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Gluten Free Shabbat - Part 1

By: Rav Ari Shames

I would like to divert from our regular topic of parshat hashavua and discuss what is becoming a major question for more and more people all the time. Many people have removed gluten from their regular diet, some due to acute medical issues such as celiac; others have omitted gluten due to various level of discomfort as a result of eating foods that contain gluten; and some have gone gluten free as part of weight loss or other such concerns. This situation poses many halachik issues given the prominence of bread and bread like items in much of our religious life.

This shiur will focus upon the implications as far as Shabbat is concerned. As we will see, there are many different issues at hand and each one needs its own discussion. In addition, other areas of halacha may or may not be related to our conclusions here. In the next part we will deal with the possibility of baking non gluten bread and how halacha views that.

The Shabbat meals -

We are obligated to eat three meals on Shabbat. The definition of the first two meals includes eating bread, as stated explicitly in the Shulchan Aruch (274/4), which would seem to put us into a difficult situation. However, it seems obvious that a person with celiac or even those that experience discomfort from gluten would be exempt from this obligation. In the case of celiac it seems self-evident but even regarding people in our middle category (discomfort) the Shulchan Aruch writes (288/2) that if eating would be detrimental to a person they should not eat on Shabbat. The rationale behind this ruling is that our obligation to eat meals on Shabbat is a subset of a larger category of enjoying ourselves on Shabbat, Oneg Shabbat. We do not have a technical obligation to eat something but rather the eating is supposed to reflect our enjoyment on Shabbat. If this is the cases then it is obvious that if one will suffer from eating it makes no sense at all to do so.

(Note - that the exemption here cannot be used when dealing with the eating of matza on Pesach, for instance, as that mitzvah is not rooted in enjoyment but is a mitzvah in and of itself.)

I think it is also reasonable to assume that those who have no health issue with gluten but are just trying to avoid it or even reduce it would not be exempt from eating bread at the Shabbat meal. Simply put, if one would be willing to “cheat” for a variety of other reasons (wow that looks good, or I am really hungry or any other common reason) I think it correct to make the same exception for this mitzvah as well and to eat. I think this is reflected in the comments of the Shulchan Aruch (291/1) where he notes that, even though technically if one is not hungry at all one is exempt, one should make sure not to eat too much at the Shabbat morning meal causing him to be unable to eat seudah shlishit!

Fulfilling Kiddush -

In order to fulfil one’s obligation of Kiddush on Shabbat, we are required to make Kiddush in conjunction with the “seudah”, the Shabbat meal. Simply reciting the bracha on a cup of wine without soon afterwards partaking of the meal is insufficient. The implications of this for our purposes are that one who does not eat the meal (bread) invalidates the Kiddush itself.

When the Gemara discusses this issue it reports a story of Raba who wanted to make sure that his students would have Kiddush together with the seudah. They had accompanied him to his home and he was concerned that they would be unable to fulfil their obligation later. He encouraged them to “eat something” to solve the problem. This “something” became the focus of debate. Three main positions are quoted:

  1. One must have THE Shabbat meal including bread
  2. One must have at least mezonot (cakes, cookies etc.)
  3. One must have 86 ml of wine

For the non-gluten people the only possibility seems to be to have the wine and I think this is the recommended way to go. Note that this means that each and every person at the Kiddush needs to consume one of the items above to fulfil their personal obligation. While it is fine for one person to make Kiddush for a roomful of people, each individual needs to make it their own seudah. To state it most clearly, you can hear Kiddush from someone without drinking the wine but you would need to drink the wine if you are not eating bread or cakes.

The Mishna Brura (283/26) quotes an option that even fruit (in this case that includes anything of fruit or vegetable variety) can be used to fulfil this obligation. He rejects this position under normal circumstances but is willing to depend upon it in extenuating circumstances. I think that the first two categories that we listed above would qualify for this.

Seudah Shlishit -

As we noted above, the Shulchan Aruch requires bread for the first two meals. When it comes to seuda shlishit, it is highly recommended but in the context of our discussion today we can suffice with non-gluten foodstuffs.  However we still have to deal with an issue when it comes to seudah shlishit. Often we continue the meal after the official time that Shabbat goes out. This brings up the question as to why we are allowed to eat at that point if we are prohibited from eating before Havdalah. The answer is that the unit that we opened when we started our meal may be completed and only after that point (after birkat hamazon) would we be prohibited from eating until we make havdala.

The Shulchan Aruch (299/1) writes that this allowance is only if one is involved in official bread-based meal. If one is simply “noshing” one would be required to stop eating after sunset! It would follow that a non-gluten seudah shlishit would have to end before sunset. However the Aruch Hashulchan (5) writes  that the reason that one would have to stop is because they have demonstrated that they are not seriously eating. After all, a regular meal includes bread. In our case it would follow that one could continue their very-serious-non-gluten meal, as this is the normal menu for a full meal for such people.

As we mentioned earlier, in our next instalment we will investigate the possibility of using non-gluten oat flour along with other non-gluten flours.

In the meantime I hope EVERYONE enjoys their Shabbat.

Rav Shames


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