There is a practice among many families to partake in some foods, such as nuts, olives, fish etc. between Kiddush and Netilat Yadaim on Shabbat, sometimes referred to as an ‘aperitif’. One reason for this is to compensate for the fewer blessings which are recited on Shabbat. Normally, one is required to recite at least one hundred blessings a day, but since the Amida prayers of Shabbat have fewer blessings than the weekday Amida, one may not reach this goal. By sampling foods and reciting the appropriate blessings, one can ensure one reaches the required tally. Another reason is that, as the name suggests, the aperitif whets one’s appetite and one can more fully enjoy and honor the Shabbat meal. In some instances, this involves sampling some foods for a few minutes and then going to wash one’s hands, while in other families, this ritual can last for a significant amount of time. There are three potential Hallachic issues with the aperitif which will be discussed presently and in the following Daily Halachot.
The first issue is that of the Beracha Aharona after the aperitif. The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 176:1) rules that Birkat Hamazon applies to foods eaten in the meal itself, that is, after Netilat Yadaim. Any foods consumed before Netilat Yadaim are not covered by Birkat Hamazon and thus require their own Beracha Aharona. In order for a Beracha Aharona to be recited, one must eat a requisite amount of food and be mindful of this amount, which may cause confusion. Furthermore, it is not common among people who have an aperitif to be particular about reciting a Beracha Aharona, even if one may technically be required to do so.
One way to reconcile t
his is by distinguishing between foods which are eaten to arouse one’s appetite, such as pickled or salty foods, and those eaten for their own sake. Many Poskim explain that foods eaten to arouse one’s appetite are considered to be part of the meal, and are thus exempted by Birkat Hamazon, even if eaten in an amount which would normally require a Beracha Aharona. On the other hand it is entirely plausible that foods that are not eaten to whet one’s appetite would require a Beracha Aharona. Indeed, Rabbi Machlouf Abuhatzira (Yefe Sha’ah) is adamant about requiring a Beracha Aharona when one eats a Kezait or more of foods which are not considered to help one’s appetite, such as fish. This opinion is shared by Rabbi Itzhak Aben Denan (LeItzhak Re’ah, Likute Dinim, Berachot), Rabbi Ben Zion Abba Shaul (Or LeTzion, vol. 2, ch.12, § 7) and the Mishna Berura (O.H. 176, Sha’ar HaTziun § 8)
Nevertheless, it appears that despite this differentiation, the common practice is to not make a Beracha Aharona, regardless of the type and amount of food. Rabbi Yehiel Michel Epstein (Aruch HaShulhan, end of § 176) offers support to this custom by saying that any food eaten before Hamotzi serves and enhances the upcoming meal, and therefore would be considered an intrinsic part of the meal. This is supported by Rabbi David Ovadia’s aforementioned opinion that all foods can help arouse one’s appetite, not only those that are salty, etc. Rabbi Shalom Messas (Tevuot Shamesh, Orah Haim § 69), Rabbi Yehoshua Maman (Emek Yehoshua, vol. III, § 20) also write that there is a Halachic basis to rely upon for this practice.
Summary: There is a Halachic basis for partaking in an aperitif between Kiddush and Netilat Yadaim, even if if the amount of food is substantial.