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Beit Midrash Series Bemare Habazak - Rabbis Questions

Chapter 254

Improper “Table” Manners?

I was at the home of very fine friends, who have a few-weeks-old baby. Soon before the meal, they put a changing pad down on the dining room table and changed the baby. I didn’t say anything, but I (like most would) found it distasteful. Is it also halachically forbidden, and should I say something?
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Question: I was at the home of very fine friends, who have a few-weeks-old baby. Soon before the meal, they put a changing pad down on the dining room table and changed the baby. I didn’t say anything, but I (like most would) found it distasteful. Is it also halachically forbidden, and should I say something?
Bemare Habazak - Rabbis Questions (404)
Rabbi Daniel Mann
253 - Calling a Kohen Who is a Katan
254 - Improper “Table” Manners?
255 - Reflecting on a Socio-Religious Trend
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Answer: We will first take a look at the "halachic" element, and then, likely more importantly, try to put things in perspective.
The gemara (Chulin 27a) sees in a pasuk (Yechezkel 41:22) that mentions both the mizbeach (altar) and the shulchan (table) the following idea: "At the time of the Beit Hamikdash, a person would bring a sacrifice and be atoned, but now one’s table brings him atonement." The primary explanation is that the atonement power comes from the mitzva of feeding those in need (see Tosafot ad loc.) – a practical, not mystical, concept. Nevertheless, there are several (semi-) accepted halachot that are learned from a spiritual concept of "a table is like an altar," which may reflect another level of this gemara.
Several Rishonim (see Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 180) learn from this concept that one should cover metal knives that are on the table at the time of bentching, as metal is kept away from the mizbeach because the latter lengthens life and the former shortens it. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 180:5) paskens this way. The Rama (OC 167:5) recommends to put salt on the table, just as salt was put on the korbanot brought on the mizbeach. The Magen Avraham (167:13) cites the Sefer Chasidim (102), that one must not kill insects on a table upon which people eat, just as he would not do so on the mizbeach, again, for the above reason. As usual, when the Magen Avraham states an opinion, most Acharonim follow suit (see Sha’ar Hatziyun 167:26; Kaf Hachayim, OC 167:41). The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 167:12) extends this to anything that is unseemly, with other Acharonim mentioning some specific examples, such as not allowing children to walk on top of the table (see Piskei Teshuvot 167:6). All indications are that this matter of respect for the table applies all the time, not just during a meal.
It seems clear to most anyone that changing a diaper is included in what the Aruch Hashulchan (ibid.) calls unseemly things, and he would thus forbid it. Actually, most people would refrain from doing so on health and aesthetic grounds, certainly in the presence of guests and soon before a meal.
On the other hand, I would not have said anything to the new parents, unless I felt that due to our relationship and/or their personality, they would take my comments in a positive spirit without significant embarrassment or resentment. While those who cite this halacha use the word assur, it is hard to view this post-Talmudic prohibition as a classical Rabbinic prohibition of the type from which we should try to protect our counterparts. (It is also unclear if all accept the Aruch Hashulchan’s extension to all unseemly things).
It is healthy to be melamed z’chut and see a little logic and even some beauty in the couple’s behavior. First, the halachot of excrement do not apply, for the most part, to such young babies (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 81:1 and Mishna Berura ad loc. 2). Indeed, the smell is also less oppressive (for most) and apparently somewhat less unhygienic (especially for nursing babies). What is more interesting, though, is the attitude of these parents, who, I would guess, are first-time parents. Their days (and some sleep-deprived nights) revolve around that little bundle of joy, and he or she occupies their thoughts and actions. With such a frame of mind, they probably see taking care of the baby’s needs as the most natural and beautiful thing, and it did not dawn on them that others might be taken aback. I would also predict that in a few weeks, they will "land" a little bit and stop doing this practice, not due to halachic realization, but due to a return to normalcy, in which they would "know better." In the meantime, I would excuse their lack of tact and try to focus on its endearing element.
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