by R. Daniel Mann
Question: My wife and I are relatively newly married. I am used to having fleishig Shabbat meals, whereas my wife is disgusted by meat (including poultry, mainly by the smell). Is it right for us to stop having meat at Shabbat/Yom Tov meals or should we try to figure out an arrangement that my wife can live with?
Answer: There is a mandate of “v’karata laShabbat oneg” (you shall call Shabbat a day of indulgence) (Yeshayahu 58:13). The gemara (Shabbat 118a-b, as does the pasuk ibid.) promises great reward for those who indulge properly in Shabbat meals, and the Mishna Berura (242:1) cites opinions that the basic obligation is from the Torah.
The basic obligation of the two main meals of Shabbat is to have bread (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 274:4) and [preferably wine for] Kiddush. But as far back as we know, it has been customary that the festivity of these meals includes meat, and meat features prominently in the sources. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 250:2) states: “He should have much meat, wine, and treats according to his ability.” While one should not normally nullify oaths on Shabbat, one may do so for a need of the day. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 341:1) gives an example of undoing an oath not to eat on that Shabbat, and the Mishna Berura (341:2) applies this even to an oath not to eat meat because “eating meat is a mitzva on Shabbat.”
However, there is strong evidence that there is no obligation to eat specifically meat (or poultry) on Shabbat. An onen’s (one before the burial of a close relative) prohibition to eat meat or drink wine is suspended on Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 341:1). Rabbeinu Yona (Berachot 10b), accepted by the Rama (ad loc.) and the Shach (ad loc. 7), says the onen is not required to eat meat if he does not want to because it is not an obligation to have specifically meat. The Mishna Berura (ibid., in Sha’ar Hatziyun 341:4) said that the Shabbat need justifying nullifying oaths is not limited to meat specifically but to any food that makes Shabbat enjoyable.
The Mishna Berura (242:1) posits that the foods mentioned in the gemara as appropriate for Shabbat are examples based on their time and place, and that we generally assume that meat is festive in people’s eyes, but that this need not be across-the-board. If any food preference (besides bread) is somewhat objective it is fish, as it includes a mystical element, and even there it is not required for those who dislike it (see ibid. 2).
So clearly, your wife should not eat meat if it bothers her in any way. But I understand your question not to be about your wife eating meat, but whether meat should be served for you or guests, who do appreciate it. Let us assume that you cannot find a technical system, such as your preparing a meat–based food whose smell does not offend your wife, but that she is capable of putting up with it with sacrifice (as she probably does as a guest of others or at semachot).
Lack of funds is grounds for having a simple meal, even if one can obtain more enjoyable food with sacrifice (Shabbat 118a; see details of prioritization in Mishna Berura 242:1). We also know that provisions to make the house more conducive for familial harmony (i.e., light in the house) are more important than either wine for Kiddush or Chanuka candles (Shabbat 23b). A husband should honor his wife, by fulfilling her needs and reasonable desires, more than himself (Rambam, Ishut 15:19). Therefore, your position should be that meat should not be served at your Shabbat table. If your wife feels or received advice (do not wait for this to happen) that she should/wants to sacrifice for your Shabbat experience, then you are blessed with the type of disagreement we wish on couples. It is hard to know based on a short description who we think should “win this disagreement,” and sometimes a compromise is best for all parties. As long as you are sincere about your willingness to forgo meat, things should work out fine. If, when you im yirtzeh Hashem have older children, they feel deprived, the matter can be revisited.