Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Conflicting principles: a kashrut quandary

Why am I hearing Lenny Solomon and his Shlock Rock band in my head? Sigh--here's the song:

"Davar halamed may-in-yano
v'davar halomed mesofo,
v'chayn shnay ksuvim hamachishim zeh et zeh.
Ad sheyavoh hakasuv hashlishi v'yachria bay-nay-hem.

A dubious word or passage is explained from it's context or from a subsequent expression. Similarly, if two biblical passages contradict each other, they can be harmonized only by a third passage."

For the record, that's from "Rabbi Yismael omer, Rabbi Ishmael says," from the end of Birchot HaShachar ( the Morning Blessings), explaining how the Torah is interpreted.

I'm currently facing conflicting principles.

On the one hand, my first rabbi in New York was adamant that no food should be brought into a synagogue from home kitchens on the grounds that there was no way to judge the kashrut (adherence to the laws of keeping kosher) of any kitchen not under rabbinical supervision, and that he, personally, did not want to be put in a position of saying that one person's cooking (even his own wife's) was kosher enough and another person's was not.

On the other hand, if I refuse to eat anything but packaged food at a potluck dinner in a synagogue, I give the appearance of being holier than thou. Did not Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus say, (Pirkei Avot/Verses of the Fathers, chapter 2 paragraph 15), "Y'hi ch'vod chavercha chaviv alecha k'shelcha . . . Let the honor of your friend be as dear to you as your own. . . "?

The obvious solution would be to avoid going to potluck dinners in synagogues. (At lunch, where half the food is packaged chummus and techina or jarred herring anyway, it's not so obvious that I'm avoiding eating the other half.) But then, do I run into the "Al tifrosh min hatzibbur (Do not separate yourself from the community" [Hillel, (Pirkei Avot/Verses of the Fathers, chapter 2, paragraph 5)] problem?

For the time being, I've decided to come down on the side of kashrut and not go to this Erev Shabbat's potluck dinner in a synagogue. It's also a matter of cowardice on my part--I'm simply not prepared to tell a woman whom I've known for over a decade that, while, I'd happily trust her kashrut in her own home, I won't eat her home-cooked food in a synagogue, on principle.

My husband thinks I'm nuts, by the way.

It occurred to me that I'd already written on this subject. It took me a few minutes to dig it out of my "Halachah and Jewish info" folder, but here it is. I sent this e-mail to one of my best friends.

Subject: Synagogue kitchen kashrut--a Reconstructionist imperative
Date: Thursday, February 22, 2001 11:30 PM

I was thinking about our conversation of the other day, particularly about __ __'s objection to enforcing the use of products with a hechsher. I think she's missing the point. Keeping a synagogue's kitchen kosher, by some communally-recognized standard, is a Reconstructionist imperative. Rabbi Kaplan [Rabbi Mordechai M. Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism] always considered the Jewish people to be at the heart of the evolving religious civilization that is Judaism. There are so many matters of principle that separate us from some other Jews, such as egalitarianism and the acceptance of female rabbis and cantors. Why fight over issues that are *not* matters of principle? Any Conservative or Modern or Centrist Orthodox Jew ought to be able to make a motzi in a Reconstructionist synagogue, even if he or she can't davven in one. It's the least we can do as a movement to promote achdut Yisrael, the one-ness of the Jewish people."

Update 1, Sunday, May 14, 2007:
For more details on my past experiences with kashrut that have led me to conclude that only the presence of a mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) ensures that food in a synagogue is kosher, please see my next post, "Milk and meat mix-ups, or the missing-mashgiach mishaps--(mis)adventures in kashrut."

Update 2, Sunday, May 14, 2007:
Here's a copy of an e-mail that I sent out to my Jewish blogger mailing list early this morning. Some of the comments already posted are in response.

Sun, 14 May 2006 00:31:55 -0700 (PDT)
Kashrut dilemma

Here's the background:

Conflicting principles

Milk and meat mix-ups, or the missing-mashgiach mishaps--(mis)adventures in kashrut

More background:

Over a decade, ago, we heard that the cost of sponsoring a kiddush (at an area synagogue of which we were not members) consisting of nothing but (if memory serves me correctly) wine, grape juice, soda, challah, and cake was $200. Those strapped for cash couldn't even put out a few boxes of packaged kosher cake from the supermarket in honor of their father's yahrzeit, because everything had to be done by the synagogues's resident kosher caterer.

Here's the dilemma: A synagogue wishes to be more inclusive, concerned that, if the only meals permitted are those provided by a kosher caterer, many of the less-well-off congregants will be excluded. Those who would like to sponsor a kiddush or attend synagogue dinners (especially those with several children) will be unable to afford to do so. So the synagogue allows members to cook in its kitchen and/or bring in food prepared in their home kitchens, provided that they follow a list of kashrut rules. In either case, there is no rabbinical supervision, and, therefore, no real guarantee that kashrut will be maintained. Question: Is there a way to guarantee kashrut without excluding people with limited budgets?

