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Tending the Bar Mitzvah

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Topic: Catering on Shabbat

Judith Subar wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Something bothered me recently when I attended an Orthodox Bar Mitzvah week-end. The Orthodox caterers were serving food during Shabbat. They seemed to be working very hard on the Shabbat. What is the halacha for preparing, serving, and cleaning up during Shabbat? Thank you!

Dear Judith Subar,

On Shabbat, 39 categories of creative activities are forbidden by the Torah. These include such things as cooking, writing and building a fire. Other prohibitions were added by our Sages to safeguard the sanctity and spirit of Shabbat.

As long as the caterer avoids any of these forbidden activities, he is allowed to "work" on Shabbat. For example, all food must be cooked in advance and kept warm on a stove that was lit before Shabbat. He doesn't violate the spirit of Shabbat either, because his efforts are Shabbat related.

Another issue is the Rabbinic prohibition against earning wages on Shabbat. The Sages forbade earning wages for a Shabbat activity, even if the activity itself is permitted. They limited this prohibition, however, only to payment designated specifically for work done on Shabbat. But if the pay is part of a "package deal" which includes work done during the week, such as setting up before Shabbat, then even the Shabbat wages are permitted.


  • Shulchan Aruch 306:4
  • Mishna Berurah 306:16
  • Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata 28:59

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