How to Be a Host, How to Be a Guest

Jewish ethical literature provides practical, down-to-earth guidelines on how to behave towards one's guests and towards one's hosts.

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The rules set down in the pre-modern sources consulted by Rabbi Jacobs assume that real hospitality is more than just having friends visit in your home. It involves directly providing for wayfarers and others who might be in need of a meal and of people with whom to share it. Reprinted with permission from Louis Jacobs, The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.

The Jewish moralists often refer to the etiquette to be observed by both host and guest. The host should have considerations for the feelings of his poor guests and not embarrass them. The guests should not conduct themselves in a manner likely to cause embarrassment to their host. Naive but typical of conditions in medieval German Jewry, is the advice given to hosts and guests in the Sefer Hasidim.Being a host, being a guest

"A guest eating in a house in which he has been offered hospitality should leave something on his plate in order to show that he was given enough. If he eats everything, people might say it is because he was not given sufficient. If, however, the host said to him, 'Please do not leave anything; what is the good of throwing food away to the dogs,' he should listen to the host and leave nothing on his plate. It once happened that a certain guest regularly took no notice of his host who urged him to eat well. When the host observed this he naturally gave him smaller portions, and then the guest complained. A sage said to the guest, 'Your host was quite right, for you should have listened to him in the first place. Your intention was to pay him honor, but the best way of honoring a man is to do what he wants.' A guest should not bring into the home which offers hospitality another, uninvited guest."

The moralists advise a host that he should not take issue with any opinions expressed by his guest at the table because this might result in further humiliation for a poor man humiliated in any event by having to accept hospitality A poor man who can easily obtain his needs in the special communal guest-house should not insist on being given hospitality in a private home even if he senses that a private householder is willing to provide this. To trade without good cause on another's generosity smacks of theft. A husband should not bring the poor into his house without his wife's approval since theburden is far heavier on the mistress of the house than on the master.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.