Responsum: Visiting a Person Who Does Not Observe Kashrut

 

Question:

How does one avoid eating forbidden food when visiting a person who does not observe Kashrut?

Answer:

The laws of Kashrut have always been one of the central pillars of the Jewish Halachic world. These laws injected thought and holiness into the eating experience. Moreover, since cultural gatherings are often conducted around the dinner table, these laws created a barrier and shield between the Jewish community and the gentile environment. Over the years, different laws and customs developed in the various Diasporas and communities. We have been blessed in our generation to have witnessed the Return to Zion and the rebuilding of the State of Israel; and to live in a country, in which the vast majority of foods and drinks which can be found in most food chains and many shops, are kosher, thank God. Nevertheless, a great proportion of Israeli society is not observant, and therefore a barrier is often formed between friends, neighbors, different ethnic groups, and sometimes even within families.

We consider the bonding of Israeli society to be of the utmost importance, as a central foundation of the strength of the State of Israel. Social bonding finds expression, among other things, in the development of social ties between the observant and non-observant, amongst neighbors, and work colleagues. Ties of friendship are based, among other things, upon hospitality and shared meals, which trigger relationships and friendship.

Since we are obligated to take care to observe the laws of kashrut, it would seem that it is not permissible to eat by a person who does not observe kashrut. However, we believe that the very same Torah that commands us to observe kashrut, also commands us to sanctify God’s name by the way we behave with our neighbors and friends, thereby committing us to guard the unity of the Jewish people, to make the Torah and commandments cherished by those who are estranged to them, and to establish close and sincere friendships with our neighbors and friends, to love and respect them. Consequently, we are compelled to search out ways, according to the Torah and its laws, to implement all these obligations, without one compromising the other.

We must seriously consider where we must be strict in the laws of kashrut, and where we must be strict in loving our neighbor, and in bringing the estranged closer to Torah. The simplest and most preferable solution would be that people who are careful to have a kosher kitchen should invite those who do not take such care; however this solution is not always possible, and does not allow reciprocity. Even though there are various groups among the traditional and secular: some observing basic kashrut, and others who neither observe nor know what kashrut is all about, we have decided to focus on the cases in which the host does not observe kashrut at all. The main and most important condition in this case is that the food should not be prepared nor cooked in the host’s house, but it should be purchased at a place which is under organized rabbinic supervision. Even in this case, there are number of problems which require discussion.

  1. Is it permissible to heat up the food in the house of a host that does not observe kashrut?
  2. In what types of utensils may the food be served?
  3. To what extent must one check the level of kashrut of the place from which the food was purchased, especially when the standard the guest is accustomed to is different from that of the place from which the host buys the food?
  4. Is it permissible to eat uncooked food at the host’s house, such as fruit and vegetables, and what is the law concerning coffee and other hot beverages?

Even though Halacha maintains that a person who does not observe a particular mitzvah is not considered trustworthy regarding matters pertaining to that mitzvah, in today’s reality, there are many who despite not observing kashrut, genuinely respect those who do observe kashrut and follow tradition, take special care not to cause their observant friends to transgress, and are very careful not to lie or mislead them. In these cases, when we know that we are dealing with someone honest and upright, one may rely on their word. Even more so, may one rely on the host’s word when we are dealing with a close neighbor or work colleague, who we know respects us, and has no interest to hurt us, Heaven forbid, in issues which are dear to us. In these cases, therefore, we may rely on the host’s word that the food has been purchased at a kosher place; however, since it is not clear that everybody knows what a kosher place is, and how to make sure that a place is in fact kosher, one must ask one’s host where the food was bought; and if we know that the place is under kosher supervision, we may trust him.

HaRav Eliezer Melamed Shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of “Har Beracha”, and the author of the series of books “Pninei Halacha”, pointed out to us that there are those who prefer to be stricter with the laws of kashrut; and even when this may cause a certain amount of distancing between Jews, according to this view, one should not be lenient. Indeed, even this view concedes that there is a need to find avenues to express the brothership amongst Jews. According to him, often, ironically, in particular when we are referring to frequent visits, such as between brothers, it is prudent to be stricter, similar to how one is always accustomed at one’s home; otherwise, the lenient practices implemented at the brothers’ homes may cause an erosion in the religious meticulousness of one’s spouse or children; as sometimes there are arguments and tensions around these topics, and when one is lenient at one’s brothers’ houses, the argument may penetrate afterwards into one’s own family, and cause educational difficulties with the children. Naturally, even so, they also agree that one needs to make an effort to find areas in which the family affinity can be fully realized.

As already mentioned, we have preferred to be strict with our concerns for unity, friendship, and the proliferation of love within Israeli society, and we therefore submit the following practices. These guidelines are suitable for the situation in Israel today, where the majority of the population is Jewish, and most of the food is kosher. The situation in the Diaspora is beyond the scope of this responsum; one needs to discuss these issues with a Halachic authority, who is an expert on the local kashrut situation.

