that (perhaps unknowingly) you have been doing this meal. This would be a wonderful thing to continue.
I hope this is all a help to you. May you have many blessings to continue your growth in the keeping of Shabbat.