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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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Festive meals on occasions of the celebration of domestic, communal, and religious joy, and on welcoming as well as on parting from friends. Social in character, they originated, as is now generally assumed, in sacrificial feasts.

As W. Robertson Smith tersely puts it: "A sacrifice was a public ceremony of a township the law of the feast was open-handed hospitality no sacrifice was complete without guests, and portions were freely distributed to rich and poor within the circle of a man's acquaintance universal hilarity prevailed" ("Religion of the Semites," 1889, pp. 236-258, with special reference to 1Samuel 9:13 , 20:6 2Samuel 6:19 Nehemiah 8:10 ). Participation in sacrificial meals was equivalent to covenanting with the Deity hence the prohibition not "to eat of the sacrifice" of the heathen (Exodus 34:15 Smith, l.c. pp. 252-300 Trumbull, "The Blood Covenant," 1885, pp. 268 et seq. ).

In Biblical Times.
In Biblical times the religious nature of these meals predominated, whether in the harvest feast (Deuteronomy 16:10,14 12:7,12 , 18 Judges 9:27 ), or in the covenant feasts at the union or parting of friends (Genesis 26:30 , 31:54 Exodus 24:5 ), to which category belongs also the weddingfeast (Genesis 24:54 , 29:22 Judges 14:10 ) or the thanksgiving feasts (Job 1:4 Psalm 22:26,27 Esther 8:17 , 9:22 ) or the feast of sheep-shearing (1Samuel 25:36 2Samuel 13:23 ), and probably also the feast of house dedication, according to Proverbs 9:1-4 . The weaning of a child, usually after its second year, was an occasion of feasting (Genesis 21:8 see Knobel-Dillmann on the passage). Birthday feasts are mentioned, but only of non-Jewish kings ( Genesis 40:20 2Maccabees 6:7 that of Herod, in Matthew 14:6 , may have been on the day of his accession to the throne, as seems to be the case with Esther 1:3,4 , and Daniel 5:1 ). The sacrificial feasts, however, in the course of time, to the chagrin of the Prophets, had become carousals void of all religious spirit. "The harp and the viol, the taboret and pipe, and wine are in their feasts but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands" (Isaiah 5:11,12 compare 28:7,8, and Amos 6:5,6 ).

In Post-Biblical Times.
The Talmud discriminates between religious Banquets ("se' udah shel miẓ wah"), in which the student of the Law should participate, and Banquets of a non-religious, voluntary character ("se' udah shel reshut"), in which the student of the Law should not participate (Pes. 49a ). In the former are included:

  1. The Betrothal and the Wedding-Feast ( l.c. ): The latter, called also "hillula" (feast of joyful song, Ket. 8a Ber. 31 a ), lasted seven days (see Judges 14:17 in Tobit 8:19 , twice seven days), a three days' preparation being deemed necessary for the banquet (Ket. 2a , 7b ).

  2. The Circumcision Feast (Ket. 8 a ): The father of Elisha ben Abuyah invited all the great and learned men of Jerusalem to the circumcision feast of his son (Yer. Haggai 2:77 b ). The Midrash ascribes the celebration of this feast to Abraham, taking the word in Genesis 21:8 , "Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned," as a Notarikon , , "on the eighth day when he circumcised Isaac" (Pirḳ e R. El. xxix. Midr. Teh. to Psalm 112 Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob to Gen. Shab. 130 a , Tos.). Josephus does not seem to know of the custom as yet, for he writes ("Contra Ap." 2:26): "The law does not permit us to make festivals at the births of our children and thereby afford occasion for drinking to excess." This is an allusion to the Greek festival called "Onomathesia" (giving of name), and "Hebdomeneumenia" (feast of the week) (Hermann, "Lehrbuch der Gottesdienstlichen Alterthü mer der Griechen," § 26, note 6), which occurs as "shabua' ha-Ben" in the Hadrianic time in the Talmud (Yer. Ket. 1:25c B. B. 60 b Sanh. 32 b ), but has been identified with the circumcision feast (Lö w, "Die Lebensalter," p. 89 Spitzer, "Das Mahl bei den Hebrä ern," p. 41, note 4).

  3. The Bar Miẓ wah Feast (see Bar Miẓ wah ): According to some commentators, the passage in Genesis 21:8 , quoted above, refers to the banquet given by Abraham on the day that Isaac was weaned from the "Yeẓ er ha-Ra' " (the evil spirit), and became Bar Miẓ wah (Gen. R. 53).

  4. Feast of the Redemption of the First-Born Son, see Pidyon ha-Ben . Some find this referred to under the name of "Yeshu' a ha-Ben" (salvation of the son), mentioned in B. Ḳ . 80a (see Tos. and ' Aruk, s.v. Solomon ben Adret, Responsa, Nos. 200,758 Shulḥ an ' Aruk, Yoreh De' ah, 305,10). The feast given on the night before circumcision, called the "Zakor"-meal, and the one given at the naming of the new-born daughter on the fourth Sabbath, called "Hollekreisch," are of late and foreign origin. They are not mentioned in the older codes, but Israel Isserlein refers to them in "Terumat ha-Deshen," p. 269, as does Mordecai Japhe in "Lebush," Yoreh De' ah, 265,12.

  5. The Finishing of a Talmudical Treatise Called Siyyum: This was also regarded as an occasion for feasting by students , sufficient even to permit them to eat meat when otherwise forbidden (Shulḥ an ' Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥ ayyim, 1058,1 Magen Abraham).

