Friday, May 19, 2006

Some differences in practice between Orthodox & "semi-practicing" (as opposed to observant) Conservative Jews

Shifra's response to my Wednesday, May 10, 2006 post, Conflicting principles: a kashrut quandary was to post the quandary on her own blog.

Here's a comment to Shifra's post that particularly caught my attention:

9:39 AM, Elie said..

. . . Just a querying note on OtF's original submission: Challah? At a kiddush? That's a new one on me. I've seen just about every food imaginable at shul kiddushim, except bread."

That's an entirely reasonable question for an Orthodox Jew to ask. Among the Orthodox, it's a given that people will, as halachah (Jewish law) requires, make a motzi (blessing thanking G-d for bringing forth bread from the earth) over two whole loaves of bread before eating any other part of lunch on Shabbat (Sabbath). Among Conservatives, the same assumption cannot necessarily be made--some of us do, some of us don't. I assume it's for that reason that, in many Conservative synagogues, motzi is made at kiddush. As my current rabbi (who's occasionally good for something, despite my complaints), has pointed out, this practice does raise the rather interesting question of whether or not one should say Birkat HaMazon (Grace After Meals) if the challah bread isn't followed by an actual meal, but rather, is accompanied only by cake and the like. Hmm.

Here's another difference in practice that can create real problems, as you'll see from this true story:

My son, a writer for his college's student magazine, was supposed to write an article about his school's Hillel, and went over to Hillel's assigned room on a fact-finding mission. (Normally, he wouldn't set foot in the place, much to our dismay.) He had been told that a pot-luck meal was being served, and walked in with two packages of cheese, which he put on the table. But he realized that there had been a misunderstanding when he noticed that there was already meat on the table, and removed the cheese immediately. Nevertheless, he was raked over the coals by the Hillel "regulars" for "treifing" the meal (making it no longer kosher). He protested that he couldn't possibly have "treifed" the meal because the cheese had still been in its package and had been on the table for only a few seconds. (I agree. At worst, he could have treifed the plate or tablecloth on which he'd put it.) They wouldn't let up. So he explained that, in Conservative Jewish circles, where the observance of kashrut varies widely despite official rabbinical pronouncements, people generally avoid having pot-luck meat meals because not everyone buys only kosher meat, while most Conservative Jews tend to be much less stringent than Orthodox Jews in their definition of what constitutes kosher when it comes to dairy products. (True.) To no avail. The "regulars" were so intent on castigating our son for a simple misunderstanding that he stormed out of Hillel, no doubt never to return. To say that I'm upset is a radical understatement. Here was a student who'd never been to Hillel before and might possibly have been persuaded to return. Instead, he was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. The Hillel regulars were dead wrong, according to halachah (Jewish law): By failing to mention to our son that the pot-luck meal would be a meat meal, they violated the law "lifnei iver lo titen michshol" in front of a blind person you must not put a stumbling block," (see parshat Kedoshim, Leviticus chapter19, verse 14), which the rabbis interpret to mean that you must not do something that might cause an ignorant or weak person to violate halachah.

It's important for us to understand one another's practices so as not to be left puzzled or confuse one another.


Blogger The back of the hill said...

Indeed, they were wrong for not making it clear that it was fleishedik. But given that one can assume major differences in practice, both parties (your son and the Hillelians) should perhaps have assumed possible kashrus conflicts, and both sides might have been better off going for something like neutral vegetarian food.

When it comes to sharing food, one would naturally seek to be as inclusive as possible. What if, chasvesholom, a drop-in participant had had a bite elsewhere? Or a cappucino beforehand?

But cheese, in a sealed unopened package, cannot possibly convert a meal to treif. Did any of the other food touch the cheese? No. Did any of the other food even touch the package? No.

If it had touched the package, one could perhpas make an issue over transference of tumoh; the analogy being the earthenware pot in which meat is cooking, made unkosher by a splash of milk on the outside - the common explanation being that a minute amount of dairy could penetrate through the clay to the inside - I prefer to instead think in terms of the pot becoming unkosher, because it is touching both meat and dairy, and hence both the dairy and the meat it subsequently touches become unkosher.

But again, the dairy and the meat did not touch each other, did not touch the same vessel, and there was no transfer of contact.

