Milk and Meat on Same Table

June 5, 2013 | by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld

My high school no longer has a lunch program, so we all brown-bag our lunches. It occurred to me that though most of us eat pareve or dairy, some kids come in with meat sandwiches. At home we have separate tablecloths for meat and dairy. Here, however, we’re all eating together. Is there any problem with that?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

There is an interesting rule regarding this. If I am eating kosher and my non-Jewish friend is eating non-kosher right next to me, there is no concern I will help myself to one of his sausages. The reason is because since I never eat non-kosher, there is no concern I will forget and do so now.

Regarding milk and meat, however, the Sages were more concerned. Since I eat meat all the time, if meat is right next to me while I’m eating dairy, I may forget and help myself to some of the meat. Thus, the Sages required that meat not be present at all on the table when I’m eating dairy – as well as vice versa of course (Shach Y.D. 88:2).

Now, let’s say the meat which is next to me is not free for the taking but belongs to someone else. Is there a concern I will help myself to it? It depends how friendly I am with the one it belongs to. If we are friendly enough to share food with each other, then the concern stands that I may take some meat during my dairy meal (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 88:2). This would most likely be the case with fellow students sitting together at lunch.

Jewish law provides a few means of avoiding this issue, of safeguarding that I don’t absentmindedly take my fellow’s food. Here are the choices:

(a) If the two people are using separate tablecloths (Shu”A 88:2).

(b) If they place something noticeable in between them – something which wouldn’t normally be on the table during a meal, such as a cell phone (Shu”A & Rema 88:2).

(c) If the two people are sitting far enough apart that they cannot reach each other’s food (Pischei Teshuva 3).

(d) If someone is sitting in between them, say someone who is eating neither meat nor dairy (Pischei Teshuva 4).

Based on the above, in your situation the only concern is if a meat eater and dairy eater are sitting near each other with no one in between. When that occurs, they should place something on the table between them.

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