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Friday, January 26, 2007

Shabbat Guests

Rabbi Horowitz responded this week to an inquiry about having Shabbos guests where the spouses are not in agreement. The guidelines he provided are applicable in many areas of life. But, the subject gave rise to some of our thoughts on Shabbat, guests, and family time. Baruch Hashem, this is not a subject of contention in our home, but we maintain flexibility in our approach, as our grows and family changes.

In general, we prefer to have single guests (singles, divorced, and widowed), but also enjoy having married couples on occasion. Having families with younger children tends to be a bit more challenging, but can be fun on occasion. Since we both enjoyed the hospitality that others provided us when we were single, we feel that hosting those who wouldn't have family to eat with is the best way to repay the kindness shown to us.

Sitting down for family meals is a great way to bond with each other and create proper "attachments," and Shabbat is the one time when those dinners go almost completely uninterrupted by design: no phone (although I'm thinking about turning off the ringer during weekday dinnertimes when our children are older), no appointments, no chores that have to be continued from the day. Fortunately I am home fulltime and our kids are young enough that they don't have activities or schooling that conflict with regular family dinners or with Sundays. I can only imagine just what a pleasure Shabbat meals are for families that do not enjoy regular meals together.

But even given our blessed schedule, I have still found that Shabbat is an important and unique time to bond at the table and, although we love hachnasat orchim, we have settled into a pattern of normally limiting ourselves to guests just on Friday night-although we happily make exceptions.

We have found that hosting for lunch is a bit more difficult for us. Primarily, there is more shopping and more cooking, all of which ties me down during the week. Secondarily, when the weather is beautiful, it becomes really hard to pull the kids away from the park to make it home in time get everything together in time greet our guests. When we don't have anyone expecting us home, we can be flexible about our schedules and enjoy more time letting the kids play, socialize, or whatever else. Thirdly, if lunch goes on too long, we miss out on a small window of uninterrupted time to do things that interest the kids, whether it be legos/megablocks, reading, or games. Also, one of my kids has a lot to say at the table, but gets shy when other non-family members are around. So, if we want to hear about groups, the parsha, or the songs he wants to sing, it is better done without an audience. (Baruch Hashem he loves our guests and even talks about a few of them regularly and asks if he can set up their place next to Daddy-hello to one of you :) ). And, lastly, my culinary strength is in the dinner meal.

When I was single, I had a friend with a rapidly growing family who used to tell me about her plan of attack for preparing Shabbat (something she had gleaned from a book and adopted). She would start on Monday and finish on Friday, preparing and freezing or refrigerating along the way. I thought she absolutely nuts! That was until our family grew and I discovered that trying to pull off a whole meal, from the shopping to the cooking, on Friday (even on Thursday and Friday) was going to make me absolutely nuts! So a pattern was born that serves us well. An entire week's meals are planned in advance, shopping takes place at the beginning of the week, and cooking for Shabbat takes place in stages, just as the cleaning schedule rotates. Friday is basically a relaxing day where we put together one or two small dishes just so my little helper can connect Shabbat with the preparations, but not connect Shabbat to the stress and mayhem that goes on in a lot of households.

While there are people out there that will criticize mothers who don't make Shabbat a Shabbat by doing the unthinkable and serving pasta, when a family member has spent the sick during the week or the week was just too busy week, I have been known to serve spaghetti with meat sauce, or something else that lacks the kavod we prefer to accord Shabbat. Our guests may never see spaghetti with meat sauce in front of them, but we have at least one regular guest who would probably prefer this meal over any other.

I try to remember our guest’s culinary preferences, but don't always succeed (maybe I need to maintain another list). We have our "meat and potato" guys who need potato something or other. We have our non-fish eaters, only tuna eaters, and our not too fishy eaters. We have our vegetarians. We have our guests with allergies to nuts, wheat, eggs, and spinach, and nearly everything else under the sun. Then there are the times when the meal is already cooked and a guest ends up needing a place after all is cooked and completed, and they aren’t too fond of whatever I have made, or worse yet, won't even eat it. We had one meal where the hospitality committee failed to warn us that the guests they asked us to host kept chalav yisrael and it is Shavuot! Fortunately, our guests were able to eat something.


While we have had a few difficult guests, for the most part having company is really our pleasure. We try not to invite guests that are going to clash at the table, but have had our fair share of uncomfortable instances. We usually invite only guests of one gender, but would be willing to venture out into mixed gender groups if we knew the guests would be comfortable with the prospect and that last minute cancellations wouldn't leave us on a "double date" with a guy and a girl who would prefer not to be on such. In addition, we have one guest that we will NEVER invite with a person of the opposite gender because he is liable to ask her out (even if she is 25 years younger, but that my friends is a post for another time).

