ASoG and I were arguing about, or should I say, passionately discussing, a particular issue recently. I want to see what the readers think – not for the purpose of proving who’s right or wrong, but just because I am very interested in seeing what other people do in this situation.
Here’s the scenario: You invite guests over for a Shabbos meal. They graciously accept your invitation, and in turn offer to bring something, such as a kugel, salad or dessert. Do you accept their offer or not?
What I said: The soon-to-be guests are trying to be courteous. They are sincere in their intention, and are not just offering as a platitude (of course this would be different where it’s obvious they don’t really care and are just mouthing off to appear sincere). They are grateful for your invitation, particularly since this means less effort to prepare a meal for Shabbos, and as such they want to contribute one little something to help with all the work and money you are expending and spending.
As such, I felt that it’s perfectly fine to accept their offer. Receiving their gift is part of a mutual, reciprocal relationship of being nice, expressing chesed, and people grow from acts of giving, even somewhat minor ones such as this.
I contended that we shouldn’t don’t turn away and refuse their chesed because it does good for them to give. They want to give, so let them be fulfilled through helping. There is the additional benefit that they are indeed making the host’s work easier by not having to make one more dish, even if it’s just as minor as a salad. Even easier is buying and bringing wine or challah (or dessert), which is a bit less involved, but still saves from the often expensive venture of hosting a large amount of guests.
ASoG said: We should not accept the offer. First, perhaps they feel compelled to offer. Second, even if they are genuine, it’s a tircha for them to make and bring anything, since they were expecting a care-free preparation-less Shabbos meal, and now you’re forcing them to spend time making stuff. Thus, it is Better to exert more of your own energy, even if it might be an inconvenience, than to force them to contribute when they probably are too busy and aren’t able to.
The basis of our discussion seems to have stemmed from our personal experiences growing up and more recently. In the city where ASoG is from, no one ever offers or brings anything when they go to someone else for a Shabbos meal (even though I’ve seen her mother do differently, just for the record). Where I’m from, having guests bring food they’ve prepared can be tricky sometimes because not everyone is so knowledgeable about kashrus, but people do have a common practice of bringing a bottle of wine.
In the several years I’ve lived in the Washington Heights-YU-Mt. Sinai Jewish community (I can’t really comment on Breur’s), I’ve seen that the general practice is for people to offer to bring something to their hosts, for the hosts to accept, and the guests actually prepare and bring the food item. I’ve seen people bring wine (I’ve done that) or store-bought dessert such as a melt-a-way (I’ve done this too), and I’ve seen women and married couples bring salads and kugels. It would then seem to me that this is the minhag hamakom so-to-speak.
ASoG hasn’t really lived in the Heights like I have, so she has no continuous exposure to this practice, hence I can’t fault her for relying on her personal experience and how she was raised. This is all part and parcel of how having an argument in marriage works, as I’ve heard from Rabbi Maybruch, that perspectives in these sorts of discussions are often colored by personal experience. Rabbi Maybruch suggested that I should be considerate of the fact that it could also be part of ASoG’s perspective that she saw experientially that the hostess was the one who took care of everything as part of her role of hosting guests.
What do you guys think? What has been your experience? Is it based on local custom? Is there a standard? I really want to hear other perspectives, so PLEASE comment away!
PS - In the end, things sort of resolved themselves when both guests refused to take 'no' for an answer and politely, but firmly gave us a selection of what each could bring. ASoG and I also decided jointly that in the future, we will hopefully always welcome guests' offers with open minds and a lot of appreciation.