How Do Jews Clear Tables?

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Here at MJL we’ve seen how Jews eat, but my friend Leah Jones over at Accidentally Jewish has a great blog post about how Jews and non-Jews clear tables differently. Apparently, non-Jews do just a couple of plates at a time, and Jews do the whole thing at once. Leah says:

How To Clear the Dinner Table
Non-Jews clear the table like a waiter clears the table at a restaurant. Mom takes two to three plates at a time to the kitchen, come back and take a few more. When you get to the kitchen, you scrape the plates into the garbage and then pile into the sink to wash after dinner. Maybe, a big maybe, you might have people pass the plates to the head of the table and then carry an awkward tower of plates, food and silverware away to the kitchen.


How to Clear the Shabbat Table
Jewish families pass and scrape. Mom still stands at the head of the table before she goes to the kitchen, but as she receives each plate she scrapes the food onto the top plate and puts the empty plate on the bottom of the pile. All of the food scraping happens at the table. Then a less akward pile of plates with food and silverware on top of the pile is taken to the kitchen.

I’m trying to think if this rings true to me, but it occurs to me that I don’t tend to sit down at big meals where I’m the only Jewish person. And also, that when I do sit at those meals, usually I volunteer to help clear the table, and then I guess I probably do it the “Jewish” way out of habit. But recently I was at a friend’s Shabbat table and I started to stack plates and was brutally rebuffed. I guess some people just think it’s rude for guests to be involved at all. It’s kind of amazing/embarrassing how much my religion has impacted my table manners.

Posted on June 9, 2010

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22 thoughts on “How Do Jews Clear Tables?

  1. Anonymous

    I’m not Jewish, I had very few Jewish friends until I started dating a Jewish man, and I’ve never seen a table cleared the “non-Jewish” way described above…

  2. Janet

    I am not Jewish, but the way noted to clean the Shabbat table is the same method I grew up with. It just makes more sense than the breakage risks apparent with haphazard stacking, more efficient,too, with less trips back and forth. The “Non-Jewish” method is the one taught to waiters/waitresses.

  3. Nanci

    I was in the china business for years. You should never stack plates one on top of the other and scraping food at the table is not very appetizing in fact it really is rude. each plate should be handled individually in the kitchen.If you want your plates to be still usable years to come treat them with care in handling. Put them in the dish washer,after each is scraped and you won’t have to deal with them later.

  4. Adsy

    My grandmother, my mother, and grand aunts would roll over in their grave if they thought I would even consider to scrape food off the plates at the table!…Also, taking just a few (2)plates in the kitchen is the way to make sure your good china wasn’t broken or chipped!.Also, everyone is busy talking (schmuzzing) with each other so I like dealing with the plates. I do allow guests to help take the dessert dishes, and cups and saucers to the table.

  5. mgs

    I would no sooner actually scrape the plates at the table than I would pick my nose. That chore is for the kitchen. At table, especially with guests. . .totally “not done”.

  6. Camille de Boisblanc

    I am 73, and am one of those women who took home ec in high school. Not exactly college prep, right?. But being an intelligent person I learned manners and a college degree.

    Plates are not staked because the bottom of the plate is clean and should not be soiled by staking. When I take plates to the kitchen to be “scraped” and cleaned, I do not stake them. I lay them out as individuals and scrape and clean as I load the dishwasher.

  7. Yittah

    I am Jewish. When I was young, I hated washing up or watching Mum wash up in soup, as I called the dirty water. I worked out my own system to avoid this. So, I seem to do a half half. I scrape others rubbish into my plate at the head of the table. Take two plates to the sink, run the water over the bottom plate to get rid of gravy, and ‘little bits’, put the next plate under the water and do the same. Go back for starting again with 2 more plates. This way,I dont dirty the bottom of the clean plates I find the washing up so much easier. Usually, there is a saucepan in the sink, that I have left to soak with some dish-washing liq in int. And I rinse the cutlery & put that into soak till I finish the clearing.. Then, all the cutlery is easy to wash also. I then put it all on the side, and wash the glasses first, followed by the plates, which are of course cleaned up by now, & then the cutlery, also clean. By the time I finish, I am not washing up in soup. Mum also washed glasses, plates & cutlery, in that order. Even when I am using he dishwasher, I still clear in this order.

