Dear Daily Dose of Talmud,
I’m part of a group of friends that regularly goes out to dinner. We often order nachos as an appetizer. The trouble is, one member of our group routinely eats more than their fair share — and it’s becoming socially uncomfortable. Do you think it’s OK for us to say, “adios amigo”?
Dear Nacho Problem,
I feel for you. The Gemara has a euphemism for someone who is quick to eat a large quantity of food — namely, a person of “fine hands.” A mishnah on today’s page raises a similar dilemma in the context of eating the paschal lamb:
If there is among the members of a group one of them who has “fine hands,” can they say to him: “Take your allotted portion to eat and leave”?
Or do we say that he can say to them: “You accepted me in the group without preconditions (on how much I can eat)”?
In antiquity, meat was very expensive and a rare delicacy for most common folk. Hogging more than one’s share of meat at any meal was probably considered to be pretty rude; at a paschal barbeque, all the more so. Definitely more offensive than grabbing an extra large fistful of cheesy chips! But what to do? One possibility is to say, as the mishnah suggests: “take your share of the food and leave!”
But, the Gemara admits, your friend with the healthy appetite could object that there was no initial agreement about how much each person could eat. If the fine-handed glutton points this out, you can respond as follows:
When we accepted you, it was only for the preparation of the offering, to ensure enough people would be registered to guarantee that the entire offering would be eaten with none left over. However, we did not accept you with the understanding that you would eat considerably more than us.
Gently remind the greedy eater that they were invited so there would be enough people to “secure a reservation” (i.e. to consume the whole offering in accordance with the Torah law that says the whole animal must be eaten that very night) — but not with the understanding that they could gorge at the expense of others.
The Talmud here implies a clear “no hogging the paschal lamb (or nachos)!” policy is best articulated in advance to avoid any misunderstanding and protect everybody’s portion. In the “after the fact” scenario, however, the Gemara ultimately recommends the “take your share and leave” approach. And not just for the paschal lamb, but at any communal meal with one of these fine-handed diners.
So, be friendly but direct with your fine-handed friend and let them know you are standing on solid talmudic ground when you tell them to back away from the table so that everyone can get their fair share.
Kol tuv (best),
D.D. of T.