09. Meat and Wine at Yom Tov Meals

In Temple times, the joy of the pilgrimage festivals was expressed primarily through bringing ḥagiga offerings in Jerusalem, as we read, “You shall rejoice before the Lord your God…at the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish His name” (Devarim 16:11), and “You shall sacrifice there peace offerings (shelamim) and eat them, rejoicing before the Lord your God” (Devarim 27:7). This is explained below in section 15.

Since the destruction of the Temple, men fulfill the mitzva of additional simḥa by drinking wine and having a festive meal (Pesaḥim 109a; SA 529:1). It can also be fulfilled by drinking other alcoholic beverages, as they are mood enhancers. However, it is preferable to use wine, which is considered the most dignified of all drinks. Drinking grape juice does not fulfill the mitzva; as it is not alcoholic, it is not a mood enhancer. How much wine is necessary to enhance one’s mood? Enough to cause a bit of difficulty with concentration, such that a rabbi would be considered impaired and thus prohibited from giving a halakhic ruling (MA 99:1). Some Torah giants would drink so much wine during the Yom Tov meals that they refrained from giving rulings until the following day (Beitza 4a; Kareitot 13b; Shakh, YD 242:19). The Sages estimate that minimally, to achieve the requisite level of simḥa one must drink slightly more than a revi’it of wine (75 ml), though most people would need to drink considerably more than that to achieve such a state.

Nevertheless, one should not overdo the drinking, as we are not meant to get drunk. Drunkenness is not to be equated with simḥa, but rather with frivolity, silliness, and escapism. We are commanded to celebrate in a way that is connected with life and which infuses it with meaning and sanctity.

Even though the primary way for a man to achieve simḥa is through drinking wine, there is also a mitzva to eat red meat at the festive meals, as this is also enjoyable. Thus, drinking wine is an obligation (ḥova), while eating red meat is a mitzva (SA 529:1; SAH ad loc. 7; MB ad loc. 11). If one prefers poultry or is unable to obtain red meat, he should eat poultry, as it too is festive and brings joy (Ḥavot Ya’ir, end of §178).

The primary expression of the additional simḥa is at the daytime meal. (The primary expression of all festival mitzvot is during the day.) True, there is a mitzva to have an abundance of good, enjoyable food at night – even more than one would at a Shabbat meal. In the evening, though, there is no mitzva to have wine as there is during the day.

Women, too, are obligated to have enjoyable feasts on Yom Tov, but they are not obligated to drink wine. If a woman enjoys wine, she does have a mitzva to drink some. If a man does not enjoy drinking wine or eating meat, he does not have to force himself to do so. Rather, for the Yom Tov meals, he should make sure to have the foods which make him happiest (Sha’agat Aryeh §65).[5]


[5]. The Gemara formulates it as follows. “It was taught: R. Yehuda b. Beteira says: When the Temple existed, the only simḥa was with meat, as it says, ‘You shall sacrifice there peace offerings and eat them, rejoicing before the Lord your God’ (Devarim 27:7). But now that the Temple no longer exists, the only simḥa is with wine, as it says, ‘Wine cheers the hearts of men’ (Tehilim 104:15)’” (Pesaḥim loc. cit.). It is reasonable to assume that during Temple times as well, people enjoyed drinking wine on Yom Tov, but the joy of the korban was so great that they fulfilled the mitzva of simḥa with it, even if they did not drink wine. However, nowadays, when we have no sacrificial meat to eat, the mitzva is to drink wine. Beit Yosef expresses surprise that Rambam (MT, Laws of Yom Tov 6:18) includes eating meat as a current Yom Tov obligation. SAH 529:7 states that there is an obligation (ḥova) to drink wine, and a mitzva to eat meat. This is implied by Baḥ and MA. BHL 529:2 s.v. “keitzad” and MB ad loc. 11 state this as well.

We have seen that one should drink more than a revi’it, as a rabbi who drinks a revi’it is disqualified from rendering a halakhic ruling. Nevertheless, one who drinks only a revi’it in the course of a meal may give a ruling, because the food eaten during the meal lessens the effect of the alcohol. MA 99:1 quotes Hagahot Smak that after a Yom Tov meal in which more than a revi’it has been drunk, a ruling may not be rendered. The Gemara states that there were rabbis who, after having the festive meal at night, would wait until the following day to hand down rulings (Beitza 4a). We see from this that they drank a large amount, as the effects of the wine did not wear off until the next day (Responsa Rashba 1:247; Shakh, YD 242:19).

According to Darkhei Teshuva (YD 89:19), men are obligated to have two festive meals that include meat and wine, one by day and one by night. Therefore, it objects to those who have a dairy meal on Shavu’ot night. It would seem that even Darkhei Teshuva would concede that the daytime meal is more important, just as it is on Shabbat (Pesaḥim 105b; SA 271:3). However, according to Sefat Emet (Sukka 48a) and Arukh Ha-shulḥan He-atid (Kodashim 199:17), the obligation is to eat meat and drink wine at one Yom Tov meal, which can be either during the day or at night. Arukh Ha-shulḥan adds that there is a mitzva to have two meals. The common practice is to make sure to have a significant meal during the day – usually with red meat and wine – and to add something extra festive at night beyond the usual Shabbat fare. However, we need not insist on eating red meat and drinking more than a revi’it of wine then. Netziv writes similarly in Ha’amek She’ela 67:8. For men who do not enjoy meat and wine, as well as for women, the festive meals do not fulfill the first part of the mitzva of simḥa (to do something special which gives much enjoyment), but rather the second part (to add something to the meals beyond the normal Shabbat food).

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Editor: Nechama Unterman