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Ask Shifra

Something Different... Answering questions and making curious observations (online) since 2005.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Good kashrus makes good neighbors

I know this particular question was time sensitive, but hopefully I didn't get to it too late to be of some help.

Dear Shifra,

I became good friends with a woman who moved into my neighborhood here in Israel. Her husband told me that even though they are not observant, they keep kosher so that everyone can eat there. She mentioned that on Passover she keeps her hametz in the refrigerator. I explained to her, as neutrally as possible, that hametz that wasn't sold couldn't be eaten after Passover, and she said she would take care of it. She never mentioned it again. Even if she sold her hametz, which I presume she did, I don't feel comfortable eating there. I imagine there is a lot of halacha that she doesn't know, and I don't want to quiz her about sifting flour or trumot and maaserot. She is hosting a meeting on Monday and most of the women keep kosher. Because I know her best, the other women will be looking at me to see whether I am eating the food, and I know that my friend is planning to cook and bake. Please help me explain tactfully that her food might not get eaten!!!!

-Not The Kosher Police

Dear KP,

You are in a sticky situation and I really don't envy you. It does sound like you are a person with tact and you will need it! You were direct with your friend about the chametz situation and she seems to have responded well to it. The Monday meeting is going to be a tricky situation, in Israel even eating a piece of fruit can be a complicated issue and there will be no way to fake your way out of it. The bad news is that if you are going to be a true friend to this woman you are going to have to talk to her about all of these things.

Remember, she is doing her best and this is not personal.

Let her know that you care about her and you respect her but that keeping kosher is VERY complicated and you don't want her to be hurt when people turn down her Shabbos invitation or pass up her homemade cookies. Offer to learn with her to study the halachot and where they came from. It may be a bit tough at first but it may prove to be an enjoyable activity for both of you.

For now I would encourage her to BUY the food she serves at the meeting until the two of you can figure out how to get her kashrus status up to a level your neighborhood will accept, and please let me know how it turns out - I'm rooting for you!



At 11:53 PM, Blogger Scraps said...

NTKP--at least the fruit you can probably manage to eat, as long as you separate trumot and maaserot yourself (which isn't hard, especially since it's only a safek, so you don't have to make a bracha).

At 9:29 AM, Blogger Elie said...

Orthomom had a good discussion on this topic a few months back. This is one that's really hard to handle without insulting the well-meaning host. Ironically, it's easier to accept an invite from a fully non-kosher person who understands that you can't eat there or that all food must be packaged, than to deal with someone who thinks they're kosher. I know a lot of shul Rabbis adopt a policy of never eating in any congregant's home in order to avoid insulting individual ones.

Though there's no real "out" here, the least hurtful alternative might be something in the patented Costanza "it's not you, it's me" genre. I.e., say something like "we're really machmir [stringent] and only eat badatz" or something along those lines.

At 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good advice!
Also maybe you can tell her that some people are just extremely machmir in general and don't eat outside of their own homes unless they know their host really well...

At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Shifra! In the end I spoke to one of the other women in the club, who called her and mentioned that she shouldn't go overboard with the food. She served fruit and a small cake, and some canned olives, and juice, pita and humus , and an open bottle of Carmel wine that was unfortunately labelled, "lo mevushal". The thing that concerned me didn't happen i.e. she didn't push anybody to eat or get offended if they didn't and it was fine. I think I will make a point in the future of mentioning different kashrut issues in passing to her and see her reaction--in the meantime I preserved the friendship and postponed the problem for a while. And I will keep your advice in mind should I find that I need to be more direct.

Thanks for your help!!

At 12:34 AM, Blogger Shira Salamone said...

As I said in a recent post, "I've had far too much experience with cases of " sh'eino yodeia lish'ol, [a person] who doesn't know to ask" in the area of kashrut--many people know so little about the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher) that they don't ask questions because they're not aware that there's a question that needs to be asked. *I hasten to mention that I, myself, am far from being an expert on kashrut, and am still being introduced to rules of which I was not aware.*

Speaking of which:

"I don't want to quiz her about sifting flour or trumot and maaserot."

Please excuse me for quizzing *you* instead.

Re "sifting flour," may I assume that one is looking for insects, which, in addition to being disgusting when found in food, are also not kosher? Please explain the halachic procedure. Does it differ from just using a standard sifter or sieve? Does one need to check the flour afterward? Along the lines of " sh'eino yodeiah lish'ol," is there anything that I *didn't* ask that I should have asked, and/or anything else that I need to know?

I've heard the terms t'rumah and maaser during Torah readings, but never in "real life." I assume that these terms have something to do with tithes. Kindly explain how they apply in terms of maintaining a kosher kitchen. What is one supposed to do? Does one separate some food and put it aside, in memory of that which was given to the Cohanim (and Leviim?) in the days of the Bet haMikdash (Holy Temple)? How much does one separate? What does one do with it?

I may have the same problem with this as I have with leaving the air conditioner on all Shabbat (which is why we gave up the "don't start electrical appliances on Shabbat" practice for many years--now that we're experimenting with this practice again, boy, are we ever going to need some timers!). It's a conflict of laws. On the one hand, I gather that one is not supposed to eat that which would have been tithed. On the other hand, there's also a halachah called "bal tashchit," the prohibition against wasting. How does one balance the two?

Please excuse the dumb questions, but I did not come from a traditional home and did not have the privilege of receiving a day school education, so I still have a lot to learn.

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Elie said...


Teruma and maaser only applies to produce grown in Israel, so it isn't generally applicable in chutz la'aretz.

Flour sifting is one I never heard of, but I assume the reason is bugs. When I buy a package of flour in the store, I certainly don't expect it to be bug-infested, and frankly, if I found a bug in one, I'd toss the whole thing, not sift the bugs out!

Maybe flour-sifting applies more in countries where packaged food is more typically liable to have bugs, and people just expect it. Yuk!

At 5:32 PM, Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Elie - Flour is Israel is blesed with all sorts of worms, bugs and creepie crawlies...We need to sift it to keep bread and cake from being "extra crunchy" :-/

Actually, its more sieving than sifting...

At 9:56 PM, Blogger The back of the hill said...

Were I in the same position as the woman who does not feel comfortable eating at her friends house (which I'm unlikely to ever be, btw), I would point out to her the quandary, and explain that in order not to put anyone in the awkward position that she will undoubtedly be in come Monday, she might want to simply serve prepackaged snacks of unquestionable kashrus - with an aoplogy for not cooking, and an explanation that she merely wants others to feel comfortable eating.

Is that an option?

To avoid possible contamination, paper plates are probably necessary also..... it sounds to me like it might have been better to have discretely suggested a different locale for this meeting.

I know enough about kashrus to know that I will never ever invite any observant friends over for home cooked food. Which is not a great inconvenience - they would probably be happy not to have to blanche at the prospect.

At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally find it deplorable that there are some people who won't eat at anyone's house but their own.

I've heard people say, with completely straight faces, that "there are many ways to keep kosher" when faced with a situation where they wouldn't eat at someone's house. As if this is consolation to the potential hostess! Fact is, there's one way to keep kosher: the halachic way.

If someone keeps a non-kosher kitchen, you should kindly but tactfully explain the issue. Otherwise you are placing a stumbling block before the blind.

And if someone's kitchen is halachically kosher, don't play games; accept the invitation.

At 12:45 AM, Blogger Batya said...

Yes, complicated. Sifting flour is to take out bugs and also is good for baking. all of my old cookbooks, non-Jewish instruct sifting.

A good friend should be able to have a basic conversation to explain various kashrut issues, even to say it concerns someone who knows less...


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