by R. Daniel Mann
Question: We are making a private bar mitzva minyan/seuda. Due to family dynamics, we want to have a milchig Kiddush with a long break before the Shabbat lunch. May we make the Kiddush before Kri’at Hatorah?
Answer: The gemara (Berachot 28b) reports that Rav Huna forbade any amount of eating before Musaf, but it concludes that the halacha is not like this opinion. However, Rishonim infer from the gemara (Ta’anit 26b) about not doing Birkat Kohanim at a time when people could be drunk that we assume that people do not have a meal before Musaf. In fact, the former gemara only rejects Rav Huna, who forbade te’ima (lit., tasting). The limit on eating is out of concern it will cause one to forget to daven (see Taz, OC 286:2; Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 52:(54)). Therefore, the simple answer is that it is permitted if one is careful about what/how much people will eat.
As the distinction between eating and tasting appears elsewhere (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 639:2, regarding eating outside the sukka) the Shulchan Aruch (OC 286:3) allows up to a k’beitza (size of an egg) of bread and any amount of “fruit.” Poskim posit that a k’beitza is the limit for pat haba’ah b’kisnin (baked grain-based foods, e.g., cake). There is less certainty regarding limits on grain-based cooked foods (e.g., cholent) (see Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 52:(52); Ishei Yisrael 36:76). There is no limit on non-alcoholic beverages (ibid.).
The mitzva to make Kiddush before eating starts after davening, (Shulchan Aruch, OC 289:1), which prevalent practice takes to mean Shacharit (a less accepted position is that it is after Musaf – see Tzitz Eliezer VI:7). This complicates matters somewhat. One needs to eat at least a k’zayit of bread or the like (see more in Living the Halachic Process II, C-3) to fulfill the halachot of Kiddush (Shulchan Aruch, OC 273:5; Mishna Berura ad loc. 21). Since an egg is only twice or three times larger than an olive (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 486:1), and considering the many opinions on these measurements, it is a feat to eat a food with confidence that it is between a k’zayit and a k’beitza. So without significant care, and cooperation of the participants, the Kiddush may violate either the halachot of Kiddush or of eating before Musaf.
There are indeed times when the minhag of many is to make Kiddush before Musaf, specifically on Simchat Torah and Rosh Hashana (on the latter, some justify the minhag in favor (Tzitz Eliezer ibid.) while others oppose it (Mateh Ephrayim 588:2). To compare to our case, Rosh Hashana has a special mitzva we prefer not to precede by eating – shofar blowing. On the other hand, on Rosh Hashana and Simchat Torah, there is a special need, as people will otherwise fast into the afternoon, which is difficult physically and is perhaps (beyond our scope) a halachic problem as well (see Teshuvot V’hanhagot V:175). Some explain that since the problem is forgetting to do the mitzva, if people eat as part of a congregation, there is no realistic concern that everyone will forget (see Minchat Yitzchak V:111).
In your case, the matter of objective need appears missing, but since you refer to a minyan of people, the decreased concern does. Thus, there is room for leniency even if some may eat more than the poskim otherwise allow (especially women and children, whose obligation in Musaf is less clear/weaker – see Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 52:(54)). Another thing in your favor is that this is a unique situation; we would not want to create a new minhag regarding regular Shabbatot. (We do not consider the practice of “Kiddush clubs,” opposed by the rabbinic community, a minhag, or a model to follow.)
Our practical guidance is that early Kiddush is proper only for significant need, which we, from afar, leave to you to ascertain. You mention Kiddush before Kri’at Hatorah, which can be considered if that is part of the practical need. However, due to indications of Kri’at Hatorah being somewhat connected to Shacharit, it is preferable to do the Kiddush only after it (see Piskei Teshuvot 286:8).
לעילוי נשמת יואל אפרים בן אברהם עוזיאל זלצמן ז”ל