Our special pleasure is celebrating smachot with a number of regular guests, and we have been fortunate to do so on a regular basis. In fact, we are currently looking forward to a very special simcha.

Guests bring a whole new dimension to the table that we don't want to miss and don't want our children to miss now, and especially in the future. We have been blessed to have survivors, Rebbeim, and other wonderful people at our table, all of whom bring their own unique perspectives, experiences, and divrei Torah to our table. When we have guests there is also a level of simcha that manifests itself in song that we cannot reproduce without guests.

We get a lot of pleasure out of both arrangements, guests and no guests, and continue to find our balance. I often wonder how certain families that are known for hosting lots and lots of guests regularly do it. But, I also wonder if some families who rarely if ever have guests get lonely. I can't imagine Shabbat without at least one guest, preferable two to three. And, I sometimes wonder if the shana rishona couples who specifically don't invite-a shita we never adhered too, despite the strong recommendation to do so-ever itch for a change of pace that guests inevitably bring.

Since we have great pleasure in both types of ways to spend Shabbat and see benefits to both, we have worked to find a balance that works for us. Hosting guests really comes with a whole myriad of dynamics that probably have never occurred to those who don’t make hosting a regular activity. We have learned through trail and error. I hope the couple in Rabbi Horowitz’s column works out a balance that is appropriate for their family.

Your thoughts?

21 comments:

Ezzie said...

I could go on and on about this, as we have guests almost every meal - and a nice amount of them.

But since it's late, just one note for now: When I first got to Lander, R' Bronspigel came to spend a Shabbos in the Yeshiva/College. He gave a Q&A session after the meal on Friday night, and someone asked about having guests Shana Rishona. He said people SHOULD have guests, especially in the 'frum' world. Not only is it extremely important for couples to have friends, it is very necessary for the health of their marriage to not feel they have to always have something to say to one another only. (I'm saying this poorly, hope it comes out clearly.) Basically, let's say a couple has been married for a few months, and they've spent a ton of time together. If they constantly are eating by themselves, conversation can easily dry up - and then one or the other might start thinking "Oh no, we have nothing to say to each other, was it a mistake..." etc., not realizing that that may be perfectly normal sometimes when almost all your time is with one another. Most of all though it's just healthy to be around other people.

mother in israel said...

When I got married I thought we would have a lot more guests than we do. I remember my husband's old roommate invited himself for lunch the first Shabbat after our 7 brachot!! While I love to have guests, and am usually happy to host singles whenever they call and families less frequently, Shabbat is often stressful enough with all the family together.

From Kenbrook said...

Loooong post by one of my favorite hosts...but I'm still trying to figure out where I fit into this ;)

SephardiLady said...

LOL. Don't worry, you aren't the guest that we can't invite with those of the opposite gender in fear that you will ask out someone 25 years younger (like our daughter!, although if we had older girls, we'd happily set you up).

Charlie Hall said...

'doing the unthinkable and serving pasta'

What's wrong with pasta? It is a staple of Italians whether Jewish or non-Jewish. I make a great spinach lasagna and serve it regularly on Shabat; all my guests seem to love it.

debka_notion said...

From the perspective of a single person in a community with a Lot of singles, hosting has this other aspect of "if I don't host a meal, either I have to go ask and see if someone has space at their meal, or eat alone" that I'm not terribly fond of. On the other hand, it gives me a chance to invite folks who also wouldn't have a meal otherwise. I find I have to do a bit mroe planning ahead to have married friends come, but they do come, and it still works. I've never had folks with kids come to a meal I've made, but I'm sure it'll happen eventually, although I expect that will take some extra planning...

Jewboy said...

In general I think advising shana rishona couples not to have guests is one of the most misguided efforts in the frum world. It may be good for a few couples but mostly is not a good idea at all, in my opinion.

SephardiLady said...

I can understand the advice of not having guests when a couple is newlywed and is just getting to know each other. But, the advice need not be blanket advice. One can host older widowers and get the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim in the truest sense. (And if you are lucky enough to develop close relationships with some of the wonderful widowers out there, you get to have honorary zaides for your children. One of our guests has celebrated our smachot with us, brought his camera over to take pictures of our children, and brought little gifts for our kids. What could be better?! May he continue to live to 120 so we can only learn from him and have him to teach our children).

themarykaygal said...

I serve pasta for Shabbos a lot--- making meatballs takes a lot more effort, in my opinion, than making chicken. Anyhooo, after 2 weeks of motherhood and 10 weeks of bedrest before that, I'm looking forward to both BEING hosted again and HOSTING! Soon, IYH! We're VERY close with neighbors who are just a few doors down, so we'll probably venture out there first when the kids are ready to be in the cold for more than parking lot into doc's office. :)

Bob Miller said...

