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When are placemats needed when eating, and why are they needed?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Off the cuff:

Placemats are used to make someone cognizant of something at the table he should not partake of. On a strict halachic basis, it would allow a person to

  • Eat with someone who is eating a food of an opposite milk/meat type (not necessary for kosher/treif as we aren't concerned for sharing)

  • Eat with one's wife at the table when she is a niddah

Additionally, there is a custom to not eat dairy on a meat table and vice versa, even if the table is clean. A placemat would help for this. It is not necessary for a non-kosher table.

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"a custom to not eat dairy on a meat table and vice versa, even if the table is clean": Why isn't this a halacha, based on our only relying on "no nosen taam between kelim [plate and table] without moisture between them" b'diavad? (And anyway there's often moisture.) (Of course, CYLOR for any practical halacha.) – msh210 Apr 1 '11 at 0:30
The Pischei Teshuvah 89:8 quotes the Radbaz that since we use dishes, not eating off the same table is not meikar hadin. Though he says the minhag was to flip the tablecloth over to be yotze the "chumras haRashba (?). hebrewbooks.org/… – YDK Apr 1 '11 at 1:23
Placemats are not needed when eating with a non-jew (eating non-kosher). since we wouldn't eat non-kosher anyway, and don't need to be reminded. – Menachem Jun 5 '11 at 2:33
@msh210 I'm guessing, but maybe it's because our plates of food don't get very hot on the bottom; plus if it ever was, the table probably isn't ben yomo; plus even if it was, the volume of the table could easily be 60 on the plate. Just speculation. – Double AA May 16 '12 at 5:03

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