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MEAL ETIQUETTE

By: Rabbi Daniel D. Levy

1

 

          What are some basic
        halachic guidelines regarding proper
        meal etiquette?

One should not be particular about or angry over a meal, as all the household members fear being embarrassed and only want to find fulfillment in the eyes of the host. In order not to be viewed as a glutton one should: A)use a fork instead of his hands B)not lick his fingers, rather wipe them on a napkin or towel C)take small bites or sips while eating and drinking D)keep consciously aware that his face, beard, and garments remain clean E)not eat quickly, rather chew slowly and quietly F)say divrei Torahat the table.

2

 

        How should one interact with guests
        at a meal?

The Shulhan Aruch (O.C. 170:4,10,15) states: One shouldn’t stare at his guests or their portion of the meal; he should see that they eat comfortably, without embarrassment. (This applies to a guest eating for free – Aruch Hashulhan). One may look at a scholar while he eats, however, to learn from his enhanced meal etiquette (Rambam). One shouldn’t gather small crumbs into a pile, or bite into a piece and put the remainder in front of his friend on the table, as many people are disgusted by such actions. One shouldn’t spit, blow his nose, or burp in front of his friend during the meal, as many people are disgusted by this behavior as well.

3

 

        How big of a bite is appropriate
        when one is eating a sandwich?

One shouldn’t take bites as large as a kazayit(approximately 2 ounces) as this would be viewed as gluttonous. The Beit Yosef even advises against holding a large portion in the hands at one time. However, Hacham Ben Tzion (Vol.2 Ch. 46:7) says that if the accepted practice is to hold and bite from something at the same time (as would be the case for a slice of pizza, or shawarma in a pita) it is acceptable to eat in this manner just then (others disagree). In most circumstances, small bites of approximately an ounce are advisable.

4

 

          How should we understand
        the halachic phrase (O.C. 170:5)
        “Whatever the host tells you — do it?”

The Mishna Berurah (170:16) explains that, if the host requests it, a guest should perform an action that he normally would shy away from, such as singing. Although the Vilna Gaon would eat and expel his food three times to show respect to his host, the Mishna Berurah argues that one need not cause himself to get sick by eating something that will harm him. Others explain that any request of the host that canbe performed in the house, such as sweeping, should be done. If the action requires leaving the house, one isn’t obligated to listen. Also, one isn’t required to perform an action that would require him to transgress
a prohibition.

5

 

        What is the proper manner in
        which one should drink a beverage?

The Shulhan Aruch (170:8) states that one shouldn’t drink a large cup of water in one gulp, so that nothing remains; doing so would be gluttonous. Finishing the cup in two sips is considered derech eretz –proper etiquette – and three sips is considered arrogant. However, one may drink less than a riviit(approximately 3 ounces) in one gulp from a smaller cup, such as a shot glass, as the reasoning above isn’t applicable. The Shulhan Tahor says these guidelines are only applicable to wine or natural fruit juice, which are consumed for pleasure, not water or soft drinks which are consumed to quench one’s thirst.

6

 

        Who should get the first portion
        when food is being served at a meal?

The Mishna Berurah (170:28) on the Shulhan Aruch (170:12) says that the oldest or most distinguished individual at a meal should be the first to take from each dish served. One who takes before the distinguished individual is considered a glutton.

7

 

        The concept of “no sharing germs”
        manifestsitselfinwhichHalachah?

The Shulhan Aruch states (170:16, 22) that when drinking wine one shouldn’t wipe at the spot he sipped from before handing it over to his friend to drink, lest his friend be disgusted. The Mishna Berurah (170:37) brings the opinion of the Rashal, who states that one may take the cup from his friend and drink the wine so as not to embarrass him. The Taz concurs that one may have germs and transfer them to his friend. It is advisable for one who is making kiddushto pour wine into a separate cup for his friend to drink from before sipping from thekiddushcup himself. In general, unless someone is sick, family germs are not a concern in Halachah.

8

 

        Why shouldn’t one talk while eating?

The Shulhan Aruch (170:1) states that one shouldn’t talk during a meal at all, even to speak words of divrei Torah, or to respond to someone who sneezes while eating. The fear is that the food may go down the windpipe instead of the esophagus. The Mishna Berurah explains that while one is eating the danger of choking is heightened but between courses, while one isn’t eating, speaking is permitted. R’Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, advises not to speak to someone who is in the midst of chewing his food, as he will be tempted to respond and could potentially choke.

9

 

        What qualifies as divrei Torah
        during the meal?

The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (3:4) states of a table that doesn’t have Torah mentioned upon it, it’s as if the participants of the meal ate from the table of sacrifices to the dead (referring to idol worshipers). The Shelah Hakadosh relates that just saying Birkat Hamazonisn’t adequate; one should learn a Mishnah, Halachah, Aggadah, or Mussar as well. Reciting a paragraph of Tehilim such as Mizmor LeDavid orAl Naharot Bavel(Psalms 23 or 137) does suffice. When pressed for time, The Ben Ish Hai suggests saying a brief Halachah such as “Mayim Acharonim Hovah,” referring to the obligation to wash before concluding the meal.

10

 

         What should the mindset
        of a guest be when dining by a host?

The Gemara in Berachot states that a good guest thinks, “Whatever burden the host has done, he did it especially for me.” Even if there are numerous members at the meal, one should be appreciative and not think, as a bad guest would, They have enough food here to feed an army! It’s no big deal for me to eat a lot, as I am preventing the excess food from being thrown out.