Proper Conduct of a Meal

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Saying Divrei Torah at the meal

  1. There's an obligation to say Divrei Torah at every meal [1] before Birkat Hamazon. [2]
  2. One should learn a Mishna, Halacha, Aggadata, or book of Mussar or at least a mizmor or Tehillim. It's a good minhag to say Mizmor LeDavid Hashem Roiy after making HaMotzei and some even permit saying it in between making Al Netilat Yadayim and HaMotzei. [3]
  3. Some rely on recital of the mizmor of tehillim of Al Naharot Bavel or Shir HaMaalot BeShuv even though it's preferable to actually say Divrei Torah during the meal. [4]
  4. Some say that saying "Mayim Achronim Chovah" counts as divrei torah at the meal. [5]
  5. There's a minority opinion that one fulfills one's obligation by saying Birkat HaMazon. [6]

Talking during the meal

  1. It is forbidden to talk during the meal, however, between courses it's permitted to talk. However, the Minhag HaOlam (custom of the world) is to be lenient and allow talking during the meal. [7]

Other laws of proper conduct of a meal

  1. It’s forbidden to take in one’s hand a piece of food the size of a KeBeitzah. [8] However, many are lenient to permit holding a large piece of bread if that’s the way it’s normally eaten such as pizza, pita, or a sandwich. [9]
  2. It is permitted to drink two cups of a drink because we are not concerned about zugot (a superstitious fear of having things in pairs).[10]
  3. A person shouldn't eat or drink standing.[11]
  4. The Minhag HaOlam is to drink in front of other people, whether its in a meal or outside of a meal, whether its water or another drink.[12]
  5. At the end of the meal, it is proper to leave a small quantity of food on one's plate so as not to look like a glutton. [13]
  6. One should neither stare at his/her portion of food nor the portion of food used for serving. [14] The same conduct applies with regard to drinks. [15]

Feeding others before you eat

  1. One who has animal whom he has to feed shouldn't eat until he feed his animal. However, when it comes to drinks, one person can drink before he gives to his animals.[16]

Following the Host

  1. As a way of showing respect a guest should follow the instructions of the host even if they aren’t befitting his honor slightly.[17] However, if the host tells the guest to violate a stringency he has he doesn’t have to listen. If the stringency isn’t really forbidden at all and is just a way of purity it is best to hide his practices as much as possible.[18]

Sources

  1. Pirkei Avot 3:3, Chaye Adam 45:4, Aruch HaShulchan 170:1, Mishna Brurah 170:1
  2. Sh"t Rivevot Efraim 1:134 writes that one should make sure to say the divrei torah before Birkat HaMazon; Halacha Brurah 170:2 concurs.
  3. Mishna Brurah 170:1, Halacha Brurah 170:2. Mishna Brurah writes that it's a good minhag to say Mizmor LeDavid after Hamotzei and Halacha Brurah 170:1 adds that one is even permitted to say it in between Al Netilat Yadayim and Hamotzei.
  4. Aruch HaShulchan 170:1
  5. Ben Ish Chai (Shelach #7), Shulchan Aruch HaMekusar (pg 245 note 12), Halacha Brurah 170:2
  6. Rav Ovadyah MeBartenura on Avot 3:3 writes that one fulfills this obligation by saying Birkat HaMazon. Mishna Brurah 170:1 and Rivovot Efraim 1:134 do not accept this as halacha. [Anaf Etz Avot (Rav Ovadyah Yosef, 3:3, pg 176) defends the Bartenuro from the question of the Tosfot Yom Tov (who asked why would the mishna be dealing with Reshayim who don't say Birkat HaMazon). However, Anaf Etz Avot isn't one of Rav Ovadyah's halachic works and this may be just what he would suggest in learning.]
  7. Shulchan Aruch 170:1 rules that it's forbidden to talk during the meal. Mishna Brurah 170:1 writes that it's only forbidden during the actual meal but not between courses. Halacha Brurah 170:1 agrees. The Perisha writes that perhaps this was only a concern in the days of the Talmud when they ate while leaning, but nowadays that people sit up while eating it's permitted but concludes that no one writes such a distinction. The Pri Megadim (A"A 170:1) writes that it seems that most poskim don't hold of the Perisha. Nonetheless, the Aruch HaShulchan 170:2 writes that the minhag is to allow talking during the meal and defends the minhag because of Shomer Petaim Hashem (Hashem protects the innocent from danger). Yalkut Yosef (vol 3, p 139) and Halacha Brurah 170:1 also write that the minhag is to be lenient about this.
  8. Derech Eretz Rabba 6:30, Tur and S”A 170:7, Kitzur S”A 42:2, Mishneh Halachot 15:61
  9. Yalkut Yosef (vol 3 pg 150), Or Letzion vol 2 chap 46:7, and Halacha Brurah 170 are lenient to permit holding in one’s hand bread the size of a KeBeitzah if that’s the normal way of eating it (for example pizza, sandwich, pita). See Alehu Lo Yibol pg 107.
  10. Yalkut Yosef (vol 3, p 142)
  11. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 42:2
  12. Halacha Brurah 170:7 writes that the Minhag HaOlam is to drink in front of other people whether its in a meal or outside a meal, whether its water or another drink. See Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 42:12 who quotes this halacha of turning away one's face when drinking water.
  13. Halacha Brurah 170:9
  14. Halacha Brurah 170:10
  15. Halacha Brurah 170:10
  16. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 42:1
  17. Pesachim 86b, Birkei Yosef 170:4
  18. Birkei Yosef 170:6