Jewish Hospitality

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At the beginning of a traditional Passover seder, Jews recite a formulaic declaration of an "open house" policy of hospitality: "Let all who are hard-pressed come and eat. Let all who are in need come and share the Passover sacrifice." This statement is an expansion of what the third-century Babylonian sage Rav Huna was known to make every time he sat down to a meal: "Let all who are in need come and eat!" (Babylonian Talmud, Ta'anit 20b)

Some Jewish communities of the past institutionalized the practice of offering hospitality to wayfarers by establishing a furnished home for such temporary guests. Others offered them lodging in the communal synagogue. The Diaspora tradition of reciting in the synagogue the kiddush prayer at the beginning of a Shabbat or holiday evening--a prayer usually offered where the festive meal is eaten--has its origins in that use of the community's gathering space.

caring for others quizTo this day, it is a hallmark of many Jewish communities that unfamiliar participants in synagogue worship, especially on Shabbat or holidays, are invited to local people's homes for a meal--and, if arrangements are made in advance, frequently for lodging as well.

Traditional mandates extend to the guest as well. Guests should avoid causing hosts and hostesses extra work. They should accede to their host's or hostess's requests. A guest should not bring along another, uninvited guest. If guest and host(ess) are entering the home together, the guest should defer to the host. Leaving together, a guest should exit before the host(ess).

The second-century rabbinic sage Shim'on Ben Zoma couched his directive to guests in terms of a contrast between the responses of a two types of guests. The one to be emulated feels gratitude, saying "Look how much this householder has done for me! He has brought me so much meat [i.e., fine, expensive food]! How many cakes he has set before me! And all that he has done, he has done just for my benefit." The unsavory guest, receiving the same treatment, says "What has this householder done for me, after all? I've eaten one serving of bread. I've eaten one slice of meat. I've drunk one cup of beverage. And anyway, the work was all done for the [host] family, anyway." (Genesis Rabba 52) One presumes that the two guest's different attitudes will find expression, however subtle, bringing host or hostess either pride or consternation, as well as reflecting on the guest's own character.

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