Friday, May 12, 2006

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

Regarding my previous post, I have good reasons for insisting that all food served in a synagogue be under rabbinical supervision. 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.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I roomed briefly with a former classmate of mine, sharing her bedroom in her parents' house. Her mother kept a kosher kitchen, but had, apparently, missed a few details. When I pointed out to my roommate's father that the kitchen was stocked with Nabisco crackers, which were, at that time, still being made with lard, he pretty much begged me not to tell his wife.

Fast forward a few years. I'm living in Manhattan, having Shabbos lunch at the home of some fellow congregants, when I notice that the non-dairy creamy being served with the meat meal is not parve (made without either meat or dairy products, and therefore, permissible for use at either a meat or dairy meal).

Fast forward roughly thirty years. I explain to a sister congregant that one of the reasons why I insist that food served in the synagogue be under rabbinical supervision is that many people, with the best of intentions, make errors in kashrut. I cite the above example, that some people make the mistake of serving non-dairy creamer with meat, believing, in all sincerity, that non-dairy is the same thing as parve. My buddy proceeds to inform me that she, herself, wasn't aware that not all non-dairy creamers are parve.

A note to my readers: The U.S. Department of Agriculture measures minimums; the mashgiach (supervisor ensuring that a product is kosher) measures maximums. The U.S.D.A. forbids a company from advertising a product as dairy unless it contains a certain minimum amount of dairy product, to protect consumers against fraudulent claims. The mashgiach's job, on the other hand, is to ensure that any product labelled parve (or, for the Israeli market, where consumers don't necessarily know Yiddish, "b'li bassar o-chalav, without meat or milk") has no dairy products in it whatsoever (or, in a pinch, an amount so miniscule as to be deemed non-existent by Jewish law).

Tales making the rounds:

A congregant notices that the cookies being served at a function in a synagogue contain "marine oil," whatever that is, and reports this finding to the rabbi.

A congregant notices that the synagogue members working in the kitchen are noshing Nabisco crackers, still made with lard at that time, and reports this finding to the rabbi.

A congregant becomes suspicious when another congregant exclaims that the cake being served after a chicken dinner is surprisingly good for a parve cake. Heading into the kitchen, the congregant finds his/her suspicions confirmed when a quick perusal of the cake box shows that the cake is clearly labelled OU-D(airy). Said congregant reports this finding to the rabbi, who promptly orders that all the cake be removed from the tables immediately. Apparently, no one has ever bothered to explain the concept of " parve" to the loyal, hard-working, respectful and well-meaning chief of maintenance/kitchen worker/shabbos goy despite the fact that he's been working for the synagogue for probably at least a decade.

After protests are made to the Ritual Committee, the Committee posts, on the synagogue's kichen wall, a list of rules intended to ensure the maintenance of the synagogue kitchen's kashrut. This attempt at maintaining kashrut receives a permanent blow some months later when one of the congregants, who's taken on the job of baking for a meat meal, reads the ingredients of a non-stick spray rather than noticing the hechsher (mark confirming that a product is under supervision to ensure that it's kosher) and sprays every parve baking pan in the synagogue's kitchen with a non-stick spray that's clearly labelled dairy.

I rest my case.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Huh. I can certainly see where you're coming from. And you're right that many people know so little about the intricacies of kashrut that they don't realize what they don't know.

I'm not sure I'm a useful person to weigh in on this one; I come from a family which mostly doesn't keep kosher, though the family members who don't keep kosher make special efforts to cook kosher meals for holidays and family gatherings so that everyone can eat together. I'm sure mistakes have been made, but the siblings who do keep kosher have chosen to trust the kashrut of the non-kosher family members in order to create and preserve family harmony.

So based on my family experience, I'm inclined to say that if someone means well, her or his mistake is regrettable but not spiritually significant. That's probably not a good solution for most shuls, though -- what works in my immediate family probably isn't the right option for a synagogue community. *g*

Mon May 15, 09:50:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

When it comes to relatives, and even friends, I'm willing to overlook a few things for the sake of "shalom bayit" (family harmony). But one simply can't do that in a synagogue. A synagogue's standards have to be high enough to meet the requirements of all of its members and as large a segment of the Jewish community as possible. Granted, no amount of rabbinical supervision is going to persuade a chareidi rabbi that it's okay to eat in a Conservative synagogue, but a machgiach might give Modern or Centrist Orthodox Jews confidence in our kashrut.

Tue May 16, 07:17:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Here’s an update, kindly supplied by Miami Al in the comments to this newer post.

Miami Al said...
Someone got us her first book, "What do you mean, you won't eat in our house," . . .

Regarding Kashrut and "eating in someone's house," if you are Conservative, everything gets painted WAY more black and white than it is (at least what my wife learned growing up). The reason to consult a Rabbi when someone messes up is not to "tattle on them," but because they can give you a lenient opinion that you can't (or wouldn't) give yourself.

The example of dairy cooking spray on parve instruments, the Rabbi could determine if it was Dairy or Dairy equipment, which makes a difference, also if the food was still acceptable (1/60th nullification) and a proper process for re-kashering the instrument to parve if necessary.

Also, regarding the conservative mother's kitchen, my MIL is Kosher Conservative, which I used to have issues eating dairy in her house because she used non-certified cheese and a single dishwasher... I could have raised a stink, but a few things I learned (and where appropriate, used a ruling from the Rabbi)...

Our Rabbi has ruled that while Halacha requires that a person keep kosher to trust their Kashrut (so "eating out" presents a problem), the parental bond creates a situation where you can trust that if they are doing things "for you," you can trust them even if they don't for themselves (by "eating out."). Further, the issue of non-Kosher cheeses isn't really an issue of treif, since the use of a non-Kosher element for making the hard cheese isn't considered meat (it's changed through the process) which is why the Conservative movement permits it... it's not Kashrut, any more than requiring dishes be Toveled is "Kashrut," the issue is that if the cheese is made entirely by non-Jews it is Gevinah Akum (Gentile Cheese), which is Rabbinically prohibited. In addition, cooking instruments "lose the flavor" after 24 hours (hence the 24-hour wait to Kasher), so depending on that, a Rabbi has PLENTY of leeway to rule how the Chabad Rabbi did... The issue of Gevinah Akum prohibits eating the cheese, not the Kelim (vessels) that touch it, we can assume that the Kelim haven't touched it in 24 hours, and the Halacha permits a single dishwasher (bringing a ruling from the Shulchan Aruch about washing meat/dairy kelim in a pot of the other), with Moshe Feinstein ruling that it is preferable to not use it at the same time. Avoiding a dishwasher for both meat and dairy is NOT halacha, but rather a stringency so you don't screw up (using at the same time, or worse, not paying attention and putting the meat/dairy equipment back in the wrong area)... So while your mother (or my mother in law's) practice may not be "acceptable" from a Shomer Kashrut, point of view, it may not be "treif" to prevent me from eating in her house WHEN she does it right for our being there.

These are a mixture of rulings from two local Rabbeim plus some independent learning, and should NOT be relied upon as a halachic ruling. As always, consult your local Rabbi... not an anonymous poster on the Internet. :)
Wed Apr 29, 10:08:00 AM 2009

Sun May 03, 12:01:00 PM 2009  

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