It is well known that there is an obligation to eat three meals during the course of Shabbat. However, the third meal (henceforth se'udah shlishit) is often overlooked, especially during the winter when it is necessary to eat two meals in close proximity to each other. However, the gemara (Shabbat 118b) notes that it is precisely this third meal which is the most important. There it is related that anyone who eats all three meals is saved from three major catastrophes that will in the future afflict the Jewish people. Even further, one Rabbi states that his prayer is that his lot in the world to come will be among those who are exacting in eating the third meal. the Sefer Ta'amei HaMinhagim notes that the third meal is of particular importance since it is possible to claim that one eats the first two meals merely out of hunger, and not because of a specific commandment. However, the third meal, eaten when one is somewhat full, is clearly being done out of obligation and therefore reflects back on the previous two that they were done for the same reason. Additionally, since one knows that he has to save room in his stomach for the third meal, he will temper his eating for the first two meals, thus again showing that all three are being done for the sake of the commandment. With this in mind, we will explore a few of the issues relevant to se'udah shlishit.

The aforementioned gemara begins with a debate with regard to how many meals one must eat on Shabbat. the Rabbis say three while Rav Chidka claims that the number is four. Their argument stems from the verses concerning the heavenly manna that was sent down in the desert. there, the word "hayom" - this day - is mentioned three times. The Rabbis claim that it hints to three meals that must be eaten during the whole of Shabbat, while Rav Chidka maintains that it refers only to the meals that must be eaten during the day, in addition to one meal on Friday night. Both Rabbeinu Chananel and Rif state that the law follows the view of the Rabbis, and that is indeed the view that we follow today.

We begin by defining what comprises se'udah shlishit, i.e. what must one eat so as to qualify as having eaten a "meal"? We know that there are two elements that are present by the first two meals of Shabbat - kiddush and two loaves of bread. Are either one of these, if not both, needed by se'udah shlishit as well? As these two laws are very distinct, we will deal with them separately.

The main source for the need for two loaves is from the manna. Since a double portion fell on Friday, we commemorate that event by having two loaves at our meals on Shabbat. As the verses concerning the manna serve as our textual basis for the need to eat a third meal on Shabbat, there are many (Semag, Ritva, Rambam, Hagahot Maimoniyot) who claim that this meal, like the two that precede it, has the same law regarding two loaves and that they are thus a necessary component of the meal. In addition to this specific reason, the Meiri and Mordechai (in the name of the Yere'im) both note that there is an underlying basic need for bread so that one will be able to say birkat ha-mazon afterwards. The Mechilta (Medrash Halacha on Shemot) notes that at least one whole loaf is needed, since on Friday four loaves fell for each individual - one eaten on Friday during the day, one Friday night, one Shabbat morning, and one for se'udah shlishit (Shibbolei HaLeket thus claims that only one loaf is needed). Ran quotes an opinion that states that one does not need bread, and that it is permissible to have se'udah shlishit using just fruits. This view is based on the gemara in Succah 27a, which states that one has to eat 14 meals in the Succah during the seven days of the holiday, and that fruit may be used for some of these meals. However this opinion has many detractors. Tosafot, both in Succah 27a and Yoma 79b, state that the gemara is not referring to fruit. Rather, the term "minei targima" which is used refers to something else. That "something else" is defined by Tosafot Pesachim 107b as being some form of non-bread grain products (based on the Tosefta in the sixth chapter of Berachot). In addition, Tosafot in Yoma note that since the gemara in Shabbat discusses bread, it would be nonsensical to think that it meant to include fruit as well. Both Rashba and Maharam MiRutenberg concur that fruit is not acceptable, although the Mordechai cites the fact that Ra'avyah would use fruit for this meal. The Shulchan Aruch rules that two loaves are needed (although he brings down the other opinions as acceptable if need be), while the Tur brings down the position claiming that "minei targima," i.e. grain products, are acceptable. The Beit Yoseif notes that Rabbeinu Yonah and the Shibbolei HaLeket allowed for the substitution of fruits, and makes note of a certain Rabi Yehuda who would be careful to only use fruit from the seven species. However, we should note that the Aruch HaShulchan states that since most Rishonim favor the view that one should use bread for the meal, one should therefore try as hard as possible to do so and may be violating the commandment to eat se'udah shlishit if he relies on "minei targima." The Mishna Berura notes that those who use things other than bread do so possibly because people tend not to fill up on this meal and thus they use lighter foods.

