Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Eating in Public

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The Talmud teaches that eating in public is inappropriate conduct and that one who does so is comparable to a dog.[1] Furthermore, eating in public is one of the activities which disqualify a person from serving as a witness in ritual matters.[2]While the Talmud seems to imply that any form of eating in public is to be shunned, it appears from other sources, however, that it is only eating *while walking* in public which is truly forbidden.[3] As such, it is permitted to eat in a restaurant or any other circumstance where eating in public is appropriate.[4] One should also avoid drinking a beverage in public whenever possible.[5]

The Talmud's comparison between one who eats in public and a dog is actually, well, somewhat accurate. Indeed, animals often continue to walk while eating any food they happen to find in the street rather than establish themselves in one spot in order to eat it in a dignified manner. It is also taught that eating in the street is a sign of personal disregard and indignity.[6] Some authorities teach that eating in public is a sign of poverty, as if one has no food to eat at home.[7] It is permitted, however, to chew gum or suck candies in public.[8]

While normative practice certainly permits one to eat in a restaurant and similar venues, one should, however, make an effort to avoiding eating on public busses and trains. These places are not designated for eating and therefore eating in them may be unacceptable from both a halachic and social perspective. So too, it is likely that there are passengers who may be offended by the sight and smells of certain foods.[9] Eating on airplanes, however, is completely acceptable and anticipated.[10]

Some authorities suggest that it is only eating a meal in public which is to be avoided, but eating a quick snack in public is permissible, though it too should be avoided if possible.[11] Similarly, there is also an opinion that only eating bread in public is that which the sages have forbidden, but other foods are less problematic.[12] It is also permissible to eat in a public place where very few people are expected to appear.[13]

There are a number of authorities who maintain that it is only Torah scholars who are truly forbidden to eat in public or to eat while walking. According to this approach, even eating in a restaurant might just be forbidden for such individuals.[14]. Regardless of one's social status, eating while walking is certainly unbecoming and should be avoided by everyone whether or not it might be technically permissible.


[1] Kiddushin 41b
[2] Rambam, Hilchot Edut 11:4; C.M. 34:18
[3] Rambam, Hilchot Edut 11:4; Yaavetz, Kiddushin 40b
[4] Devarecha Yair 34
[5] Siach Yitzchak 479
[6] Rashi, Kiddushin 40b
[7] Maharsha, Kiddushin 40b
[8] Divrei Banayahu, C.M. 26
[9] Beit Yechezkel, Kedushat Hapeh V'haachila p.171
[10]Yosef Daat, O.C. 42:5
[11]Kesef Mishna, Edut 11:5
[12]Tosfot, Kiddushin 40b
[13]Devarecha Yair 34
[14]C.M. 8:4; Yaavetz, Kiddushin 40b; Aggadot Talmud Yerushalmi, Massrot 3:2

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