Not everyone knows how to be a good Shabbos meal guest.
A Shabbos meal is unlike most social situations. During the week when we partake in a meal perhaps we are also on our cell phones. We might have the TV on in the background. We might be in a restaurant with music and people coming and going. At a Shabbos meal, we are in a room with a group of people without all that outside stimulation. It is just us and them. Therefore we are more focused on the people at the table.
The intimacy of the Shabbos meal can be a good thing. And it can also be a bad thing. Tranquility at a shabbos table depends on where the conversation goes and what the dynamics are at the table. I often found to survive at Shabbos tables I had to apply a general rule:
“Where there are two Jews there are three opinions. I don’t need to add a fourth one.”
I often found that keeping my mouth shut when controversial subjects are brought up at a Shabbos table is a way of survival through a meal.
I also found that ignoring, not reacting and letting go of those awkward things that some shabbos meal guests say also helped. It is just a lot easier to sit through hours at a table with a group of random people when certain things just aren’t paid attention to and focused on. We have all sat at a Shabbos table with other guests that say offensive, strange or inappropriate things. A friend once told me “Shabbat Shalom”, shabbos is about peace. So hence, if just letting that comment slide, not reacting to it and perhaps changing the subject promotes “Shalom” we should do it rather than getting into a power struggle with that other guest.
In addition, some guests really like to avoid talking about politics during Shabbos meals. Others don’t like to be asked personal questions at the Shabbos table. So avoiding asking intrusive questions about someone’s personal life that might make them feel uncomfortable or embarrass them in front of other guests is another way to promote peace at a Shabbos table.
“As someone who sometimes hosts Shabbos meals, I can attest to the fact that Shabbos meals take a lot of time, preparation and money. Especially if one is hosting a large group of people.”
It is great if you bring your host (if there is an eruv) something for the meal when you come. If you can’t bring something to the meal, bringing something before Shabbos or doing something special for them another day is a great way to say thank you. It is nice when you host someone and then another time they host you. I believe that one shouldn’t always be a guest at Shabbos meals, but if at all possible one should also host or sponsor meals occasionally as well. But that isn’t always possible. There are plenty of ways to show your hosts that you appreciate them. Be creative!
It is great when hosts know how many people are coming to a meal. If possible try to RSVP before the host would probably start preparing for the meal. I would suggest by the Wednesday before. Ask the host before you bring someone else with you to their Shabbos table. There may not be room for them. And you want to make sure your host feels comfortable with that guest coming. Inform your host if you aren’t coming. It is really bad for the host when people say they are coming, the food is made, and then they don’t show up. If possible, cancel before Shabbos.
If you have a food allergy or a dietary need your host may offer to provide food for you. If is really nice and considerate that if there are some special foods that you specifically need that you offer to bring at least some of them. Be mindful that your host may have different Kashrut standards than you so bringing something that is packaged and sealed might work best unless your host says it is ok that you bring something cooked from your home.
Let me suggest that if you bring wine, you always bring mevushal wine. That can save a big headache. Sometimes hosts have non-Jews at their meals. In addition, some people hold that wine that isn’t mevushal can’t be handled by someone who isn’t shomer shabbos. To avoid all these issues, just err on the side of caution, get mevushal.