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    A vegetarian Shabbat & Yom-Tov? – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. I heard that you don’t eat meat, but isn’t there a Talmudic requirement to eat meat on Shabbat and Yom-Tov?

    A. God’s original plan for mankind was vegetarian (Genesis 1:29).

    Nonetheless the Torah permits meat-eating. It lists animals which may be eaten and how to slaughter them, and it establishes animal sacrifice as part of Temple worship.

    Most people cannot imagine living without meat, as it gives a feeling of fullness and satisfaction, which is where the Talmudic assertion, “There is no simchah… without meat” (Pesachim 109a) comes in.

    Let’s look in detail at the Talmudic discussion about meat on Shabbat or Yom-Tov.

    Though the Talmud says, “eat meat sparingly” (Chullin 84a), this is not an argument against the principle of meat eating, only the quantity.

    Pesachim 109a tells us, “Our rabbis said, ‘A person is obligated to make his children and household rejoice on a festival… With what does he make them rejoice? With wine… Rabbi Yehudah ben Batyra said, ‘When the Temple stood there could be no rejoicing except with meat… but now that the Temple is no longer in existence, there is no rejoicing except with wine, as it is said, ‘Wine gladdens the heart of man’ (Psalm 104:15)”.

    In other words, meat is no longer essential to simchah, and the rule is not about meat but wine. There certainly can be no simchah if meat eating causes a feeling of distress.

    Maimonides endorses meat eating on festivals “if one can afford it” (Hil’chot Shabbat 30:10), which recognises that a different menu would be acceptable if one were poor or it gave a person pleasure.

    The Shulchan Aruch reports that people who fast every day would feel pain if they were forced to eat on Shabbat and Yom-Tov, and we could likewise say that vegetarians would feel pain if they had to eat meat (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 288:1-3).

    The best tableware and the finest food are appropriate on Shabbat and Yom-Tov. The food should be special too. For vegetarians there is no need to have meat.

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