By Rabbi Chaim Chazzan
Is it permissible to eat in a designated picnic area of a park?
There is a genre of halacha known as hilchos derech eretz which include the Torah’s expectations for behavior regarding mundane daily living, including eating, sleeping, talking etc. A facet of hilchos derech eretz is that it is axiomatic to Torah that one should not act in a manner that disrespects oneself.
The Gemara tells us that one who eats in the street degrades himself so much that he loses his credibility to serve as an eid (witness). This halacha is recorded in Shulchan Aruch.
While during the times of the Gemara this was considered degrading even by the general population, today it is common to see people eating in the street. Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach writes that although this has become common practice, it is still inappropriate and should not be done. The rule is that something deemed by Chazal as inappropriate should not be done, even when it becomes common practice.
The Talmud Yerushalmi cautions a talmid chochom not to eat in the street, which seems to indicate that all others may eat in the street (unlike the Talmud Bavli which disqualifies anyone who eats the street from serving as an eid).
To resolve this apparent contradiction the meforshim define exactly what the Bavli is referring to. Some say this only applies to one who eats while actually walking or one who regularly eats on the street. Others limit it only to those eating bread, while others say it only refers to a proper meal.
However, since the rationale behind not trusting one who eats in the street as a witness is because it is undignified, it does not include designated eating areas such as a picnic area.
קידושין מ ע”ב, תוס’ שם ד”ה ויש אומרים, טושו”ע חו”מ סי’ לד ב”י, ב”ח, וסמ”ע שם, ספר ויהי בנסוע עמ’ רה
Reprinted with permission from Lmaan Yishmeu – a project of Mercaz Anash. To see more articles visit Mercazanash.com