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I use different plates for meat and for milk based food, and I never put them together: I am careful when I wash them and when I cook.

I read in the Shulchan Oruch that, when two people are eating, on the same table, meat and milk, there must be a clear separation (maybe some space) to be sure that milk and meat don't come into contact with each other.

But I am wondering whether I can put a plate dedicated to meat-based food on a table where I usually eat milk-made food without separating it from the table.

And is there a difference depending on whether I use glass dishes or ceramic dishes or other materials?

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Do you want to know if 1) you must use a different table for meat and milk, or 2) you must remove meat plates from the table before putting milk plates on it? –  Seth J Jan 13 '13 at 3:13
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It sounds like you are asking #1. –  Seth J Jan 13 '13 at 3:14
    
I am asking if i should use a different table to eat meat and milk, not at the same time. (to be more precise i am asking if i can put a milk-plate on a table where i put also not at the same time meat-plates) . –  Benjamin Jan 13 '13 at 12:08
    
In the title of the question you wrote the "table cloth". Are you asking specifically about sharing table cloths or sharing tables in general? –  Double AA Jan 13 '13 at 16:49
    
Using the same table cloth with both meat-plates and milk-plates. But i am interested in all the things and the discussion you will post ;) Don't worry if you miss the point of the discussion, i will learn something else, and leaning is the most important thing. –  Benjamin Jan 13 '13 at 20:50
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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

One can use the same tablecloth for both meat and milk meals if the tablecloth is clean.

Even though the Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 89:4 writes that you must change tablecloths between meat to dairy meals, the Pitchei Teshuvah elaborates that the reasoning no longer applies.

This is what the Pitchei Teshuvah (89:8) writes:

עיין מ"ש רדב"ז ח"ב סי' תשכ"א שכתב שאין דברי הרב אלא כשהיו מניחין הבשר והגבינה על המפה ואז יש לחוש שמא ידבקו זה בזה אבל מנהגינו להביא כל מאכל על השלחן בקערות כו' הלכך אפי' לצאת ידי חומרת הרשב"א ז"ל בהפוך המפה לחוד ובהסרת הפתיתין סגי וכן נהגו ע"כ דבריו עיין שם:

See what the Radbaz wrote (ח"ב סי' תשכ"א) that this only applied when they used to place meat and milk on the [actual] tablecloth, and so there was concern that they would stick to each other. But our custom is to bring any food [to the table] in bowls, etc. Thus, even through the Rashba's stringency it is enough to shake out the tablecloth [lit. turn over the tablecloth and remove the pieces], and this is how people act according to his words.

In short, if you eat food on a plate, you can use the same tablecloth.

UPDATE: Regarding differences of Ashkenazim and Sephardim, I can only speak for Sephardic application, in light of the authoritative R. Ovadia Yosef's permissive attitude. In Yalkut Yosef Yoreh Deah 89:65-66, it is written:

אם אוכלים באמצעות כלים ולא באופן ישיר על השלחן, אין הדבר מעכב ליתן מפה על השלחן, ואפשר לאכול על אותו שלחן מאכלי בשר, ובערב מאכלי חלב בלי מפה, [לאחר שינקו את השלחן משיירי המאכל]. ויש שנהגו להחמיר בכל אופן, לייחד מפה למאכלי בשר, ומפה למאכלי חלב, שחוששין שמא נשארו על המפה שיורי בשר, ואחר כך כשיעמיד שם לחם וגבינה ושאר מאכלי חלב, ידבקו זה בזה, ויאכל בשר וחלב בבת אחת. ואמנם מעיקר הדין אם אוכלים את הבשר ואת הגבינה בתוך צלחות, ולא על השלחן ממש, אין איסור לאכול על אותה מפה, ודי להסיר את הפתיתים.

מפה שעוונית או ניילון שעל ידי ניגוב היטב יוצא כל הלכלוך הדבוק בה, יש להקל לאכול עליה בשר אחר גבינה, וכן להיפך לאחר המתנת שש שעות, אפילו אם המאכלים עצמם מונחים על המפה [ולאו דוקא שמונחים בצלחות], ובלבד שינקה היטב את המפה במטלית לחה להסיר את כל הנדבק, ואחר כך ינגב במטלית יבשה. וכל שכן אם אוכל באמצעות צלחות. ובשבת ויום טוב יש ליזהר שלא לנגב בחוזק במטלית לחה. ומפה שאפשר להשתמש בה בשני צדדים, וניכר הבדל בין הצדדים כדי שלא יתחלף, מותר להשתמש בה לבשר ולחלב.

If you eat using vessels [plates], and not directly on the table, there is no inhibiting issue of placing a tablecloth, and you can eat meat on it and then dairy foods in the evening without a tablecloth [after cleaning the table of leftover food]. There are those who are stringent in any case and separate meat tablecloths from dairy tablecloths out of concern that residual meat will remain and later, when they place bread and cheese and other dairy products [on the tablecloth], they will get stuck to each other and the person will eat meat together with dairy. But actually, the letter of the law is that if you eat meat and cheese inside plates, and not on the actual table, there is no prohibition to eat on the same tablecloth. It is enough to remove the crumbs off.

If an oilcloth or nylon tablecloth was wiped off well, clearing any filth stuck to it, there is room to permit eating meat after cheese on it and vice-versa (after waiting six hours). Even if the foods themselves are resting on the tablecloth [and not actually on the plates], as long as the tablecloth was well cleaned with a damp cloth to remove anything that got stuck and then wiped with a dry cloth [it is permissible]. And all the more so, if one is eating using plates. On Shabbat and Yom Tov one must be careful not to wipe strongly with a damp cloth. If a tablecloth can be used on both its sides and you recognize the difference between the sides, in order to not have to switch tablecloths, it is permissible to use it for meat and dairy.

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Did anyone historically ever eat off a tablecloth but not on plates? Did tablecloths precede plates? –  Curiouser Jan 15 '13 at 22:58
    
See my answer, that this opinion of the Pischey Teshuva is not universally accepted. –  Michoel Jan 15 '13 at 23:34
    
@Michoel: It is clear that this is not a universal practice, but many indeed follow this custom and they certainly have who to rely on. If the person asking has been using the same tablecloth, it would be improper (IMHO) to tell them they are wrong. –  Aryeh Jan 16 '13 at 6:49
    
There is difference between ashkenazi and sefardim regarding this particular issue? And if the tablecloth must be clean how i should clean it? Is there a particular method i have to follow? –  Benjamin Jan 16 '13 at 16:18
    
Ok @Aryeh your answer is fantastic, complete and clear. This is clearly the Best Answer. Thanks. –  Benjamin Jan 17 '13 at 13:52
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The Badei Hashulchan (87:102) brings an opinion (the Radbaz, quoted by Pishchey Teshuva - brought in Aryeh's answer) that if one eats on plates he may use the same tablecloth for meat and milk. However, he notes that others argue (the Minchas Yaakov based on a Bach) and forbid using the same tablecloth for meat and milk even if he uses plates. He concludes the the prevalent custom nowadays is even stricter; that we do not even rely on wiping the tablecloth in between and always use two separate tablecloths.

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