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BANQUETS (Hebrew, "mishteh," from "shatah" = drinking-feast; Talmudical, "se'udah," from "sa'ad" = sustenance):

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 I Sam. ix. 13, xx. 6; II Sam. vi. 19; Neh. viii. 10). Participation in sacrificial meals was equivalent to covenanting with the Deity; hence the prohibition not "to eat of the sacrifice" of the heathen (Ex. xxxiv. 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 (Deut. xvi. 10, 14; xii. 7, 12, 18; Judges ix. 27), or in the covenant feasts at the union or parting of friends (Gen. xxvi. 30, xxxi. 54; Ex. xxiv. 5), to which category belongs also the weddingfeast (Gen. xxiv. 54, xxix. 22; Judges xiv. 10) or the thanksgiving feasts (Job i. 4; Ps. xxii. 26, 27; Esth. viii. 17, ix. 22) or the feast of sheep-shearing (I Sam. xxv. 36; II Sam. xiii. 23), and probably also the feast of house dedication, according to Prov. ix. 1-4. The weaning of a child, usually after its second year, was an occasion of feasting (Gen. xxi. 8; see Knobel-Dillmann on the passage). Birthday feasts are mentioned, but only of non-Jewish kings (Gen. xl. 20; II Macc. vi. 7; that of Herod, in Matt. xiv. 6, may have been on the day of his accession to the throne, as seems to be the case with Esth. i. 3, 4, and Dan. v. 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" (Isa. v. 11, 12; compare xxviii. 7, 8, and Amos vi. 5, 6).

In Post-Biblical Times.

The Talmud discriminates between religious Banquets ("se'udah shel miẓwah"), 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. 31a), lasted seven days (see Judges xiv. 17; in Tobit viii. 19, twice seven days), a three days' preparation being deemed necessary for the banquet (Ket. 2a, 7b).
  • 2. The Circumcision Feast (Ket. 8a): The father of Elisha ben Abuyah invited all the great and learned men of Jerusalem to the circumcision feast of his son (Yer. Hag. ii. 77b). The Midrash ascribes the celebration of this feast to Abraham, taking the word in Gen. xxi. 8, "Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned," as a Notarikon, , "on the eighth day when he circumcised Isaac" (Pirḳe R. El. xxix.; Midr. Teh. to Ps. cxii.; Leḳaḥ Ṭob to Gen.; Shab. 130a, Tos.). Josephus does not seem to know of the custom as yet, for he writes ("Contra Ap." ii. 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 Alterthümer der Griechen," § 26, note 6), which occurs as "shabua' ha-Ben" in the Hadrianic time in the Talmud (Yer. Ket. i. 25c; B. B. 60b; Sanh. 32b), but has been identified with the circumcision feast (Löw, "Die Lebensalter," p. 89; Spitzer, "Das Mahl bei den Hebräern," p. 41, note 4).
  • 3. The Bar Miẓwah Feast (see Bar Miẓwah): According to some commentators, the passage in Gen. xxi. 8, quoted above, refers to the banquet given by Abraham on the day that Isaac was weaned from the "Yeẓer ha-Ra'" (the evil spirit), and became Bar Miẓwah (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 and 758; Shulḥan '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 (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 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. viii. 5; Tos. Ber. vi. 5; Tos. Beẓah, ii. 13, 14; Beẓah 16a; Pes. R. xxiii.; Geiger, "Urschrift," p. 123; idem, "Jüd. Zeit." iv. 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. x. 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 (Matt. xxvi. 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 ii. 1, 2). While the feasters often sat after Greek fashion with garlands on their heads (Isa. xxviii. 1; Wisdom ii. 7, 8; Josephus, "Ant." xix. 9, § 1), some deemed it especially obligatory to place wreaths on their heads at the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Book of Jubilees, xvi. 24). New moons also were occasions of great festive meals for the ancient Pharisaic brotherhoods, as is learned from R. H. ii. 5, and Maseket Soferim, xix. 9; whereas the merry Purim Banquets, at which drinking was a prominent feature (Meg. 7b), 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," xvii. 172-177).
  • 7. Feasts of Joy and Thanksgiving for Victories of the Jews: Such a one is mentioned (III Macc. iii. 30-36) as having lasted, like Ḥanukkah (I Macc. iv. 59), eight days.
  • 8. Meals of Comfort, "Se'udat Habraah," Given to the Mourners (II Sam. iii. 35; Jer. xvi. 7; Tobit iv. 17; Hosea ix. 4; Josephus, "B. J." ii. 1, § 1; idem, "Ant." xix. 9, § 1; Ket. 8b; M. Ḳ. 5b, 25a; Mas. Soferim, xix. 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 "ἀρχιτρίκλινος," 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 Zuṭṭa. 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 ii. 7 et seq. All the more do the Rabbis warn against luxurious meals (Pes. 49a), 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. iii. 3). "All tables are full of vomit and filthiness without Maḳom" (= the name of God) (Isa. xxviii. 8; see Taylor, "Sayings of the Jewish Fathers," who refers to Cor. x. 31; Ber. 64a; Sanh. 101a; compare Ber. 43b).

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

Bibliography:
  • Smith, Dict. of the Bible, s.v. Banquet;
  • Winer and Riehm; Gastmähler, in Hauck's Realencyklopädie.
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