  6. The Sabbath and Holy-Day Meals: These, which in later times assumed the character of simple family repasts permeated by the spirit of genuine domesticity, were originally Banquets of the Pharisaic brotherhood, enlivened by song and discussions, at which the men reclined the women and children— if they took part at all— not being considered as among the number present. Wine at the opening and closing of the meal was deemed an indispensable feature over it the benediction and a blessing of sanctification of the day were offered by the one who presided at the table and broke the bread. Perfumes and ointments as well as a variety of dishes were characteristics of these meals, to the preparation of which some would devote a whole week (Ber. 8:5 Tos. Ber. 6:5 Tos. Beẓ ah, 2:13,14 Beẓ ah 16 a Pes. R. xxiii. Geiger, "Urschrift," p. 123 idem , "Jü d. Zeit." 4:105 et seq. ). These Banquets might not be held, however, at the time of the public discourses. "Two great families held such on Saobath eve and Saturday noon at such an improper time, and were exterminated for such transgression" (Giṭ . 38b ). Three meals are prescribed for the Sabbath one on the preceding evening another at noon (to which some add a breakfast in the forenoon) and the third in the late afternoon (Shab. 117b et seq. ). The Passover-eve meal also, although eminently a family feast, perhaps as early as Mishnaic times (Pes. 10:4), had originally the character of a banquet, at which the Pharisaic brothers sat together eating and drinking, singing hymns, and reciting or expounding chapters from Holy Scripture, as may be learned from the Pesaḥ Haggadah and the New Testament story of the last supper (Matthew 26 and parallels). Especially were the poor invited as guests. When Tobit had a rich meal prepared for him for Pentecost, he sent out his son to invite any poor Israelite he could find to participate therein ( Tobit 2:1,2 ). While the feasters often sat after Greek fashion with garlands on their heads (Isaiah 28:1 Wisdom of Song of Song of Solomon 2:7,8 Josephus, "Ant." 19:9, § 1), some deemed it especially obligatory to place wreaths on their heads at the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Book of Jubilees, 16:24). New moons also were occasions of great festive meals for the ancient Pharisaic brotherhoods, as is learned from R. H. 2:5, and Maseket Soferim, 19:9 whereas the merry Purim Banquets, at which drinking was a prominent feature (Meg. 7 b ), appear to be older than the Book of Esther itself (see Purim and the modern literature on Purim in Wildeboer's commentary on Esther Marti, "Kurzer Hand-Commentar," 17:172-177).

  7. Feasts of Joy and Thanksgiving for Victories of the Jews: Such a one is mentioned (I 2Maccabees 3:30-36 ) as having lasted, like Ḥ anukkah (1Maccabees 4:59 ), eight days.

  8. Meals of Comfort, "Se' udat Habraah," Given to the Mourners ( 2Samuel 3:35 Jeremiah 16:7 Tobit 4:17 Hosea 9:4 Josephus, "B. J." 2:1, § 1 idem , "Ant." 19:9, § 1 Ket. 8b M. Ḳ . 5 b , 25a Mas. Soferim, 19:11): These, forming a totally different class, may have originally been farewell Banquets to the dead (see Spitzer, l.c. pp. 65 et seq. Schwally, "Das Leben nach dem Tode," 1892, p. 23), which were changed into gifts to the mourners (Maimonides, "Yad," Abel, xiii. Yoreh De' ah, 378). See Mourning .

Greek and Roman Influences.
The various rules regarding the invitation and the seating of the guests, the mixing of the wine and the serving of the dishes, to be observed by the master of the banquet, called in Greek "ἀ ρ χ ι τ ρ ί κ λ ι ν ο ς ," by the cook, and the servant of the house ("shammash"), were no less strictly observed by the Jews than by the Greeks and Romans, as may be learned from Ber. vii. Tosef., Ber. iv.-vii. Derek ' Ereẓ Rabba and Zuṭ ṭ a. For the Babylonian Jews, the Persians were guides and patterns (Ber. 61b ). The wealthy Jews often followed the example of the Romans in indulging in sumptuous and boisterous Banquets such as are described in Philo, "De Vita Contemplativa," § § 5-7, and Wisdom of Song of Song of Solomon 2:7 et seq. All the more do the Rabbis warn against luxurious meals (Pes. 49 a ), and insist that discussions of Scripture, sacred songs, and, above all, the presence of students of the Law should give each banquet a sacred character (Ab. 3:3). "All tables are full of vomit and filthiness without Maḳ om" (= the name of God) (Isaiah 28:8 see Taylor, "Sayings of the Jewish Fathers," who refers to Cor. 10:31 Ber. 64 a Sanh. 101 a compare Ber. 43 b ).

Portions from the Banquets were sent to the poor, "to them for whom nothing is prepared" (Nehemiah 8:10 ), especially on Purim (Esther 9:19,22 ). Greater than the Banquets given by King Solomon (B. M. 7:1) were, according to B. M. 86b , those of Abraham, because his hospitality was the greater. Nehemiah also kept open house (Nehemiah 5:17,18 ). The Ḥ asidic Banquets described by Philo (l.c. § § 8 et seq. ) and Josephus ("B. J." 2:8, § 5) gave rise to the idea of a great banquet of the righteous in the world to come, also called "se' udah" (Ab. 3:25 compare Taylor, l.c. Revelation 19:9 , "Se' udah shel Liviatan" see Leviathan and Eschatology ).

Bibliography : Smith, Dict. of the Bible , s.v. Banquet Winer and Riehm Gastmä hler , in Hauck's Realencyklopä die .K.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Banquets'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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