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For the week ending 8 November 2008 / 10 Heshvan 5769

A Pointed Question

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: B. Altman

Dear Rabbi,

There is a custom to remove knives from the table before Birkat Hamazon (Blessing after Meals). What is the reason for this, and does it include plastic knives?

Dear B. Altman,

There are two main reasons for removing knives prior to Birkat Hamazon.

The Talmud relates that a person was once reciting Birkat Hamazon. When he came to the third blessing in which we ask G-d to rebuild Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, he became so distraught at the thought of the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile, that he picked up a knife from the table and stabbed himself.

Because of this event, we remove the knives on the one hand to recall how strongly we should feel about the destruction of the Temple and desire its restoration, while removing the possibility that the event described in the Talmud be repeated.

It’s for this reason that the knives are not removed for blessing after the meals on Shabbat: to indicate that on such a holy day as the Sabbath we are not to feel sad, nor are we capable of being so sad as to allow such an incident to happen.

Another reason for removing knives is based on the idea that a table one dines on is compared to the altar in the Holy Temple. Just as it is forbidden to use any iron utensil when hewing the stones for the altar, so too, we remove any metal knives from the table/altar prior to Birkat Hamazon.

According to both reasons above, one would not have to remove plastic knives. Regarding the first reason, plastic knives aren't ‘lethal’ in the classic sense so they are not considered dangerous in this context. Regarding the second, the concern is specifically regarding metal instruments, but knives of other materials should be okay.

Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch, shlita, was asked this question and concurred that one need not remove plastic knives before Birkat Hamazon.

Sources:

  • Shulchan Aruch 180:5
  • Aruch HaShulchan 180:5
  • Rokeach 332

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