Please feel free to respond either via comment to either of the above linked posts or by e-mail.


Blogger Tzipporah said...

Hmm, I guess I'd fall on the "don't separate yourself from community" side of this issue. If you have chosen to affiliate with this synagogue, and you all have communally made decisions about the kashrut of its kitchen and of what people bring into it, then part of belonging to the group is eating with them.

If you strongly disagreed with what they decided (like your required a different hechsher on food you eat), that's one thing. In that case, you'd have to bring up the issue and get them to change their policy, OR not eat there, OR affiliate somewhere that fits you better.

But it sounds like you're just hung up something that was a policy decision at a completely different synagogue, to which YOU DO NOT BELONG. While your first rabbi had a good point, that isn't the policy here. Not only are you separating yourself from community, you are casting doubts on the observance of those who bring in food - which could be a form of lashon ha-ra (by action instead of speech), if others observe you doing it.

Thu May 11, 06:34:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you. A conservative shul should not allow home-cooked food served within the shul for one simple reason: there is too wide a range of accepted standards of kashrut within the movement (leaving aside the passive acceptance of those who are more literal in their observance of "not seething a kid in its mothers' milk" while they ignore most rabbinic commentary on kashrut).

Thu May 11, 09:37:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Tzipporah, I've pretty much chosen the "don't eat there" option--basically, I eat only packaged foods under those circumstances, avoiding foods prepared in private kitchens. The funny part about the story is that my former synagogue, long under new "management," has been allowing pot-luck meals for several years now, which is what that e-mail was all about.

As for casting doubt on other people's observance, that's why I'll eat only lunch at *any* synagogue where food prepared in private kitchens is served. It's not so obvious at lunch that one is not eating any hot food, because many people don't always eat hot food for lunch. But it would be virtually impossible for any individual to avoid eating hot food at a dinner without that avoidance being noticed.

Fri May 12, 12:41:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"there is too wide a range of accepted standards of kashrut within the movement" Correct. Some Conservative Jews don't keep kosher at all. Others are pretty strict about it. (We're in the middle. For the record, *our* kitchen's not kosher enough for us to bring prepared food into a shul, either.) There's also the problem of ignorance of the rules of kashrut--see my next post.

Fri May 12, 12:49:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd point out that no orthodox shul I'm aware of would permit a congregant to bring food in to the kitchen.

In fact, in my Mod Orth shul, the rule is always there must be two people in the kitchen at all times, even tho' the halacha is that one kosher witness (i.e., shomer shabbat) is reliable for things such as kashrut.

That said, there's not a family I'm aware of in whose kitchen I wouldn't eat.

Fri May 12, 03:36:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

jdub, I suspect that, in some cases, that's one of the differences between an Orthodox and a Conservative synagogue. Mind you, that's only true in *some* cases--there are many Conservative synagogues that *don't* allow food to be brought in from private kitchens. My local synagogue (which is, at the moment, as the old joke goes, "the synagogue that I don't go to") does not allow allow food to be brought in from private kitchens. I wish that that standard were still upheld universally in Conservative synagogues. I am under the impression that that standard was universal in Conservative shuls when I was younger.

Sun May 14, 01:17:00 AM 2006  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Sounds like you're trying to stick to a line in a branch of judaism that doesn't stick to lines. Time for a switch?

There are some more egalitarian branches of Orthodoxy out there.

Sun May 14, 10:57:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ezzie said
(Via e-mail:)
"If it’s just the basics, there is no reason that an acceptable Kosher caterer would cost more than the $200 you mention (though numbers of people would be helpful). As it gets more “extravagant”, perhaps this changes; but this could be solved by having a fully Kosher kitchen and having strict rules about what can be brought in, with everything supervised by an Orthodox mashgiach.

Orthodox shuls have rules about not using any materials from outside; why can’t Conservative shuls do the same? Order only supplies from trustworthy places, and have a mashgiach supervise the food being made.

I don’t see expense as a legit concern, particularly in New York City. Kosher food is far more expensive in “out-of-town” places, and people earn far less. A little effort is all that’s needed.


Sun May 14, 04:36:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Um, Mark/PT, see "Why I don’t think I could become Orthodox," parts one, two, and three.

Granted, Orthodoxy has the advantage of being more consistent. But I'm not prepared to accept the disciplined lifestyle (see part 1), I'm too radical in my approach to tradition (see part 2--Orthodoxy tends not to look kindly on apikorsim/heretics), and I'm not prepared to give up the right to be involved in leading public rituals (see part 3).

