Eating Fish on Shabbat

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin 

There is a well-known custom to eat fish on Shabbat. Indeed, the Shabbat meal frequently begins with a first course consisting of fish.[1]  This is no doubt partly due to the story of “Yosef Mokir Shabbat”. 

The Talmud  tells the story of a certain impoverished Yosef who always honored the Shabbat with the best possible foods. In Yosef’s neighborhood there lived a wealthy Gentile. Local fortunetellers warned this wealthy Gentile that Yosef would one day acquire all of his wealth. Not wanting to see all his hard earned possessions end up in the ownership of someone else, he went and sold everything – purchasing a precious stone with all the proceeds. He kept this precious stone set in his hat so that it should be with him wherever he went. Once, as he was crossing a bridge, a wind came and blew off his hat and jewel sending it into the river below, and the man watched as his jewel was swallowed by a fish that then disappeared.

One late Friday afternoon Yosef was walking in the marketplace. A fish merchant desperately trying to sell his best catch before the onset of Shabbat approached Yosef surveying his interest in buying the fish. True to his reputation, Yosef did indeed purchase the large and tasty looking fish in honor of Shabbat. Upon arriving home and slicing open his fish in preparation for cooking, Yosef found a diamond – the rich man’s diamond – in the belly of the fish. The sages teach us that it was in the merit of Yosef’s extensive honoring of the Shabbat that he merited to receive this diamond which we are told was worth thirteen roomfuls of gold.

Fish is especially appropriate for the Friday night meal, although it is ideal to partake of fish at all three Shabbat meals.[2] If one only has enough fish for one meal, it seems preferable that it should be saved for the Shabbat daytime meal.[3]Some authorities argue that the third Shabbat meal is actually the ideal time to eat fish.[4] The popularity of fish on Shabbat may be due to the fact that fish (“dag”) is the gematria of “7”, suggesting that we are to eat fish on the seventh day.As with anything one eats on Shabbat – one’s personal gastronomic preferences and conveniences take priority.[5]

There are a number of additional explanations for the custom of eating fish on Shabbat. One explanation has it that eating fish represents a three-part continuity in the order of creation: Fish were created on Thursday, Man on Friday, and Shabbat on Saturday.[10] Others suggest that eating fish on Shabbat represents the feast which will take place in Olam Haba, the next world, in which the Leviathan[11] fish will be served. 



[1] Shabbat 118b 

[2] Magen Avraham 242:1 

[3] O.C. 271:3 

[4] Minhag Yisrael Torah, O.C. 291:1,Ta’amei Haminhagim 305 

[5] Mishna Berura 242:1 

[10] Ta’amei Haminhagim 305 

[11] Bava Batra 75a, Rashi;Bereishit 1:21. The Leviathan is a giant fish which was created on the fifth day of creation. God created one male Leviathan and one female. The male, we are told, was castrated, and the female was set aside for that special banquet discussed above. See: Tehillim 74:13-14, Iyov 41, and Yeshayahu 27:1 for biblical references to the Leviathan.

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA”M at a number of yeshivot.


  1. Ari,
    1. What happened to footnotes 6-9?
    2. Did you find any sources that discuss NOT eating fish on Shabbat due to the serious borrer issues that may arise? This would also seem like fertile ground for the development of gefilte fish as well.
    Reuven Spolter

  2. R’ Reuven, shalom!

    Yes, the original piece was longer, so thats why some footnotes are “missing”. (good eye!)

    Also due to space limitations I decided not to delve into the history of Gifilte Fish, which, as you mention, was created in order to be able to enjoy fish on Shabbat without borer issues.

    Ari Enkin

  3. The problem of borer in dealing with fish bones, and the rise of chumrot to deal with it, was the first example Haym Soloveitchik cites in “Rupture and Reconstruction” – see starting at footnote 2 (and of course see the footnotes!).

    A couple of summers ago I was in a certain NJ shul. Between Mincha and Maariv the rabbi was reading some halakhot from the Yalkut Yosef, including the line “Chayav adam Le-echol dagim be-Shabbat”, which he translated as “You have to tell your wife to make fish for Shabbat.”

  4. Is there any connection to last week’s parsha where Yaakov blesses Ephraim and Menasha with the word dag structured as a verb? (I have no idea how you’d translate that into english, fish’ily?.)

