Thursday, December 25, 2008

How Do You Eat It, With Your Hands?

I've had occasion to eat with colleagues at kosher delis and they invariably comment about the way I eat a pickle. I have a method for doing it. As I eat, I cut narrow horizontal slices, using my fork to hold the pickle in place and my knife to slice it. Someone always comments about my using a fork and knife, connecting it to an episode of Seinfeld in which people eat a Snickers bar with a fork and knife (link - "I am eating my dessert. How do you eat it, with your hands?").

There is actually a halakhic basis to why I use a fork and knife in general, although I have to say that I really do it because I like the taste of a thin slice of pickle. Click here to read moreThe excellent website Revach raises this issue regarding eating a jelly donut on Chanukah (link). The post-Talmudic tractate of Masekhes Derekh Eretz Zuta (4:5) states that you should not hold a large (egg-sized) piece of food in your hand and eat from it, because it is bad manners and unpleasant for others to witness. This is quoted in the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 170:7). Based on this, the Eliyahu Rabbah writes that you should use utensils to cut pieces rather than using your hands.

The question then arises what to do with food that is normally eaten by hand or in big pieces. Since people will not be offended, can you eat it with your hands and/or hold big pieces in your hand while you eat? This is relevant to sandwiches, falafel, pizza, pickles and many other foods, such as jelly donuts. The Piskei Teshuvos quotes the Responsa Or Le-Tziyon (2:46:7) as ruling leniently (contrary to George Costanza). However, he also quotes R. Ya'akov Yisrael Fischer who rules strictly, that you must not hold a large piece of food in your hands (he doesn't discuss using utensils).

It seems to me, based on over three decades of pizza store patronage, that the common practice is to be lenient. Where certain foods are eaten with large pieces in your hands, you may do so -- for those foods.

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