  8. Ruth

    I am Jewish and had Jewish parents and grandparents, etc. and we were taught NEVER to scrape plates at the table. My grandmother and mother (and maternal aunt) all followed this rule in their own homes and indicated it was rude and messy to scrape at the table. The proper place for disposing lefovers was the kitchen. I have passed this on to my own children and even my friends who help clear the table know (what they consider) my “mishagas” and do not scrape at my table.

  9. Leslie

    Never,EVER, would plates be scraped at our Jewish table. That would have been considered to be the height of poor manners.

  10. Shimon

    I am Jewish (Orthodox), but as a child I was taught what you call the ‘non-Jewish’ way to clear a table. In my own house I also follow that method. Who wants to see garbage being shoveled at the table?? Especially the beautiful holy Shabbat table!

  11. Robin

    My maternal grandma, whose great-grandmother came to the US from Belorussia, and who grew up in Southfield Michigan “society” would not let us scrape or stack. I grew up with the rule and find scraping at the table to be rude and yucky. When I married, I agreed to keep as kosher home for my husband, and he agreed not to scrape and stack!

  12. ajeweld1

    I understand the rationale for both schools of thought, and have lived most of my life scraping and stacking, though married into a no-scrape zone family. I mostly find the need to judge what others do to be annoying; more so than following either philosophy strictly. I think that just allowing oneself to go with the flow–”when in Rome”–is the philosophy that takes the least toll on one’s stomach lining. You then don’t need to be offended by what one family does if it is other than what yours does.

  13. Claudia

    Oh horrors! We are Christian and Mama would have cringed if anyone had scraped plates at the table, consequently I learned to remove the plates from the table two at a time and then scrape in the kitchen. Then the dishes were put into the dish water without stacking as that would have “dirtied” the clean bottoms!(That from Aunt Vi) Nothing changed once we had an automatic dishwasher except it made our giant family gatherings easier to clean up after.

  14. Richard ben Serai

    What is this ‘scraping’? I’m 60, as a child I was primarily raised by my Bubba. Every meal included bread which is used to ‘clean’ the plates. Waste, taught my Bubba, is an insult to HaShem Who made the food available to us. Individual plates contained a small to moderate amount of (delicious)food which once finished could be refilled. No-one left the table hungry but the plates were clear. One time, I think I was about 7, Bubba made me sandwiches with fish paste, I didn’t like them and left most, next meal? The fish paste sandwiches; and again, next meal. I ate them eventually. Bubba must have been doing something right for she lived to be 100. On Shabbat, the table wasn’t cleared, she threw a cloth over the whole table covering everything and we children knew that come Saturday night, it was time to clear table and wash dishes. Also pots used were cleaned as we went. We still do that in our home, Bubba’s ‘traditions’ live on and our grandchildren love helping their Saba and Sabet wash up. Even the cleaning is an act of love. Bless you all.

  15. Dandy Koufax

    As a Jew, I serve a lot of wine and scotch at dinner. Usually, when the meal is winding down, everybody is too soused to clean the table at all. So I just tell my guests to come chill in the living room, where we serve dessert. Then, when everybody has left for the night, the lady and I just pass on the couch or floor somewhere. When we wake up in the morning, we handle the dishes eight at a time or whatever, because there’s nobody around to question our methods.

  16. Lois Lipton Parker

    This is how my family always did it. I never knew it was a Jewish thing and proud of my Jewish religion and heritage. Thanks for sharing with us. Lo

  17. Hannah Galerstein

    From my Sister Rebecca, I learned to clear the table, two plates at a time so as not to get the bottoms dirty and all scraping was done in the kitchen. Now the next generation is scraping all dishes at the table, stacking good china up in a tower to take to the kitchen. It is revolting and ruins the whole atmosphere of a beautiful holiday or Shabbat.

  18. Yehudis

    This is hilarious!
    I come from a long line of big families and never gave a thought to how dishes were removed from the table until…
    a shadchan inquiring about one of my daughters asked if she was a “scraper or stacker” at the Shabbos table.
    “It depends”, I answered her,” Is the young man an Aishes Chayil singer?”
    Interesting debate.

  19. Patricia

    I am Jewish and live in Jerusalem and I scrape the plates at the table when I have close friends only,because all my friends know I have cats and they all agree that the bits of meat, bones and leftovers instead of going to the trash bin go outside to feed the cats.

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