Thursday, January 10, 2008

Plastic Tablecloths And Shidduchim

There is a famous shidduch question which many promote and many others make fun of, and that is whether they use a plastic tablecloth on Shabbos.

But there is an ambiguity present, and I've heard each of the two possibilities promoted by a (different) rabbi (who shall remain anonymous) as a good shidduch question, to be able to assess sociological compatibility in attitudes towards Shabbos.

One understanding of "plastic tablecloth" is as a thick paper or opaque plastic tablecloth. If so, Shabbos has an informal, weekday-like atmosphere. This could be viewed as treating Shabbos casually.

Another understanding of "plastic tablecloth" (from someone further to the right) is a thin, transparent plastic put over a fancy linen tablecloth, such that when the wine spills, you do not need to spend a lot of time and money cleaning it. The appearance is almost the same as without the plastic there, and many shuls use such plastics for kiddushim (in fact, a lot use the former as well). But this is not giving the optimal to Shabbos, to make it fanciest of the fancy. I wonder if this insistence is more prevalent among Hungarians.

A quick search showed different interpretations. In one shidduch questionnaire, we have:
"Does she use paper tablecloths for Shabbos or cloth?
Is the linen tablecloth covered with plastic?"
where the questions are disjoint.

Here is someone who seems to take "plastic tablecloth" to mean clear plastic over linen:
"Does the family use a plastic tablecloth?
If they do, they're just practical. They don't want a grape juice stain on the white tablecloth. Send that to the cleaners along with the mother's suit, and there goes $40. Who needs to be busy dusting off the crumbs for a half-hour after the meal?"
In this questionnaire, it is only taken as linen vs. opaque plastic:
White damask only
Usually white, occasionally a festive floral
black or red cloth
White plastic or vinyl
Checkered vinyl
None of the above
I wonder -- without giving support to the question -- when people are mocking the question, what exactly do they have in mind by "plastic tablecloth?" And how does this accord with their own personal family practice? I would guess that people are more likely to mock if they feel that they are being cast in the "negative" group.

1 comment:

Lori said...

Ohmy. Of course, we all know that the black/red linen choices are for Jewitches. LOL.


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