Kashrut – Miscellaneous Questions

Question: My husband and I do not keep a kosher home while my in-laws do keep a kosher home but do not keep strictly kosher when dining out (they will eat shellfish and unkosher meat).  His parents won’t bring un-kosher meat into their house, but they will bring fish that came from a non-kosher store that also serves shellfish, and they will bring this fish home for Shabbat dinner.  We recently invited my father-in-law for Shabbat dinner and he declined, saying that he didn’t think it was right to have Shabbat dinner at our house since our home is not kosher.  I feel that his attitude is wrong, as I think it would be more important to participate in Shabbat with his son and grandchildren than eat a kosher meal in a kosher home by himself.  Am I wrong, or is my father-in-law wrong?

Answer: The challenge of answering your question is that there are many ways to observe kashrut that do not meet the requirements of a strict (or even lenient) interpretation of halakha, but still have great emotional power to the practitioners.

Although your father-in-law does not keep kosher out, it appears from your question that he will only eat strictly kosher food on Shabbat.  It is similar to a very common practice among people who do not keep kosher at all during most of the year, but who keep very strictly kosher on Pesah.  Even though this is not a totally halakhic practice, I want to respect your father-in-law’s strong feelings about kashrut.

It seems to me that there should be some middle ground here.  Although you do not keep kosher, you should be able to buy or prepare a meal occasionally that would meet your in-laws needs.  Perhaps you could order a meal from a kosher caterer in your area, and serve on nice paper plates.  Perhaps you could prepare a nice fish meal in disposable aluminum containers, and/or purchase a few kosher utensils, that you would only use when your in-laws came to dinner.

My suggestion is that your husband tell his parents that he would really like to find a way for them to come to a Shabbat dinner, and find out from his parents exactly what you would need to do to make that possible.  They might need to consult with their rabbi, but I’m sure he or she can give them some good advice.

Question:  I appreciate your answer to my question.  Actually, my father in law does not eat only strictly kosher food on Shabbat; as a matter of fact, my mother in law, who doesn’t cook much, often brings home fish for Shabbat from a regular, non-kosher fish restaurant which also serves shellfish, etc.  I would certainly be willing to cook or obtain food that would be kosher enough for him if this were his true motivation, but sadly he is a person who abuses judiasm for his own purposes–in this situation to insinuate that our household is not as good as his because we don’t keep kosher.  I appreciate your advice, regardless.

Answer: I had understood from your first message that your mother-in-law brought home raw fish from a store that also sells treif.  It seems that I misunderstood, because this message makes it clear that he eats fish at home on Shabbat that was cooked in a treif kitchen.

I would still suggest that your husband approach his parents and ask if there is anything that he could do to buy/prepare food that would meet their requirements.  If they refuse to discuss how this might be possible, then it does appear that your father-in-law is not being true to a consistent observance of the mitzvot of kashrut or Shabbat.  My only other suggestion would be for you father-in-law has a rabbi, perhaps you can talk to his rabbi yourself and ask him to intervene.

Question:  My best friend is not kosher, but I am.  Every time that I go over to her house they always seem to be having pork.  I don’t want to be rude, but what should I do in this difficult situation?

Answer: There is not very much you can do.  If you have not already done so, explain kashrut to her so she knows why you cannot eat with her.

Obviously, you cannot eat the non-kosher food with her.  If there is a salad or some other vegetable that you can eat, then skip the main course and eat around it.

If she is truly a best friend, then she will understand.  Perhaps she will even make an effort to prepare alternative food for you when you have dinner with her again.

Question:  Next year I am moving in with a friend that is not Jewish.  She doesn’t really understand the rules of Kashrut, but I am trying to teach her.  I was wondering if you maybe could give me some clues on how to live with a person that is not Kosher, when I am.  How do we do the plates and refrigerator, etc.?

Answer: I lived with a non-Jewish roommate for two years while keeping kosher – it is a bit tricky, but if your roommate is cooperative, it is not too difficult.  The first thing to do is to give her a detailed lesson on the laws of kashrut.  At a minimum, she should understand what you can and cannot eat and how to separate dairy and meat products.

The refrigerator is not a significant issue.  I suggest that you have your own sets of dairy/meat dishes, cookware, and storage containers, that your roommate will not use.  If you cook meals together that are kosher, you can use your utensils.  However, if your roommate cooks treif or cooks without you present, she can use her own set of cookware/dishes.  The oven is somewhat an issue, but if you clean the oven regularly, so there is no spilled food on the sides/bottom, and you cover everything that you cook in the oven, you can both use the oven without a serious problem.

Question:  What can a non-kosher family do so they can have Orthodox or Conservative or Reform friends who keep kosher over for a meal? How can you prepare and serve the meal?