  5. Yosh-

    There is no connection the custom of eating fish on Shabbat and the blessing of Efraim and Menashe. However, the Jews are often compared to fish becasue a)they multiply quickly and b) there s no ‘ayin hara’ applicable to them. (So too we pray that no ayin hara be able to affect us)

    There is more on this with regards to Tashlich and the reason it should be recited at a body of water which contains fish.


  6. >This is no doubt partly due to the story of “Yosef Mokir Shabbat”.

    Why is there no doubt?

  7. If the wealthy Gentile lived in Yosef’s neighborhood, Yosef probably knew about his selling all his assets to buy the diamond and and its subsequent loss. Shouldn’t Yosef have returned it to him?

  8. Another reason is that Man, Fish and Shabbos were the three things that received a beracha at the time of creation, combining the three yields a ‘chut hameshulash’ (hence the reason for eating fish at all three meals).

  9. Also well-known is the axiom:

    האוכל דג בדג ניצול מד”ג
    One who eats fish on the 7th day is saved from the judgement of Gehinnom.

  10. “Fish is especially appropriate for the Friday night meal, … If one only has enough fish for one meal, it seems preferable that it should be saved for the Shabbat daytime meal.[3]Some authorities argue that the third Shabbat meal is actually the ideal time to eat fish.[4]”
    Well that clears things up!

  11. Dovid K-

    ……yeah, ok. It does sound a little funny.

    But that’s what happens when you are out to present the different opinions on the matter.

    Ari Enkin

  12. Joseph-

    Maybe he did, maybe he didnt. In any event, he held like the view that you do not have to return the lost object of an idolator.

    Ari Enkin

  13. Dave-

    …because the story is in so many children’s books as saying so.


    Ari Enkin

  14. “Also due to space limitations I decided not to delve into the history of Gifilte Fish, which, as you mention, was created in order to be able to enjoy fish on Shabbat without borer issues.”

    Nope. Gefilte fish is a German peasants dish using boney and therefore cheaper fish. The drasha came mush later

  15. And as Tzaddikim get reincarnated as fish or something like that it’s especially meritorious to eat fish on Shabbat as you might be consuming a Tzaddik.

  16. “This is no doubt partly due to the story of “Yosef Mokir Shabbat”.”

    Isn’t it the other way around? The story is merely a testimony of an ancient minhag to eat fish (considered a delicates) for the shabbos meal.

    IIRC, Gemara mentions this custom in many other places.

  17. R’ enkin,

    Nobody holds thT you have to return a lost article of a non- Jew …. However, Shimon ben shetach comments in the yerushalmi that when his students bought him a donkey from a non- jew and found a jewel — his students told him the Halacha is you go not have to return… Detach responds.. What am I a barbarian ? It seems that there is a moral and ethical value that made shetach not follow the Halacha .

    I believe that is the appropriate response in our day…. Also to teach children.

  18. Ruvie-

    I agree that today we should return the lost objects of a non-jew, etc. a-la-Meiri (to Bava Kamma 37). However it is safe to assume that the bad man in the Yosef Mokir Shabbat story was a pure idolator which is different than today’s Christians.

    Ari Enkin

  19. Har Nof Academic


    You are correct.

    The Gemara (Shabbat 118b) in the context of discussing how to honor(kavod) and enjoy Shabbat (oneg) asks, “With what do you enjoy it [Shabbat]? R. Yehudah b. R. Shmuel b. Shilat in the name of Rav said, ‘with a dish of tardin, large fish and heads of garlic.'”

    The Gemara then continues with praise for those who honor the Sabbath properly.

    The tale of Yosef Moker Shabei (actually on 119a, Ari!) would seem to be a “proof” for the reward one receives by honoring and delighting in the Sabbath properly (e.g. with a large fish).

    While there are a number of cute reasons, gemmatriot and allusions found in Chassidic literature, the reason for prescribing the eating of fish is simple: It was a delicacy that people enjoyed.

  20. MiMedinat HaYam

    to yaak:

    that would be a reason to eating fish at seudah shilishit, which is supposed to save one from the travails of gehenom (or was that melaveh malkah?)

