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In Halacha, is the meal of Melava Malkah just an optional minhag, or is it obligatory Halacha? I would imagine the former category but I don’t know for certain.

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It is not a formal commandment but appears to be a very strong minhag and is considered a given in halachic literature

The language of the gemara (Shabbat 119b) is

And Rabbi Ḥanina said: A person should always set his table at the conclusion of Shabbat, Saturday night, for a feast in deference to the Shabbat that passed, even if he only needs the table set for an olive-bulk of food.

The Rambam (Shabbat 30:5) copies this language and doesn't count this as part of the count of mitzvot

Similarly, a person should prepare his table on Saturday night, even if he is [to partake] only [of an amount of food] equivalent to the size of an olive.

The Shulchan Aruch is a bit stronger (OC 300:1)

A person must always arrange his table Saturday night (see Shabbos 119b) in order to escort the Shabbat (out), even though he will only partake of an olive-sized portion.

The commentaries all take melave malka as a given and discuss the details of the meal (e.g., Mishna Brura to leave the tablecloth, lighting candles, having bread, hot bread (custom of the Vilna Gaon), R Moshe Feinstein to aim to have meat).

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  • "Must always" is a debatable translation. I would read לעולם יסדר as "should always".
    – shmosel
    Feb 19 at 7:59
  • I don't disagree, I copied Sefaria's translation but agree it is a bit strong
    – mbloch
    Feb 19 at 8:43
  • The question sought a specific understanding of the level of importance of this practice, but this answer gives very imprecise categories. Not sure it really answers the question. None of the sources say "minhag" but you say it's a "strong minhag"? What does "a given" mean halachicly?
    – Double AA
    Feb 19 at 16:44
  • @DoubleAA a given means that no one discusses whether or not to have melave malka but only the details of how to have it
    – mbloch
    Feb 19 at 17:17
  • I find it very hard to believe no one discusses it. If you found a handful of sources that don't discuss it explicitly enough for you to draw conclusions, then just don't post an answer.
    – Double AA
    Feb 19 at 17:52

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