What about kiddush? To understand whether or not kiddush is needed for se'udah shlishit, we have to understand why we say it at all on Shabbat. The gemara in Pesachim learns from a verse that we must sanctify the Shabbat when it comes in, referring to kiddush, and when it goes out, referring to havdala. Kiddush during the day was added on later so that it would not appear that the night is more important than the day. Note, however, that the only blessing said during the kiddush during the day is that over the wine itself, with no special blessing on the day. Given this background, what is to be done by se'udah shlishit? Ritva states that since kiddush during the day is said only as a gesture of respect for the day, since it has been said one there is no need to say it again. However, since the daytime kiddush includes no extra blessing, he advises that one should say it so as to free oneself from any doubts. The big problem comes from the words of Rambam. He states that one should establish his meal on wine and two loaves. This statement creates much controversy among Acharonim over whether Rambam was referring to a need to actually say kiddush, or if he merely meant that one should be an essential part of the meal, thus lending some degree of importance to the meal. The Kesef Mishna claims that Rambam was not referring to kiddush itself, as proved by the fact that in the previous chapter when Rambam discusses kiddush, he states that one must say it by the morning meal, but not by the third meal. The Beit Yoseif notes the controversy, and states that one who says kiddush does not lose anything by doing so, although the Shulchan Aruch (by the same author) rules that no kiddush is needed.

The other major issue that must be dealt with is when one has to eat se'udah shlishit. Can one eat lunch in the morning, say birkat ha-mazon, eat a quick meal consisting of two loaves, and then nap until Shabbat ends (assuming that they catch an early mincha in there after eating both meals)? Tosafot say no since the time for the third meal is only after the earliest time for mincha (six and one-half halachic hours into the day). Rosh agrees with this position, proving it from the continuation of the gemara in Shabbat. There it states that one may wash dishes from Friday night so that they me used during the day, and on Shabbat morning so that they may be used by mincha (if the dishes are not actually needed on Shabbat, one is not permitted to clean them on Shabbat). Rosh sees this latter statement as a reference to the fact that the third meal comes at that time. Behag, however, claims that the gemara is not being exacting and that one may eat an early meal and follow it with his third meal, even more the time for mincha, so long as one does something, such as reset the table, to indicate that they are two separate meals. Both Meiri and Rambam concur with the view that the time is by mincha, and the Magid Mishna quotes the Sefer HaIttim, which claims that all the times given for the meals are exact and specific. The Tur rules that the time is after mincha, and notes that while his father, Rosh, would eat the two daytime meals one after the other, he would make sure to extend his eating past the time of mincha. Similarly, Tashbetz notes that the Maharam MiRutenberg would eat the two meals consecutively during the winter. Bach cites the Maharshal, who states that if one eats the two meals together, he should make a break between the two by taking a walk or by discussing Torah.

An outgrowth of this issue concerns whether se'udah shlishit should be eaten before one says mincha in the afternoon or afterwards. The Tur mentions that Rabbeinu Tam would eat before mincha, and would be careful not to eat during twilight (bein ha-shemashot), since doing so is said to be comparable to stealing from the dead (see inside for more on this idea). However, the Tur sides with the view of Rambam, who rules that one should daven mincha first, since in general one is not permitted to eat until he prays once the time for a prayer comes. Contrary to this, Ramo states that if one knows that the congregation is going to eat se'udah shlishit together in shul after mincha, he should try to eat with them (although he may eat alone beforehand if he so desires), and the Aruch HaShulchan rules that the custom is to do exactly that (and not to be indifferent towards when one actually eats the meal).

We conclude with a series of quick issues. First, it should be noted that women have the exact same obligation in eating the third meal as do men, since they were also included in the miracle of the manna and since they are generally placed on par with men with regard to Shabbat-related issues (Rabbeinu Tam; there is a Kabbalistic reason to the contrary cited in Sefer Ta'amei HaMinhagim, but I am still trying to decode its exact meaning). Next, Shemirat Shabbat K'Hilchata states that one does not need to cover the bread by se'udah shlishit, although there are those (Chayei Adam, Ben Ish Chai) that are in favor of such a practice since covering the bread is a function of remembering the manna, which we have already noted is the main source for se'udah shlishit. When Erev Pesach falls out on Shabbat, what is one to do in light of the fact that bread cannot be eaten after midday? The Bach claims that one should eat bread before the fourth hour of the day and eat meat or fish later on. The Darchei Moshe claims that in such a situation one may rely on the opinion that states that fruits are permissible, and eat them for se'udah shlishit.

Finally, are three meals need on holidays just like they are required on Shabbat? Both Rav Natronai Gaon and Rambam claim that they are, although the Magen Avraham seems to suggest that only two meals are needed on holidays, a view that is how we hold today.

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