Answer: There is no simple answer to your question.  It depends on how strict your guests are in the observance of kashrut, so you would need to contact them for more specific guidance.  But here are some general suggestions:

Serve a vegetarian/dairy/fish meal.  Be careful that all ingredients are themselves kosher and dairy or parve (neither dairy nor meat) – you can make sure by looking on the product label for a hechsher, or sign of kashrut supervision.  There are hundreds of hechshers:  Common ones include a circle around a ‘u,’ and a circle or triangle around a ‘k.’

Be aware that some people who keep kosher will eat any kind of domestic cheese, and some people only eat cheese which is supervised kosher.  The same holds true for wine.

If your guests do not eat out at all in non-kosher restaurants, you may have to use only new (such as disposable aluminum) oven utensils.  They may want you to use paper or plastic plates and flatware.  However, if they eat dairy out in non-kosher restaurants, chances are that they will not ask you to do these things.

Question:  I need some clarification on the conservative stance concerning dining out.  Is it acceptable to  eat only fish, salad or cheese products at a non kosher establishment? What if the restaurant cut up ham for the salad bar before cutting your lettuce?

Answer: There are different Conservative approaches to eating out in non-kosher restaurants.  Some people will not eat cooked food out, and some will eat dairy-only foods out.

The justification for eating cold foods in a non-kosher restaurant relies on the assumption that the utensils used to prepare the food are clean and cold.  If they are clean, then no particles from treif foods will come off on the food.  The reason we have two separate sets of utensils is that if a knife, for example, is used to cut *hot* meat, it absorbs some of the meat flavor.  If it is then used to cut a hot dairy product, then the flavor of the meat might leech out into the dairy food, rendering it a forbidden mixture of dairy and meat.  If, however, the food is cold, then the utensil does *not* absorb the taste of the food.  So if a knife is used to cut cold ham, and then (after being cleaned) it is used to cut lettuce, it does not render the lettuce treif.

Eating cooked foods out is more problematic, because we do not assume that the utensils are cold.  Some people will request that fish be broiled on aluminum foil for this reason.  But many people who live in areas where there are no kosher restaurants will rely on the leniency that if there is less than a 1/60 portion of the treif substance by volume, then it is nullified because it does not impart a taste to the food.  Strictly speaking, this leniency should only be applied after the fact – for example, if a small amount of milk *accidentally* fell into a large pot of meat beef stew.  But if you assume that good restaurants are careful in their preparation, then a vegetarian/dairy meal would contain no more meat substance than would leech out of a utensil, pot, or pan that was cleaned before being used.  This is certainly a trivial amount, and can be used as a justification to eat dairy/fish/vegetarian cooked foods out in non-kosher restaurants.

Question:  I’ve worked in a deli, restaurant, bakery & catering operation and seen the cooks using the same grill space and utensils to prepare pork products, such as bacon and pork sausage, with non-pork products such as turkey bacon, turkey sausage, and latkes.  I warned the owner, but he didn’t seem to care.  I know this has been going on for years because several of the morning cooks have been there for at least 10-15 years.  Is this okay? I’ve had several guests complain and I’ve had to cover for the owner for fear of a law suit.

Answer: I am assuming that you do not work in a kosher deli.  Therefore, there is nothing wrong with using the same grill for pork and non-pork products.  A Jew who is serious about kashrut will not eat meat at such a restaurant.  You should not lie to protect the owner – there is no basis for a lawsuit, since the owner does not claim to run a kosher establishment.

Question:  Is there a correlation between ritual of animal sacrifices and laws of kashrut?

Answer: There is certainly a correlation, but I do not know if I understand your question completely – if I miss the mark, please let me know and I will try again!

The only animals acceptable for sacrifice were “clean” animals – the criteria for a kosher animal is the same as for a “clean” animal.

The method of slaughter was generally the same for sacrificed animals and slaughtered animals.

Most sacrificed animals were eaten, either by the Priests or Levites, or by the person who made the offering.  All prohibitions with respect to preparing and eating the animal (the removal of certain fats, the sciatic nerve at the back of the thigh, and the blood by soaking and salting) were followed in sacrificed animals, as with animals slaughtered for everyday use.

Question:  I read your remarks online about intermarriage in the Bible. In your remarks, you alluded to the fact that many examples of intermarriage occurred before Ezra. However, the rabbis have long been troubled with the possibility of Abraham mixing meat and milk in the meeting tent with the messengers of G-d even though this occurred long before Moses received the dietary laws. I would appreciate your comments.

Answer: Actually, most of the rabbis were not terribly troubled by Abraham mixing milk and meat.  They understood that the kashrut laws began with Sinai, and since Abraham lived generations before Sinai, he had no reason to observe them.

One midrash, for example, comments that since Abraham’s guests were angels in human guise, they only pretended to eat, since angels to not need to eat.  It makes no mention of the fact that Abraham served them a sumptious meal that he presumably would eat himself.

