Question: May one eat a meat meal alone on a table with dairy food?
Short Answer: Rav Moshe Sternbuch rules that it is permitted only if the dairy food is on a separate tablecloth/placemat AND is out of arm’s reach of the person. Some are lenient and permit it even if the dairy food is within arm’s reach.
I. Meat on a Dairy Table
The Gemara (Shabbos 13a) writes that two people cannot eat at the same table when one is eating meat and the other is eating dairy. Even though it is likely that the fact that there are two individuals (“dei’os”) will prevent food-sharing, as invariably one of them will remember the prohibition, this is insufficient. For it to be permitted, we must have two individuals and a “shinui,” where they are not eating in the normal manner, e.g., on separate tablecloths or placemats.
Based on the above, Rav Moshe Sternbuch (T’shuvos V’Hanhagos 2:391) cites Rav Yosef MiSlutzk zt”l who rules that a person is forbidden to eat meat on a table with dairy, even if the dairy is on a separate tablecloth, as there are no “dei’os” here, i.e., no other person to prevent him from eating the dairy, should he accidentally begin to reach for the dairy.
This strict ruling is also found in the Maharam MiRutenberg (Chadashos 12), as well as the S’dei Chemed, who cites others who follow this ruling.
II. The Chochmas Adam
The Chochmas Adam, on the other hand, implies that even one person eating alone may eat meat on the same table as dairy where there are separate tablecloths.
How does the Chochmas Adam interpret the above-mentioned Gemara in Shabbos, which is clear that this leniency only applies where there are “dei’os,” two individuals eating together? Rav Sternbuch suggests that the Gemara is reinterpreted to read that separate tablecloths permit eating meat on a dairy table even by one person. The leniency of separate tablecloths is thus stronger than the leniency of more than one individual at the table.
Indeed, this leniency makes sense here, where the meat and dairy foods are certainly not being cooked together. Also, if the Shulchan Aruch or other poskim believed that this same-table leniency only applies where there are two people at the table, they should have clearly mentioned this criterion. The absence of any distinction between one and two people implies that the leniency also applies.
However, because of the strict opinions mentioned above, Rav Sternbuch ultimately rules that it is much more preferable to be strict and refrain from eating meat alone on a dairy table where the dairy food is in arm’s reach. Instead, he suggests eating the meat on the other side of the table, where you would need to stand up and walk (or reach over) to get the dairy food. The act of standing and walking (or reaching) will remind you that eating the dairy is forbidden at this point. Importantly, the dairy food must be on a different tablecloth or placemat to permit eating the meat on that table; simply putting some object on the table to remind you of the dairy is insufficient.
Nevertheless, the sefer Dor HaM’laktim (Isur V’Heter, Vol. 1, pg. 353) cites others who are lenient, even if the person eating meat alone is sitting in close proximity to the dairy.
Next Week’s Topic: May an employer purchase non-kosher food for his non-Jewish employees?