Every Jewish neighborhood has new people moving in because of new jobs, corporate relocations, etc. Often, the breadwinner moves in first, and lives alone for weeks or months until the family can move (the house needs to be bought, the school year needs to end...). Inviting newcomers, whether individuals or families, for Shabbat meals is a great thing for both them and their hosts.

For example, in 1998, my company relocated me to Houston, and it took some six months before we could buy a house and my family could arrive. In the meantime, the hospitality coordinator at Young Israel of Houston arranged Shabbat meals for me at shul members' homes nearly every week. It was also common there for member families to frequent each other's homes for Shabbat meals.

This was all made possible by the Rabbi's successful establishment of one kashrut standard for the whole congregation.

SRosen said...

Sephardi lasy - you said " can understand the advice of not having guests when a couple is newlywed and is just getting to know each other. "

I'm not sure if you meant this or not, but one of my HUGE pet peeves in the frum community are couples who get engaged & married in a few weeks. Sure, you are always working on a relationship, but you shouldn't be getting to know someone after you are married.

I'm not saying you should date for years, but at the very least you should date for several months and be engaged for several more.

Rushing into marriage is never a smart move.

mother in israel said...

MKG--Mazal Tov!! GLad to see you coming up for air!

RaggedyMom said...

SL - I think your post was right on target. RaggedyDad and I have both benefitted tremendously from being guests at people's homes, and we try to host guests on a pretty regular basis.

As our "couple friends" baruch Hashem have more kids, it gets a little too intense to consider having families over most of the time. There are only so many places in this apartment where several little kids who are totally hyped up to see each other can go!

Lately we've been focusing on hosting singles. I think that KGH must be a tough neighborhood in which to be single. Sometimes the neighborhood feels like one giant playgroup.

We've only really had one odd experience with this so far.

I had to get over my hesitation that we're relatively young and some of the singles are not. Sometimes it feels unfair that RaggedyDad and I, young shnooks that we are, are in the position of high-and-mighty-hosts just by virtue of having had the mazal to get married young. I never want this to make the guests uncomfortable. But I think the benefit (to them and us) really outweighs the minor discomfort.

SephardiLady said...

RaggedyMom-We've had never married singles nearly double our age and they keep coming back and some even ask for invitations, so hosting seems to be a win-win.

SRosen-Agreed. I'm only theorizing about the advice. My husband and I had a pretty solid relationship before marriage, but years later we are still "getting to know each other." In many ways guests have facilitated that since they bring their own topics of discussion and Torah into our home.

SROSEN said...

SL - I agree that you are always getting to know someone and are always working on building the relationship.

I know a couple who got engaged and married within a span of 6 weeks!!

If my kids ever tried that . . .

miriam said...

We live in a smaller community, on the outskirts of it due to property values, and also are just out of the eruv. Which we're fine with! (I feel obligated to say that, since everyone immediately feels sorry for us and asks if they could maybe extend the eruv for us, since it's only about a block. I like living outside the eruv! For chinuch reasons, mostly.)

But it does mean that a) I'm not in shul myself, so I'm happy to have my husband bring home guests on Shabbos morning, pre-arranged or not, and b) we can't invite other people with small children, or even get invited out except for Yom Tov.

That said, sometimes I like a quiet Shabbos so that we can give the kids more attention, and sometimes we like to have them actively participate in having guests so they see and appreciate the mitzvah of hachnassat orchim in action. In fact, when my husband takes some of the kids to shul with him, he's MORE likely to come home with unexpected guests, because the kids do the inviting! (Yes, with our permission. We always plan on leftovers. If we have more people eating on Shabbos, so my husband will have something else for his weekday lunches.)

Ariella said...

just today, someone told me that her son is married to a vegetarian. When they come for Shabbos, she prepares two chulents -- one without meat.

SRosen said...

Cholent w/o meat?!?!

There should be laws against that.

Ari Kinsberg said...

"We have found that hosting for lunch is a bit more difficult for us."

i prefer friday night, but for a different reason. shabbat lunches with guests can drag on and on, even until mincha and beyond during the winter. i need my shabbat afternoon nap.

SephardiLady said...

Ari-For a second there I thought my husband was posting a comment under your name. Well, you would be a welcome lunch guest since it sounds like you would pick up and head out before naptime in the winter. My husband appreciates the natural end that Friday night offers. Unfortunately, with our kids, naptime is a chapter in the past (although one parent can usually nap, so we take turns).

Jacob Da Jew said...

We have guests pretty often, mostly single friends, as we live in Brooklyn and lots of families don't hold by the eruv here.