Another midrash comments that when God wanted to give the Torah to the Israelites, the angels protested that human beings weren’t good enough to receive Torah.  God silenced them by saying that they (angels) were no better than human beings, since they ate milk and meat together when they descended to earth.

It is not until relatively recent times that some rabbis, who wanted to ensure that all of our ancestors observed the entire Torah in the same way that we do, created other explanations to account for Abraham’s apparent lack of observance of Kashrut.  They note that it is permitted to eat meat only a short time after eating dairy, so first Abraham served the dairy to quench their thirst, and only later did he serve the meat.

Question:  Why did God create kosher and not kosher?  Why did God create animals like lobster that we can’t eat?

Answer: If God didn’t create non-kosher animals, there would be far fewer and less interesting animals in the world.  Isn’t the world more interesting with lots of animals in it (both kosher and non-kosher), like beautiful butterflies interesting fish and other animals who crawl around the water like turtles and lobsters, as well as other fun animals like tigers, giraffes, and bears?

Also, if every animal was kosher, then we wouldn’t have the chance to choose to eat only kosher animals.  By choosing to eat kosher animals rather than non-kosher animals, we show how much we love God.

Question:  How can I tell if products such as Fannie May suger free candies are kosher or not?

Answer: There are two ways to determine if a product is kosher.

First, check the label.  If it is kosher, you should find some form of kosher certification, such as a circle around a U; a circle, triangle, or star around a k; or one of hundreds of other trademarked symbols (often consisting of a stylized letter ‘K’) owned by specific rabbis or agencies, and certifying that the product is kosher.

Second, if you have reason to believe the the item is kosher, but it does not have a symbol of hashgaha, you might try calling the customer service line at the manufacturer, and asking them if they have rabbinic kosher supervision.  If they do, they should be able to send you a latter signed by the supervising rabbi or agency.

Question:  Please explain the education/training for a mashgiach.  Can a mashgiach be either a man or a woman, why?

Answer: Within the Conservative movement, a mashgiah can be either a man or a woman.  The training would, to some extent, depend on what kind of mashgiah work one wishes to do.  Minimally, for example, to be the mashgiah of a synagogue kitchen which is already kosher, one would need to understand the general principles of keeping kosher (such as the separation of dairy and meat products), and be aware of the different kinds of hechshers (kosher supervisory symbols), and which ones are acceptable for use in the synagogue.

On the other hand, to be the mashgiah of a bakery or food plant which is becoming kosher or which produces some kosher products and some non-kosher products, one would also need to be familiar with the halacha of kashering utensils, and what kinds of contact with non-kosher foods, surfaces, or utensils would render a kosher product treif.

Most non-rabbinic mashgihim are supervised by a rabbi, known as the rav hamachshir.

Question:  How could a “Kosher Bakery” be kosher if it is open on Shabbos?  I have noticed that this particular bakery has a certification hanging from a conservative rabbi.  I have also noticed that there is a kosher bakery with an orthodox certification hanging and this one is closed on Shabbos.  Can you please explain?

Answer: Without further information, it is difficult to answer your question precisely.

I assume that the rabbi who gave the bakery certification is satisfied that all kashrut rules are being followed.  Most kosher bakeries do not have a mashgiah on premises; rather, they are checked periodically.  The rabbi who certified this particular bakery must be satisfied that the owner is reliable enough to follow kashrut rules even on Shabbat, a day when he might know that a mashgiah would no show up.

If the owner is not Jewish, then there would be no problem with the bakery open on Shabbat.  If the owner is Jewish, then there are a variety of “religious leases” which might be signed, which would transfer ownership away from the Jew on Shabbat, so he is not making a profit from doing business on Shabbat.  It is also possible that the rabbi is interpreting his role of giving certification narrowly, and focusing solely on the kashrut of the food, and not the owner’s other religious practices.

If you are unsure whether the kashrut is reliable, I urge you to contact the certifying rabbi, share your concerns with him or her, and perhaps the rabbi can tell you about the kashrut standards involved.

Question:  If a kosher meat market has lost the Va`ad certifation  but you believe the products are now kosher, is it permissible to purchase meat even though the Va`ad has not been restored?

Answer: The answer to your question depends on why they lost their certification and why you believe that they are still kosher.  Since I don’t have all the facts, I cannot give you an opinion.  I would check with your local rabbi on this one, and follow his/her advice.

Question:  A question was ask in one of my classes, “Can I feed my snake live, or dead, mice?”  A Rabbi answered that one cannot deprive an animal of the food they need to survive so it is okay.  What about the fact that, in doing so, one is killing the mice?

Answer: Killing mice is permissible, whether you do it yourself, or hire a snake.  One hint — if you do it yourself, just don’t eat them:  They’re not kosher!  🙂