Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To Bring Or Not To Bring

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.


  1. I am a single guy who lives in the Heights and sometimes hosts shabbos meals. In my circles, it is common practice for people to bring stuff for shabbos meals, to the point where it is almost expected. Hosting a shabbos meal still does mean non-trivial effort, but meals are more pot-luck style than hosted by a single person.

    Ultimately, it comes down to minhag hamakom, and common sense. If you feel, based on your understanding of those two elements, that the offer is genuine, then definitely say yes. The person will probably feel more comfortable at your meal, knowing that he contributed to the meal himself.

  2. I feel like ASOG which is why I always tell guests who want to come to bring me dessert, grape juice or challah. These are all store-bought items so I feel like they can "bring something" as it were, but nothing that requires time-consuming work. But I do think it is appropriate for a guest to bring SOMETHING. In the communities where people don't bring prepared food, they do usually bring a small gift, flowers or wine when invited out to a meal.

  3. While the minhag for singles who host (other singles) tends to be a "pot luck" style and expectation -to the point of individuals actually feeling bad or guilty if they did not contribute -it's not necessarily the same for couples.

    I have been to couples who made practically everything themselves. Still, I grew up in a family that said I should always take something (even if it's superfluous like another bottle of wine or a nice candy tray) so even if they say I shouldn't bring anything I still do.

    I think it's the sefardi in me, but I can't be sure.

  4. maybe the breuers side doesn't do it because of the lack (according to their standards) of an eruv

  5. Harry-er - I didn't say the Breuers crowd didn't bring things, just that I am unaware what their practice is. In most cases I've experienced, people are far more likely to bring the gift on Friday than Shabbos itself, which circumvents that issue entirely.

  6. I agree with the comments above. I totally understand where ASoG is coming from, because in most communities aside from places like the Heights, guests will only bring something small like flowers or a bottle of wine or dessert- not something that seriously contributes to the meal. In that case, such as in the place where I grew up, guests do not offer to bring something, they just do. My parents always drop stuff at people's houses. No need to offer.

    The Heights is different. Meals that consist of singles, as Michael said above, are potluck and so everyone brings one dish. The host only makes the main dish and that is all. It is expected that each person at the meal will bring something substantial. I believe that this is due to the fact that people are young and a lot of people are in school so most people do not have tons of money to host a 15 person meal.

    What happens when people get married? Then things change slightly. Most people are of the opinion that once you get married, the whole potluck thing goes out the window. For some reason married people are expected to make the entire meal by themselves. This is partly because married couples only have a few guests over, so their meals are smaller and not as large as the singles meals in the heights, which on average are 10-15 people, sometimes larger.

    I understand that couples usually only have fewer people over, but my personal philosophy is: Just because someone got married does not mean they automatically became rich. Having a people over is expensive. If I was going to any other meal, I would bring a side dish, so why should I not do the same in this case, just because the person is married?

    I think most people disagree with me, and I know many of my single friends view going to married friends as a free ride, a break from having to make something, but they feel compelled to offer. My married friends similarly refuse to accept my offers to bring something, and instead will ask me to bring dessert or challah. I think that is a good compromise, because I really feel bad if I don't bring something, but they are still making the whole meal. I would be overjoyed if one of my married friends took me up on my offer to bring a side dish, but as I said, I might be in the minority on this one.

  7. I'm very possessive of my food and kitchen ... so unless they're insistent I always just say "No need to bring anything -- just empty stomachs!"

  8. I feel like potluck-style is much more a student/young singles thing - a shabbos table hosted by a family is usually a bit nicer, more kavodic, and therefore the meal is more cohesive and not potluck-style. Potluck is more casual....When I go to families I always bring a store-bought cake, chocolates, or wine (but I don't usually offer, I just bring). I have only once or twice seen other people bring side dishes, like a salad or kugle. I think if people offer, you should just tell them to bring whatever's easiest for them, like a dessert or wine.

    Good question!


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