SE'UDAH (Heb. סְעוּדָה var. סְעֻדָּה; "meal" or "banquet"; in Yiddish pronounced sude), a festive meal. Eating and drinking are considered as pious and sanctifying acts if their purpose is to keep physically fit and healthy and if the prescribed laws and customs are observed. Among these are the washing of hands before a meal at which bread is consumed (see *Ablution); pronouncing the appropriate benedictions over the different foods served at the meal; the recital of *Grace after Meals (Deut. 8:10) or of a shorter benediction (berakhah aḥaronah). The religious quality of a meal should be enhanced by being abstemious and avoiding gluttony, and especially by discoursing on the Torah at table. Persons engaging in discussion of Torah during the meal "are as though they had eaten of the table of God"; those who did not, "are as though they had eaten of sacrifices of the dead" (Avot 3:3). The Talmud describes in detail the various customs and good manners to be observed at meals, either when eating in private or in company. They include rules concerning the invitation and seating of guests, the mixing of the wine, the serving of the dishes, etc. (Ber. 7; tj, Ber. 6:6, 10c–d; Tosef., Ber 4–7; der 6–9, dez 5).
Etiquette demanded that a glass of beverage should not be drunk in one draught (Beẓah 25b); all food, especially *bread, be treated with reverence (Ber. 50b); a person refrain from talking while eating lest the food should go down the wrong way and cause him to suffocate (Ta'an. 5b). Proper chewing of food was advised for good health (Shab. 152a), and the custom of lengthening the dinner was regarded as leading to longevity (Ber. 54b). Eating was strictly to be done in the home, and a person eating in the street was compared to a dog (Kid. 40b).
Babylonian Jews followed the dining customs of the Persians, and wealthy Palestinian Jews those of the Romans. They, too, indulged in sumptuous and boisterous banquets (Philo, Cont. 5–7; Wisd. 2:7–9; et al.), causing rabbis in the Talmud to warn against gluttony (Ḥul. 84a; Avot 2:8, "more flesh, more worms"). They regarded the table as a substitute for the holy altar in the Temple (Ber. 54b–55a), and taught man that he could atone for his sins by inviting the poor to eat with him. As at the altar (Lev. 2:13), there must always be salt on the table (Isserles to Sh. Ar., oḤ 167:5). The master of the house, who himself served the guests, was lauded for imitating the Patriarch Abraham who had himself waited on the three angels (Gen. 18:7–9) and Moses who had waited on the elders of the people (Mekh., Amalek, 3–end). The Talmud discusses whether the master of the house is permitted to renounce the honor otherwise due to him by serving his guests personally. The nasi R. Gamaliel, at his son's wedding, served R. Joshua and R. Eliezer; the latter refused to be served by a nasi but R. Joshua, however, did not object, stating that R. Gamaliel followed in the footsteps of the Patriarch Abraham (Kid. 32b; Mekh. ibid.). According to the Talmud, breakfast should be eaten between the fourth and the sixth hour after sunrise (Pes. 12b). Two meals a day, one in the morning and one in the evening, were regarded as sufficient except on the Sabbath, when a third meal was eaten in honor of the day (see *Se'udah Shelishit). The main meal was to include meat and should be eaten in the evening, as was counseled by Moses (Yoma 75b).
The Talmud distinguished between two categories of festive meals: (1) feasts of a nonreligious nature, se'udah shel reshut, at which students and scholars are advised not to participate (Pes. 49a); and (2) se'udah shel mitzvah, banquets held in connection with religious acts, such as weddings, circumcisions, etc., participation in which is regarded as a religious duty. To the latter category belong: (1) the three meals a person is obliged to eat every Sabbath (Shab. 117b) and at which it is customary to sing religious hymns (*zemirot). The third, taking place on Sabbath afternoon, called se'udah shelishit, was invested with importance in *Kabbalism and *Ḥasidism (see Zohar, Ex. 88b); (2) se'udat*melavveh malkah, the meal held after the departure of the Sabbath; (3) meals on the holidays and festivals (Sh. Ar., oḤ 529:1); (4) the *Passover meal at the seder (Mishnah, Pes. 10); (5) the *Purim dinner (Esth. 9:18; Sh. Ar., oḤ 695:1–2); (6) se'udah mafseket (Ber. 8b; Sh. Ar., oḤ 604:1), the meal before the fast of the *Day of Atonement; (7) the Rosh Ḥodesh meal which originated in biblical times (i Sam. 20:24), and was later observed in commemoration of the banquet arranged by the *Sanhedrin after they proclaimed the New Moon (rh 2:5; Sof. 19:9). It was a widespread custom until modern times (Sh. Ar., oḤ 419); (8) the festive meal on *Simḥat Torah, arranged by the "Bridegroom of the Torah" (ḥatan Torah; Isserles to Sh. Ar., oḤ 669); (9) the festive banquet on the occasion of completing the study of a Talmud tractate; this occasion called *siyyum originated in the times of the Babylonian talmudic academies (Shab. 118b–119a; Isserles to Sh. Ar., yd 246:26); (10) the se'udat siyyum of which the firstborn partakes on the morning of the eve of Passover. Participation at the se'udah supersedes the firstborn fast. The banquet is sometimes called se'udat bekhorot; (11) the festive banquet of the burial brotherhood (*ḥevra kaddisha) on *Adar the Seventh (or in some places on Lag *ba-Omer).
The following banquets at joyous family events are also regarded as se'udah shel mitzvah and to participate at them is a meritorious act: (1) the *circumcision banquet (already mentioned in the Talmud (tj, Ḥag, 2:1, 77b; also pdre 29), and in the Shulḥan Arukh (yd 265:12) as well as the meals at the vigil ceremony after the birth of a boy and on Sabbath eve prior to his circumcision, called by different names; shavu'a ha-ben, sholem zokher, etc. (see *Childbirth Laws and Customs); (2) the meal at a pidyon ha-ben, the ceremony of the redemption of the firstborn (Isserles to Sh. Ar., yd 305:10); (3) the festive meal on the occasion of a *bar mitzvah (Gen. R. 53:10); (4) betrothal and wedding meals (se'udat erusin and se'udat nissu'in or hillula; Ket. 8a; Ber. 31a) which in ancient times lasted for seven days (Judg. 14:17) and for which a three-days' preparation was deemed necessary in the time of the Talmud (Ket. 2a); (5) the meal on the occasion of the consecration of a new home (se'udat ḥanukkat ha-bayit; Tanh. Bereshit, 2); (6) in many communities, it was also customary to arrange a meal on the occasion when a child started his first Bible lesson, called in Eastern Europe (in Yiddish) khumesh mahl; (7) se'udat havra'ah, "the meal of comfort" by which mourners are comforted and sustained right after the burial. This custom of consolation dates back to biblical times (ii Sam. 3:35; Jer. 16:7) and became a religious duty in talmudic times (Ket. 8b; mk 26b–27b; Sof. 19:12. See also Maim. Yad., Evel, 13:8; Sh. Ar., yd 378).
Aggadic literature makes reference to the se'udat livyatan, the eschatological banquet at which God will entertain the righteous in the world-to-come, serving them the meat of the *Leviathan and wine stored since the creation of the world (yayin ha-meshummar; bb 74b–75a; see also: Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 6 (19382) 150–1).
Eisenstein, Dinim, 294–5; Ḥ.N. Bialik and Y. Rawnitzki, Sefer ha-Aggadah (19524), 460–4; Sh. Ar., oḤ, 157–212.