Is there an Obligation to eat Kugel or Chulent on Shabbat?



Rabbi, please tell me: Is it true that if I don't eat "Kugel" and "Chulent" on Shabbat that I become like the worst possible rasha (wicked person)?



You do not have any halachic obligation to eat those foods on Shabbat. However, if these are your family's customs and you are able to, you should try to fulfill the custom – even by having just a small taste of each.


The only two Mitzvot Aseh (Positive Commandments) that are required of us from the Torah in regard to Shabbat are: 1) to Sanctify the Day with Words (by verbally acknowledging its entry and by verbally acknowledging its exit) [Rambam, sefer Hamitzvot Aseh 155], and 2) to desist from all prohibited types of work [Ibid, Aseh 154]. The Sages during the time of the Prophets have additionally added two more requirements called “Kibud Shabbat” and “Oneg Shabbat” [Yeshayahu 58:13].

The requirement of “Kibud Shabbat” (Honoring the Shabbat) is fulfilled [by adorning the house in honor of the day, e.g. placing a tablecloth on the table, lighting candles, etc. and] by wearing clean [and more beautiful] clothes on this day (Mishna Brura 242:1 from Sifrah). The requirement for “Oneg Shabbat” (Taking Pleasure in the Shabbat)  is fulfilled by preparing and eating foods on Shabbat that are more pleasurable than the rest of the week, and in engaging in what more permissible pleasurable activities during the duration of Shabbat (Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 30:7, 14, Mishna Brura ibid).

As part of fulfilling the requirement to have extra pleasurable foods on Shabbat, the Sages have cited the names of certain foods that were common in their times to be considered as special delicacies (Shabbat 118b, and Rashi, piece beginning rashei). Therefore, each and every community should fulfill this requirement by acquiring for Shabbat such foods which are considered important and pleasurable in that community (Mishna Brura ibid). Just as in regard to any mitzva, one should draw upon all the resources available to him in order to fulfill his requirement to its fullest, so too in order to fulfill this Rabbbinic requirement of “Oneg Shabbat”, one should try to have as many delicacies as possible according to how much his budget permits (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 250:2). If, however, one’s budget is limited, the sages have cited the minimal form of fulfilling this obligation as “Preparing (and eating) some small specialty for Shabbat” (Shabbat 118b). The example given in the Talmud for this form of fulfillment of the requirement of “Oneg Shabbat” is small cooked fish (Rashi ibid, piece beginning kasah).

Since all the foods cited by the Sages are merely examples of extra-pleasurable foods that were customary in their times, it follows that there exists no obligation to eat those specific foods. Even according to those who assign specific importance to the “fish” that are mentioned by the Sages - by saying that it is specifically fish that should be eaten by each Shabbat meal because of its Kabbalistic significance (Kitzur Shela), nonetheless, all are in agreement that there exists no halachic obligation for one to have fish at any of his meals on Shabbat [especially if he does not like fish (Mishna Brura 242:2)]. The wording that is brought down in halacha by the Poskim who propound the opinion that one needs to eat fish on Shabbat, is only that “It’s good that he eat fish by each meal of the three meals” (Misna Brura ibid). The bottom-line rule to follow in regard to the halachic fulfillment of all “Oneg Shabbat” is: “The Shabbat was given for pleasure and not for suffering” (Misna Brura ibid).

The reason for eating Kugel on Shabbat is because it is considered an extension of an original Ashkenazic custom to eat Mulyassah – a serving of meat-pie where the meat was sandwiched between two layers of dough (Mishna Brura 242:7). This was customary because it was considered as a recollection of the special Manna bread that the Jews ate in the dessert, which was covered from the top and the bottom (Shmot 16:13 and Bamidbar 11:9; Rama 242:1). [Some say that the importance of eating a food which recalls the Manna bread on Shabbat is of even greater significance, because it represents one of the foods that will be eaten at the time of Moshiach when we will receive our future worldly rewards, and the Shabbat experience is a small “taste” of the world of the future (Biur Halacha 242, piece beginning zaicher).] The Kugel of nowadays, which gets baked more thoroughly on its entire outer layer (i.e. top and bottom), serves to “cover” the softer inside of the Kugel, and is thus similar to Mulyassah (Nimukei Orach Chaim 271:2).

Although these reasons behind the custom to eat Kugel on Shabbat make this custom especially meaningful, the obligation to fulfill this custom still does not deviate from the general rules of the source obligation of “Oneg Shabbat” that were cited above. We have seen that the main obligation of “Oneg Shabbat”  is fulfilled by partaking of any food that is more pleasurable than the foods eaten during the week, and can be fulfilled even if one eats just a small amount from only one such food over the course of the entire Shabbat. Therefore, one clearly does not become a rasha, chas v’shalom, if he does not feel any pleasure at all from the eating of Kugel and thus does not partake of it.

In regard to Chulent, we find that it was enacted as a custom for another reason in addition to just fulfilling the requirement of “Oneg Shabbat”. It is well known that during a certain period of Jewish history, there were heated disagreements between those who would adhere to the Traditional Orthodox Jewish beliefs, and a fringe group who would try to deny the authenticity of the Oral Torah, called the Saducees. This fringe group took things to such an extreme that they would argue that one cannot leave a fire burning in his domain on Shabbat (based on the literal meaning of Shmot 35:3), and they would observe Shabbat by sitting in the dark and only eating cold food. This, however, was in complete disregard of the Oral Torah which instructs us explicitly that to light a fire on the Sabbath itself is one of the prohibited types of work (Mishnayot Shabbat 7:2), but there is no prohibition to leave a fire burning that was lit before Shabbat. Therefore, in response to the false claims of the Saducees it became an accepted minhag (custom) among all Traditional Orthodox Jewish communities, to prepare foods for Shabbat that will remain hot by resting on a pre-Shabbat existing fire for the course of the  Shabbat day. This was a refutation for the Saducees, as if to say: “You see, we can maintain the restriction of the Torah not to light a fire on the Shabbat, and nonetheless, we will still be able to take pleasure in hot food on Shabbat day. This is what gave the custom of eating Chulent on Shabbat an extra special significance among all the other Shabbat foods (Rama 259:8).

Notwithstanding, even the custom to eat Chulent was only incorporated in the halachah as such: only as a custom. It was never considered obligatory on the same level of a Torah or even a Rabbinic requirement. Therefore, it is not possible that someone who does not fulfill this custom should be considered as the worst rasha.

The requirement for one to follow the customs of his family is called “Al titosh” and applies to all customs that a person has received from his specific family tradition (Pesachim 50b). In this vein it is a requirement that a person make sure to fulfill all of his family traditions whenever possible – and included in that would be to eat the customary foods on Shabbat. However, the amount necessary in order to fulfill the custom would only be a little piece from each of the customary foods.

In Summary:

To fulfill the Rabbinic requirement of "Oneg Shabbat", you should make sure to eat at least one food throughout the course of Shabbat that is especially pleasurable and not usually eaten by you on weekdays. If your personal family’s custom includes eating certain specific foods during the course of Shabbat, but eating a specific one of those foods will actually cause you suffering or hurt, then you should not fulfill that custom, because doing so would undermine the basic premise of “Oneg Shabbat”. However, if eating any of those specific foods will not necessarily cause you suffering – just that you are not especially interested in having those foods – you should still try your best to fulfill your family’s custom every Shabbat by trying to have a small piece of each of those customary foods over the course of Shabbat.

With blessings,
Rav Nachum