The other issue is hospitality. The majority has an obligation to make the new arrival feel welcome. This they did not do. It sounds like an attitude of exclusion: 'we only want people who are just like us, we do not want people who are differently minhagged'. Less than even lip-service to ahavas yisroel.

Sat May 20, 08:50:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I suppose it didn't occur to my son that his attempt at respecting the laws of kashrut would backfire. Obviously, it never occurred to him to ask--he simply assumed that a pot-luck meal would be dairy. Oy. Confusion all around. As you were saying, Back of the Hill, he should have assumed that there might be kashrut conflicts and asked.

That said, the obnoxious manner which with his gaffe was dealt certainly showed a lack of ahavat yisrael (love of one's fellow/sister Jew), as you stated.

Sun May 21, 12:59:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Elie said...

Thanks for the thorough answer! I'm glad my casual question gave you the opportunity to teach us all something about differing customs.

Sun May 21, 11:56:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Elie, I'm always happy to share information.

The minhag with which I grew up, and which most of the Conservative shuls that I've attended maintain, is the exact opposite of yours: Most serve challah bread with kiddush. This can be a bit problematic in those synagogues in which they don't bother to do n'tilat yadayim (the ritual washing of the hands) before making a motzi. Oy..

Mon May 22, 01:02:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, shame, shame, shame on Hillel for embarrassing and castigating your son. Your son did nothing wrong here.

Not only would sealed cheese not render the meal treif because of basar b'chalav (meat and milk mixed together), but it could have stayed on the table (sealed) throughout the meal without creating a problem. Heck, according to the Shulchan Aruch, one can eat dairy at the same table as someone eating meat, as long as there is some kind of demarcating item to indicate that there are two different orientations being eaten at the same time.

They acted wholly inappropriately.

Re: challah: I've never seen challah at an Ortho kiddush unless it was for a simcha, and there are washing stations set up. One should say bircat ha'mazon over bread, even if the meal that follows is cake. bread by itself constitutes a halachic meal, as well as fixes the meal if other foodstuffs are served.

Tue May 23, 04:50:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

JDub, I certainly agree with you concerning the Hillel people's treatment of my son. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned derech eretz, common courtesy and consideration?

Thanks for the meat-milk and birkat hamazon information. I've heard both before, but I was wasn't sure that what I'd heard was commonly accepted.

Wed May 24, 01:02:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Avi said...

If the dairy was cold, I also fail to see the problem (given that he realized his mistake in this instance). However, if it wasn't cheese but rather some cooked (hot) dairy (although I get the impression that it wasn't from your post), then it is more problamatic.

And I don't understand your rabbi's dispute about bread. If you eat even a relatively small piece of bread you have to say birkat (and, of course, as others mentioned, the lack of washing stations is a problem). Sadly, the Conservative movement does not do a good job of teaching people how to live halakhically and among other non-C observant Jews.

(And, of course, there is ignorance also in the O world, which is probably what happened in this Hillel experience, where people don't think of Am Yisrael and of trying to teach instead of berate your son).

Sun May 28, 10:09:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

It would probably never have occurred to my son to take something hot, as he's not much of a cook (mostly because there weren't many hot foods that he liked as a child, so I didn't have much luck teaching him to cook anything beyond hard-boiled eggs, and, for his dear old parents, fresh fish with lemon and herbs).

"Sadly, the Conservative movement does not do a good job of teaching people how to live halakhically and among other non-C observant Jews." Agreed, unfortunately--if you haven't already read it, you might want to check out my prevous post concerning that problem.

" . . . there is ignorance also in the O world, which is probably what happened in this Hillel experience, where people don't think of Am Yisrael and of trying to teach instead of berate your son . . . " I'm sorry, not to mention pretty honked off, about what happened to my son at Hillel, but, on the other hand, I'm happy to say that my experience in the Jewish blogosphere has been quite good, on that score--many of my Orthodox readers have been very supportive and helpful in explaining aspects of Orthodox practice and/or belief to me.

Sun May 28, 02:10:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Re that non-functioning link, let me try a belated correction: Fed up with Conservative Judaism's attitude toward Observant Conservative Jews. Better several years late than never. :)

Thu Mar 18, 01:05:00 PM 2010  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>