So, for the time being, I'm making do with being a perpetual misfit-*without*-mechitza. It's easier for me to avoid eating unsupervised food in synagogue than to give up the right ever to chant a haftarah in public again. I've long since given up all hope of ever *truly* fitting in *any* denomination.

Sun May 14, 05:16:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

An out-of-towner (via e-mail):

"We have much the same problem here and always have.

We also have only one caterer in town, so that cuts into the price war.

Your cheapest option is the do-it-yourself Kiddush, the caveat is that everything has to be baked and cooked in the shul in accordance with the shul’s rules. For example, the kitchen is fleishig, so you can’t do anything milching, but parve is okay (you can serve milchig, like for a bris, but you can’t cook milchig). And everything served has to be pas yisroel [*], so no Thomas’ bagels. There has to be a mashgiach anytime anyone cooks in the shul.

If someone doesn’t have a lot of money, they get a lot of friends together and go bake Kiddush in the shul. There is a deposit on the hall, but if you clean it yourself you can get everything but $50 back.

Compromising the kashrut so it will be cheaper, it’s just not an option, and you certainly don’t want to play the “who’s kosher” game."

*Note to my readers: Pas Yisroel (or Pat Yisrael, in Sefardi Hebrew) is one of three terms that I've heard used only in the past 15 years, as the NY non-Chareidi Orthodox community's kashrut observance has become more stringent. I think it means, technically, "baked by a Jew." What the actual practice is, I'm not sure. "Bishul Yisrael" means "cooked by a Jew," I believe, but my understanding of what that means, in practice, is that a Jew turned on the stove and/or stirred food cooking in a pot at least once. (Sorry, my understanding of "bishul yisrael" is really pretty limited.) "Kemach yashan" means "old floor," I think, and, if my understanding is correct, means that one uses floor made from the previous year's harvest until a certain date. Kindly correct me if any of these explanations is incorrect.

Mon May 15, 06:35:00 AM 2006  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Also, I'm sure you're aware that most shuls use the "kiddush" as a major fundraiser, so no matter how cheap the food is, there will always be a certain basement level expense tacked on to support the shul budget.

Mon May 15, 10:00:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Oy. You would think that the wife of a synagogue treasurer would have thought of that.

Tue May 16, 09:03:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

dilbert said (via e-mail):

At our shul, kiddush is exorbidant, and we haven't ever sponsored one. Of course, there are a couple hundred people to feed. At my old shul(in St. Louis), a bunch of single guys(me and my friends, this goes waaaaaay back) sponsored a kiddush, and we made cholent and stuff. The rabbi told us what hashgachot were acceptable in the shul(we were all ortho to varying degrees so it wasn't an issue) and one or two of the sisterhood ladies were there to help and make sure we didn't traif up the pots. The key is to have someone who has time and is willing to make sure that everything is ok. It doesn't have to be a caterer. Just someone who knows what is kosher and what isn't, and has the time and inclination to supervise. They can even be paid for their time. It shouldn't be hard. Of course, the caterer my have a contract with the shul that limits other people or outside food. that is a different matter. The problem occurs when well intentioned by poorly informed people try to do it on their own. Disaster usually follows. You need a mashgiach, either a formal one, with formal training, or someone who is trusted and trustworthy to make sure that informal food is formally kosher. Bringing food from home should not be allowed, so as not to discriminate. However, people should be allowed to cook in the shul kitchen as long as the supervisor checks the food coming in and is there to make sure that the utensils are used properly.

bon apetite

Wed May 17, 09:14:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

In response to dilbert's comment, "At our shul, kiddush is exorbidant, and we haven't ever sponsored one," the Punster asked, "So when do they have kiddushim? Is it only when a bunch of people get together and co-sponsor one?"

Let's hear it for supervised-synagogue-kitchen congregant-made kiddushim!

Wed May 17, 09:24:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Reva haShotah said (via e-mail):

Whoo! That's a dilemma indeed! Without rabbinic supervision, I can't see ANY way to guarantee kashrut. The only way that might work would be for those with absolutely kosher kitchens to invite these members to prepare food at their houses. Or perhaps set up a "scholarship" fund for Onegs so those with limited means could participate. I hope there's a way to resolve this. I know of a shul that broke up over a similar issue. It's tough. Good luck.

To which I replied:

There's no such thing as an "absolutely kosher kitchen" because different people have different ideas of what constitutes "abolutely kosher." That's exactly the problem, and that's why a synagogue or food-prep establishment (manufacturer, butcher, caterer) needs a mashgiach, a person with training in kashrut, to ensure adherence to community-wide standards.

Oneg funds, also known as kiddush funds, are a great idea.

Sun May 21, 01:44:00 AM 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>