  1. Heating food: One should heat up food in aluminium baking dishes, well covered with silver foil, in an oven; or in a sealed, disposable, plastic utensil in a microwave oven. If this is not feasible, one may be lenient and heat the food in an oven or microwave using glass utensils, once one has clarified that these utensils have not been used for 24 hours (not “b’nai yomam”), on the condition that they are covered. One may not use metal utensils, even if they have not been used for the last 24 hours.
    “Post factum”, if the food was already mistakenly heated in a non-kosher oven, microwave or toaster-oven: if the heating was done using a disposable utensil or in a glass utensil that has not been used for 24 hours, even without a cover, one may eat the food, on the condition that it is clear that these appliances were clean, and had no leftovers or fat in them.
  2. Serving dishes: It is preferable that the food is served in disposable dishes. One may be lenient and use metal cutlery to eat food which is not hot (less than 45 degrees). If there are no disposable plates, one may be lenient and use regular plates, as long as the food is not hot (less than 45 degrees). Similarly, one may be lenient with these plates, even if they have not been immersed in a mikve.
  3. Worms and insects: When we are considering food which has been brought from a place that is known to be kosher, one need not investigate how the vegetables were cleaned, or how the legumes were sorted, or what is the source of the leafy vegetables, or how they were checked and cleaned before being used. One may eat baked food, or salads or soup or cooked food that contain such vegetables or legumes, under the assumption that even if it is unclear that the vegetables have been checked to a sufficient degree, it is clear that anybody takes care to wash such vegetables, and not use a contaminated vegetable, and “post-factum”, once the vegetables have already been used, one may rely on “bitul”, that the worm or insect can be considered non-existent due to its insignificant size relative to the vegetable. It is always important and advisable (even when one eats food which was prepared at a place which is meticulous and very strict in its kashrut standard) to inspect food, while eating, to make sure one is not eating worms.
  4. Fruits and vegetables: One may eat raw fruits and vegetables even at a home of one who does not observe kashrut, if one knows that they were purchased at a place which is under rabbinic supervision. If one suspects that they were bought at a place without organized supervision, or that they were picked from a private garden, or purchased from a vendor on the side of the road, one must take care to separate terumotand ma’aserot (tithes) from the food that one is served. It is preferable to explain the matter to the host, and to ask his permission to separate terumot and ma’aserot, and do it in front of him. However, if doing so would cause unpleasantness, one may do it without being noticed. It is also possible to perform the separation using the abbreviated version, in which case it is advisable to receive instruction and clear guidelines from someone well versed on the topic.
    Concerning fruits that may have come from a place which is not under supervision, regarding orla (fruits from the first three years of a tree’s life), one may rely on the “majority” of fruit, and not be concerned about the prohibition of orla
  5. Shmita (Sabbatical year): There are extra problems regarding vegetables which are purchased during the Sabbatical year from a place without organized supervision, or that were picked from a private garden, or were purchased from a vendor on the side of the road, or directly from farmers; so one should refrain from eating such vegetables during the Sabbatical year. On the other hand, one may be lenient with fruit during the Sabbatical year, and eat them without separating terumot and ma’aserot.
  6. Wine: One may be lenient and drink wine that is poured by one who does not observe Shabbat, but one should not be lenient when a gentile pours wine, unless the wine is boiled (“yayin mevushal”).
  7. Milk: One may be lenient with milk and milk products that have a regular kashrut standard, even if one is accustomed to using only mehadrin (meticulous), and one may even be lenient with “halav acum” (gentile milk).
  8. “Halak” meat: For those who are accustomed to only eating “halak” meat (stricter standard), it is very advisable to try to avoid eating meat with only a regular kashrut
  9. Other homemade goods: One may not eat goods that were prepared in a home that does not observe kashrut, unless one can clarify before eating that they were prepared in utensils that are free of kashrut problems (see paragraph 1). One must make sure that all the materials used during preparation were kosher; if necessary, that hala (portion of dough set aside) was separated according to law; that terumot and ma’aserot were separated; and that the required procedures were performed regarding checking vegetables and lentils for insects.

All of the above refers to the case that the host is a person who does not observe kashrut and basic separation of meat and milk in his kitchen. When we are dealing with someone who does observe kashrut, one may eat food that was cooked in his kitchen, even if the level of kashrut in his house is not according to the level of meticulousness and preciseness to which the guest is accustomed. In such cases, it is recommended that one makes sure that the host is aware of the issues of the separation of terumot and ma’aserot; the separation of hala; and other kashrut issues, of which people who observe basic kashrut are often not sufficiently aware.