The classic warning of the Jewish mother not to spoil one’s appetite may just have a basis in halacha, Jewish law – but only if the warning occurs on Friday afternoon (or on the afternoon before a Jewish holiday).

Because it is a mitzvah to eat and enjoy the Friday night meal, it is important that one have an appetite going into Shabbat. The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) therefore states that one should not eat a large meal on Friday, unless one is participating in a special meal associated with a mitzvah such as a brit milah (circumcision). During the last quarter of the day, one should not eat even a small meal. Snacking, however, is fine.

Despite the recommended practice of reducing one’s food intake before Shabbat, one is actually supposed to make it a point on Friday afternoon to taste the food being prepared for Shabbat. This custom appears to have spiritual implications. Many commentators connect the practice of tasting the Shabbat food to the phrase in the Mussaf Service of Shabbat that states “Those who taste it will merit long life.” Practically, of course, tasting the food before Shabbat guarantees that all of the food will be cooked and, therefore, there will be no need or temptation to cook on Shabbat (which is prohibitted).

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