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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

How to clear a Shabbat table.

There are things you learn in Intro to Judaism. The things that born Jews think converts need to learn in order to become a Jew.

Holidays. Torah. Hebrew. When to stand, when to sit and when to bend slightly at the waist during prayer. Sampling all the different types of Jewish soul food.

Then there are the things that born Jews don’t think that converts need to learn. Not because they are keeping it secret, but because it doesn’t even occur to them it could be different. There are humor books* and how-to guides devoted to those things including needing to take a little sweater, food pushing (offer it more than once) and the mystery of camp (summer camp, not Holocaust).

Then there is the thing that isn’t in any book and that I’ve only recently been able to articulate: How to clear a Shabbat table.

Jews and Gentiles, in my life, clear tables in very different ways. The first time I saw a Jewish family clear the table, I thought it was just that family, but over the past few years, I’ve realized that it is how many Jewish families clear the table.

How To Clear the Dinner Table

Non-Jews clear the table like a waiter clears the table at a restaurant. Mom takes two to three plates at a time to the kitchen, come back and take a few more. When you get to the kitchen, you scrape the plates into the garbage and then pile into the sink to wash after dinner. Maybe, a big maybe, you might have people pass the plates to the head of the table and then carry an awkward tower of plates, food and silverware away to the kitchen.

How to Clear the Shabbat Table

Jewish families pass and scrape. Mom still stands at the head of the table before she goes to the kitchen, but as she receives each plate she scrapes the food onto the top plate and puts the empty plate on the bottom of the pile. All of the food scraping happens at the table. Then a less akward pile of plates with food and silverware on top of the pile is taken to the kitchen.


I pointed this out at an epic Shabbat dinner I had this week (eight hours of laughter and eating) and, when pressed, other people at the table agreed that this is generally true. I’ve been trying to learn how to clear the table the Jewish way, but it is more foreign to me than Hebrew. One is not more “right” than the other, just cultural differences. I’ve been living in this culture now since late 2004 and there are still surprises and “ah ha” moments.

Have you all noticed anything like this? Something that a born Jew wouldn’t even know was different, but represented culture shock or a cultural learning for you?

*There was an outcry against the book, but this is where I thought Boy Vey: A Shiksa’s Guide To Dating Jewish Men was very useful. I also recommend Jewish as a Second Language.

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