  21. Ari,

    “Also due to space limitations I decided not to delve into the history of Gifilte Fish, which, as you mention, was created in order to be able to enjoy fish on Shabbat without borer issues.”

    To the best of my knowledge, this was suggested by Rabbi Neuvirt in Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchaso as a possible reason, not a historical fact. Do you have other sources which state it as fact?

  22. Yi’yasher kochakha, R. Enkin, on the beautiful exposition regarding ichthyological consumption on Shabbat.

    (1) As a support to R’ Moshe’s comment at 2:49 p.m., R. Joshua Shmidman sometimes commented at Se’udah Sheleesheet that “déshé” (in Psalms 23:2) can be envisaged as an acronymn for Dag, Shabbat, Adam. Parenthetically, although R. Shmidman did not say so, (lihavdil ani hakatan) I prefer to specifically reserve the fish for Se’udah Sheleesheet (like the authorities quoted in footnote 4 of this post) because it avoids halakhic problems of fish and meat [since it is not common to serve meat at that meal].

    (2) Whether the church is avodah zarah for Bnei Noach is indeed an important debate, as per the discussion in an earlier post entitled “Idolaters in the Land”. In terms of answering R’ Joseph Kaplan’s excellent question of why didn’t Yosef Mokir Shabbat return the jewel like Shimon ben Shetach, I would like to hypothesize that Yosef Mokir Shabbat indeed made an effort, but despite the best of his heroic efforts, he could not find the original owner. [Indeed, perhaps the original owner, once apprised of the fact that Yosef Mokir Shabbat possessed his jewel, now recognized the Hand of Providence and repented from his idolatry, and – as part of his repentance – happily bequeathed the jewel to Yosef Mokir Shabbat.]

  23. Har Nof Academic

    Why don’t we stress eating the heads of garlic on Shabbat as per Rav?
    At least that might reduce lLoshon Hora by keeping gossipers away from each other.

  24. I think there is an undertone in the story re yosef mokir shabbos that the gentile was not a worthy person. Naturally most of us would not want all our possessions transferred to an anonymous stranger, but would our reaction be to put it all in one stone under a hat? (also quite a foolish strategy, aka putting all your eggs in one basket). and what are the role of fortunetellers. Is this the right way to change your fortune or mazel or future?

  25. by the last question, i mean to say that assuming this is actually foretold, what do you do about it? teshuva and maasim tovim, or practical strategies to subvert fate?

  26. Melbournite,

    The Gemara tells us that eating garlic on Shabbos night is one of the takkanos of Ezra HaSofer. According to many this is still obligatory in our time.

    The GRA (among others) holds that the garlic should be cooked. That takes a bit from the aroma.

  27. Sorry about the technical troubles over the last little while. Hopefully the next dialogue will flow smoother.

    Thank you all for your comments and feedback!

    Ari Enkin

  28. Rav Spira-

    “problems of fish and meat”??

    C’mon. Even if any such problems exist (cf. Rambam, Magen Avraham) they are easily remedied with a quick drink.

    Ari Enkin

  29. I thank R. Enkin for illuminating my eyes with this point. It is indeed true that a drink suffices according to Chayei Adam (quoted by Sha’ar Hatziyun §2 in Mishnah Berurah OC 173). However, Mishnah Berurah himself (§4) appears to advocate both kinu’ach and hadachah, a position which is affirmed by the contemporary book Piskei Teshuvot II, pp. 504-505. Moreover, this student has discovered (from personal “fishy” experience) that the glass which is used for hadachah cannot be used anymore for drinking during the meal while eating the meat course, since the fish residue will adhere to the drinking glass. Removing the glass from the table can also create a question of borer (if my table is very cluttered and the drinking glass is “mixed” with the other items on the table). That’s why I prefer to avoid fish at the first two meals (-though it’s admittedly very non-traditional on my part).

  30. R Ari-How about the symbolic role of fish being the Jewish People who embrace the Torah as the basis of their existence as explained by R Akiva at the end of Brachos ? I think that the Avnei Nezer uses that Talmudic statement in the context of explaining a minhag to eat fish on Erev YK, but I think that one can use the same rationale to explain why fish is so popular on Shabbos and YT, when HaShem enters our house and when we enter His House.

  31. Very nice, Steve!

    Certainly an admissible interpretation.

    Ari Enkin

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