Question: What should you eat for Seudah Shlishis (i.e. do you need to have to eat bread)? How long before the Sabbath ends should you eat? Often, I finish the Sabbath lunch a bit late in the day, and the last thing I feel like doing is eating a 3rd meal.
Answer: Your question about Seudah Shlishis can be divided into 3 parts:
a) When is the correct time to eat the meal? The time during which you can fulfill your obligation of Seudah Shlishis begins when one is permitted to pray Mincha – in other words, from 6.5 “halachic hours” into the day. (Generally speaking, a “halachic hour” is the amount of time from sunrise to sunset divided by 12.) If one began eating before this time, but ends the meal after it, he has fulfilled his obligation. One should preferably pray Mincha before the meal, but if this would be difficult, it is permissible to eat the meal before praying. One should not begin the meal after sunset on the Sabbath; however, if one began before sunset, one may continue into the night for as long as one desires.
b) What does one have to eat in order to fulfill his or her obligation? How much? According to all opinions, a person should do their best to eat bread for this meal. Preferably, one should make the blessing over 2 whole rolls (i.e. “Lechem Mishna“), just as with the other two Sabbath meals. However, if that’s not possible, one should try to make the blessing over at least one whole roll or matza. Of course, if he only has slices of bread available, he can still use them and fulfill the obligation. Minimally, one should eat a little bit more than the amount of bread that is equivalent to a medium-size egg (“KeBeitzah“), which is about 30 grams. Some authorities say that one can even fulfill his or her obligation with a piece of bread the size of a “KeZayis” (an olive) – about 15 grams. However the “Mishna Berura” states that one should eat a bit more than 30 grams if at all possible. Now, what if one is so full from lunch that they can’t stick another piece of bread in their mouth? In that case, one can fulfill his or her obligation with anything made of the five species of grain – wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt (i.e. things like cake, cookies, or crackers), or even with meat, fish or fruit – in descending level of preference.
c) What if you will be sick, or close to it if you eat another mouthful after lunch? The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 291:1) writes that “One is not obligated to make himself suffer.” However, he goes on to state that “The wise man’s eyes are in his head, i.e he shouldn’t fill his belly during lunch so that there will still be space for Seudah Shlishis“. The commentators emphasize that one should be “very careful” to appropriately fulfill the mitzvah of Seudah Shlishis – the rewards are quite significant.
All the best!
Rabbi Ari Lobel