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    A vegetarian Shabbat – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Must a Jewish family eat chicken on Shabbat?

    A. Not necessarily. Now that non-meaty meat has been developed, many people will have to re-think their cuisine.

    Some of us (including me) are already there. My wife and I and some of our family are already hooked on Meatless Mondays, but we don’t eat meat on Sunday either, or Tuesday, or any other day of the week.

    Shabbat too? Definitely, though friends and guests can’t believe it: “You don’t eat meat on Shabbat? Not even chicken?” They admit that our non-fleishig soups are quite tasty; they like our pareve cholent; but they still wonder whether our food can really be kosher.

    Apart from the urban myth that Shabbat and chickens go together, some people think there is a law that Shabbat is impossible without meat. Actually, in the Bible the original idea was for people to eat vegetables, whichever day of the week it was (Gen. 1:29).

    The manna in the wilderness was vegetarian. People remembered the fruit and vegetables in Egypt (Num. 11:5). Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard in order to plant a vegetable garden (I Kings 21:2).

    For a true appreciation of vegetables we must go to the Talmud. Both the Babylonian (Sanh. 17b) and the Jerusalem Talmud (end of Kiddushin) speak highly of vegetables. Rashi says that vegetables are inexpensive and healthy, and preparing them does not affect the time devoted to Torah study.

    Many rabbis believed that certain vegetables were good for health, though they knew that diarrhea might come from (presumably unwashed) vegetables. Poor people appreciated being able to eat well on vegetables, though they dreamt of one day being able to afford meat (Shabbat 140b).

    Most people can’t imagine life without meat, though when the Mashi’ach comes they might have to be vegetarian. In the meantime, meat gives them fullness and satisfaction. They feel there is no simchah without it (Pes. 109a).

    What about meat on Shabbat? The Talmud says, “Eat meat sparingly” (Chullin 84a). Pesachim 109a tells us, “Our rabbis said, ‘A person should make his household rejoice on a festival. What with? With wine. Rabbi Yehudah ben Batyra said, ‘When the Temple stood there was no rejoicing without meat, but now that the Temple no longer stands, there is no rejoicing except with wine, as it is said, ‘Wine gladdens the heart of man’ (Psalm 104:15)”.

    The rule is not about meat but wine. Meat is not essential to simchah. How can there can be simchah if meat eating causes distress?

    Maimonides endorses meat eating on festivals “if one can afford it” (Hil. Shabbat 30:10), implying that a different menu is acceptable if one is poor or if meat gives them no pleasure. The Shulchan Aruch says that those who fast every day would feel pain if they had to eat on Shabbat. Vegetarians would feel pain if they had to eat meat on Shabbat (OC 288:1-3).

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