By Rabbi Aryeh Citron, Dean at Yeshivah College in Miami Beach, Florida
Lately, an unusual custom has arisen where some people gather on late Friday afternoons to eat and drink and schmooze. People refer to this as a “bain.” This “custom” is problematic as our sages recommended that one not eat on Friday afternoons in a manner that diminishes one’s appetite for Shabbos.
This is especially problematic if one does so on a regular basis. In addition, it sometimes happens that people continue eating after the sun sets. (Hence the name “Bain” for “Bain Hashmashos.”) This is forbidden according to halacha as is also explained below:
Issue #1: Eating late on Friday Afternoon
The Chachomim recommended that one refrain from eating a meal during the last three hours of the day on Friday afternoon (Shulchan Aruch Admur Hazakein 249:9). This will keep one’s appetite for the Shabbos meals.
The Ketzot HaShulchan says that, during this time one should (preferably) not eat more than the size of an egg of bread or grain food. One may, however, eat plenty of fruit as well as drink their fill of nonalcoholic beverages. In addition, it is proper to not drink more than 3 ounces of alcoholic beverages at this time.
The Gemoro (Gittin 38b) says that there was a family in Yerushalayim that would regularly have a meal on Friday (see below as what was wrong with this). This family were wiped out (as a punishment for this).
The Ramban says that although, by the letter of the law, one may eat a meal on Friday afternoon, it is forbidden to do so on a regular basis as it shows disregard for the honor of the upcoming Shabbos meal. The Alter Rebbe points out (Kuntres Acharon, 2 on Siman 249) that most authorities do not agree with this ruling. (But see below regarding a large meal.)
The Maggid Mishnah says that the family was eating a particularly large meal on Fridays – larger than the meal they would eat during the rest of the week. Such a large meal is forbidden even in the morning as it is likely to ruin one’s appetite for the Shabbos meal. The Halacha follows this view. As such one may not schedule a large banquet for any time on Friday. Exceptions are made for mitzvah feasts which have a fixed time such as a bris milah or a wedding. (Since a bris and wedding should not be delayed, they are considered to be mitzvos that have a fixed time.) The details of this are discussed in Shulchan Aruch O.C. 249.
Practically the halacha recommends that one should not eat more than the size of an egg of grain food (approximately four crackers) on Friday afternoon.
Issue #2: Not Eating Before Kiddush
The Gemara (Pesachim 106a) says that it is a mitzvah Min HaTorah to recite Kiddush as Shabbos begins. (But see the beginning of Siman 271 as to the custom of not making Kiddush during the seventh hour.)
It is considered an exemplary mitzvah to make kiddush as soon as possible after Shabbos begins, i.e., as soon as possible after one finishes the Friday night prayers.
Despite this, if one wishes to delay kiddush in order to increase his appetite for the Shabbos meal or in order to study Torah, one may do so. The reason for this is that, Min HaTorah, one has already fulfilled the mitzvah of sanctifying the Shabbos by mentioning it during davening. However, one should not delay the meal if this will cause discord in the home or if there are guests who are hungry. Another consideration is that if any of the guests are poor, delaying the meal might be a transgression of the law against delaying the mitzvah of giving tzedoko.
In addition, the Chida writes, one should not delay making kiddush unnecessarily by making small talk. This causes pain to the neshomo yeseira we receive on Shabbos.
Since it is a mitzvah to make kiddush at the beginning of Shabbos, the Chachomim established that one may not eat or drink anything, even water, from when the sun sets until after making Kiddush. The reason for this is unlike the reason we do not eat before other mitzvos such as Shofar and Lulav. In those cases, the reason is to ensure that one not forget to fulfill the mitzvah. In this case, it is because the concept of Kiddush is to sanctify the food we are eating and proclaim that we are doing so in honor of Shabbos. As such, by its very definition, Kiddush must be said before eating.
One who accepts Shabbos early and davens Maariv may not eat from the time he accepts the Shabbos until after he makes (or hears) Kiddush. This rule applies to both men and women. As such, a woman who accepts Shabbos by lighting the Shabbos candles should refrain from eating until after Kiddush.
One may not even drink water after sunset before making or hearing Kiddush. In this sense, Kiddush is stricter than Havdalah as, by the letter of the law, one may drink water after dark before Havdalah. (In practice, it is customary to not drink water before Havdalah.) The reason for this is that eating on Shabbos is considered a very significant act, so even a snack (or a drink) is Halachically important.
Issue #3: Excessive Drinking
In addition to all of the above, the “bein” sometimes involves excessive alcoholic drinking. This is not recommended except in the proper environment of a Chassidisher farbrengen and, even then, one should restrict themselves as per the Rebbe’s takona.
Hopefully, this information will reach those who have the “bein” custom, and they will refrain from it in the future.
In this merit, may they be blessed with the reward granted to all those who take pleasure in the Shabbos as is stated in the Nevi’im, “Then you will delight in G‑d.” And the Chazal state that all the sins of a person who delights in the Shabbos are forgiven, and he will be saved from the judgment of Gehinnom (Shulchan Aruch Admur HaZakein 243:1).