Sivan 20, 5772
Milk and meat on same table
We are buying a new kitchen table. We use our old table as milk. When we have meat we use placemats. The table top is formica. Can we stop using the placemats. We donít eat meat and milk on the table at the same time.
The use of the same table surface for both milk and meat (consecutively, and not at the same time), seems to be forbidden by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 89,4). There it is ruled "it is forbidden to eat cheese (= milk foods) on a tablecloth that meat was eaten off (and also vice versa)". However the Pitchay Tshuva (ibid 8) quotes the Radbaz who explains the law as applying to when people ate directly from the tablecloth, and there was a real fear that some meat food might stick to the milk crumbs. But where people eat off plates this concern is not so great and it is enough to shake out the tablecloth (or to turn it over, depending on how you translate). Based on this ruling, many Rabbis permit using the same table for meat and milk (consecutively, and not at the same time), if the surface can be well cleaned between each meal. (see Madanay HaShulchan, 89,15 in the Metamay HaShulchan). If your new table is smooth, as formica tops usually are, and well cleaned between the milk and meat, this leniency would apply in your case.
Nonetheless, as you have been accustomed to using placemats when eating meat, you should keep on doing so. This is a widespread practice that has its roots in the plain ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, and should not be discarded lightly. The above ruling can be used to justify those places that suffice with wiping the table down alone, but I see no reason to change your custom.
May your new table serve you well, and may you be satiated on it with the blessings of the Lord.
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