Jewish traditional teachings on being a good host and guest

Rabbinic literature is abundant in claims praising the application of hospitality on behalf of visitors and indigents. One even refers to it as “greater than welcoming the Divine Presence [Sh’khinah].”

A Midrash exhibits the biblical patriarch Abraham since the paragon of hospitality, because of his reception of wayfarers in Genesis 18. His position in the entry of his tent in the midday heat is viewed as a proactive seeking out of passing visitors. Other components of the storyline, too, play a role in Abraham’s reputation: his eagerness, his largesse, and his insistence on seeing his visitors off as they departed.

The citizens of Jerusalem, too, are depicted in Midrashic literature as excelling in this virtue. If the Holy Temple still stood in Jerusalem, that city was the getaway of pilgrims from throughout the Land of Israel in the three harvest festivals. The rabbinic storytellers of late antiquity relate that Jerusalem’s citizens opened their residences for free to those visitors.

Not just our food and accommodation to be offered for passing visitors, but the travelers should be accommodated graciously. The statement of the first sage Shammai this one should “greet every person with a cheerful facial expression” (Mishnah Avot 1:15) is understood midrashically (in Avot De-Rabbi Natan 13) as an admonition to hosts to not provide for their guests amply but angrily. Better, teaches the Midrash, to offer a guest but a little in a gracious tone than large portions proffered grudgingly.

At the start of a traditional Passover seder, Jews recite a formulaic declaration of an “open house” policy of hospitality: “Let all who will be hard-pressed come and eat. Let all that are in need come and share the Passover sacrifice.” This statement is an expansion of what the third-century Babylonian sage Rav Huna was proven to make each time he sat down to a meal: “Let all who will be in need come and eat!” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 20b).

Some Jewish communities of the past institutionalized the practice of providing cordial reception to wayfarers by developing a furnished home for such temporary visitors. Others offered them lodging when you look at the communal synagogue. The Diaspora tradition of reciting into the synagogue the kiddush prayer at the beginning of a Shabbat or holiday evening — a prayer usually offered where the festive meal is eaten — has its origins for the reason that use of the community’s gathering space.

To this day, it is a hallmark of many Jewish communities that unfamiliar participants in synagogue worship, specifically on Shabbat or holidays, are invited to local people’s homes for a meal — and, if arrangements are created in advance, frequently for lodging as well.

Traditional mandates extend into the guest as well. Guests should stay away from causing hosts extra work. They ought to accede with their host’s or hostess’s requests. A guest should not bring along another, unasked guest. If the guest and host are going into the home together, the visitor should defer to the host. Leaving together, a guest should leave ahead of the host.

Reference

Jewish Hospitality | My Jewish Learning. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-hospitality/


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