Relying on the kashrut of "traditional" Jews
Relying on the kashrut of "traditional" Jews

Q: May an observant Jew who keeps kosher according to halakha, eat at the home of a masoriti (traditional) relative or friend who is not Shomer Shabbat, but says he keeps kosher in his home and is careful to separate dishes – he does not cook meat in milk utensils, or milk in meat utensils – but his knowledge of the halakhot of kashrut and his strict adherence to them are uncertain?

A: If he is known to be a reliable he may be trusted, however, since he may not be familiar with halakha or keep it precisely, you cannot rely on his general statement that the food is kosher. Consequently, if you want to eat his food, you must first ask five questions encompassing all problematic areas of kashrut. Needless to say, in order to avoid offending him unnecessarily, the questions should be asked before the meal.

The Five Questions

1) As for the meat, it must be clarified that it has a credible hechsher. Those who eat kosher meat may rely on standard kashrut, and those who are mehadrin (enhance the mitzvah) and eat glatt meat, may eat the cooked meat dishes provided the meat is glatt.

2) With regard to fruits and vegetables, it must be clarified whether they were bought from a store or a chain of stores where terumot and ma’asrot (tithes) are taken, and if not – one should separate terumot and ma’asrot himself.

3) For vegetables that may contain insects, it must be clarified whether they were rinsed well. Those who are mehadrin should ask whether the vegetables were bought from insect-free produce, or soaked in water with soap and then rinsed. If they were cooked, those who are mehadrin may also eat them.

4) As for metal and glassware used for eating, such as metal cutlery and plates and glasses, one should ask the host if they are tovelled (immersed in a mikveh). If not, one should eat on plastic or disposable utensils.

5) As far as home-baked goods are concerned, it must be clarified whether there was a quantity of dough requiring hafrashat challah (separating challah from dough), and if it was not done – one should separate a small bit himself.

Questions about this Halakhic Instruction

Arguments about this halakhic instruction come from four different directions: 1) some people argue that the kashrut of a masoriti (traditional) Jew cannot be relied upon at all because he does not keep the mitzvot precisely. 2) Why not ask about other problems? 3) Conversely, some argue: Why not believe him when he says his food is kosher without asking questions? 4) Others claim these questions will cause unpleasantness, therefore it’s better not to eat, or ask. I will address the four claims.

A Reliable Traditional Jew May Be Trusted

Seemingly, one could ask: Since outside of his house a masoriti Jew is not careful to eat only kosher foods, or only in kosher restaurants, consequently, he is considered as someone who occasionally eats non-kosher food, and is not trustworthy to testify about the kashrut of his food (S. A. 119:1). Also, if he publicly desecrates Shabbat, he is not trustworthy to testify about any mitzvah (S. A. 119:7). According to this, how can we trust the credibility of a masoriti Jew who occasionally eats non-kosher food, and all the more so, when he sometimes publicly desecrates Shabbat?

There is a difference between Jews who were suspected of kashrut matters and chillul Shabbat in the past, and today. In the past, when society was traditional, familial, and ancestral, it was clear that those who violated these mitzvot were light-minded or extremely brazen people who broke customary practices, and consequently it was clear they could not be trusted. Today, however, there are those who are not observant but are known to be honest and reliable people – fact is, they are trusted when it comes to monetary matters. Therefore, an honest and decent person can be trusted in matters of kashrut, even if he himself is not careful to eat kosher all the time (as we have learned in Rabbi Kook’s essay “Maamar Ha’Dor” [“Essay for this Generation”]. This is also explained in “Peninei Halakha: Kashrut” Vol. 2, 29:13, in connection to public Shabbat desecrators. This is also written in practice in ‘D’var Chevron’, Y.D. 2:125, and ‘Echol B’Simcha’, pg. 155).

In addition, we have a general rule that when it is easy to obtain kosher foods, we rely on a person whose credibility is doubtful and says he bought his food from a kosher store, for why would he go and buy non-kosher foods when it is easy for him to buy kosher foods, or as in the words of our Sages: “Lo shavik hetera ve’achil isura” (‘one does not intentionally forsake the permitted and eat forbidden food’(Chullin 4a-b; S.A. 2:4).

The Claim Additional Questions are Needed

Some people claim that while in general a masoriti Jew is careful about separating between meat and milk, in practice, they may not be so meticulous about it. Indeed, a baal teshuva (a secular Jew who returned to Torah-Judaism) once told me that his family was considered masoriti, and yet, his mother would use the same pan once to fry meat, and another time to make an omelet with hard cheese. On account of this, I wrote in detail: “A person hosted by a masoriti Jew, i.e., a Jew accustomed to eating kosher food and is careful to separate dishes – not to cook meat in milk dishes, and not cook milk in meat dishes” (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 38:9). In other words, this is the definition of masoriti, and such a definition is faced with five questions. One should not be concerned that maybe the masoriti erred in this matter, because bedi’avad (after the fact), stam keilim (normal utensils) are considered as not being bnei yomam (a vessel that has sat for 24 hours since a prohibited substance was cooked in it), and the taste of the previous meat or milk cooked in them has become foul, and in any case, the dish cooked in them is kosher (S.A., Y.D. 122:6).

There is no need to ask about non-kosher fish, for a masoriti person who eats kosher is careful about that.

Some claim one needs to ask if they cooked in the pots on Shabbat, for if they did, in the opinion of Rashba, the pots are prohibited, and must be kashered by hagalah (immersing them in boiling water). However, even according to Rashba, the pots are prohibited only for those for whom the food was cooked for on Shabbat, whereas for everyone else, the pots are permitted. In addition, in the opinion of the Rosh, even for the person who cooked on Shabbat, the pots are not prohibited (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 26: 8).

There are also some who ask about the third question, claiming it is not enough to ask whether the leafy vegetables were rinsed, but to also ask whether they were inspected after rinsing (as explained in Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol.2, 23: 10). However bedi’avad, rinsing, most likely accompanied by a general lookover, is sufficient.

The Claim that No Questions Should be Asked

Some people claim that since in practice a large majority of the meat in Israel is kosher, terumot and ma’asrot are taken from most fruits and vegetables, and most people rinse leafy vegetables, one can rely on the host’s general statement that the food is kosher, without asking the five questions.

However, according to halakha, as long there is a safek (doubt) which can be clarified by asking a question one must do so, as we learned concerning bedikat chametz (Pesachim 4a; S.A., O.C. 437:2).  And Pri Chadash (437:2) explained that when the clarification process is extremely difficult, such as in the case of examining all seventy types of treifot, we rely on the majority. But when it is not difficult, such as asking a question, one is obligated to ask.

Therefore, in a situation where posing the five questions would be extremely insulting, such as when the host is an important relative, or a very distinguished person, and on the other hand, eating there cannot be avoided without causing a serious dispute, a masoriti host can be relied upon that his food is kosher without asking the five questions. And although chances are his metal and glassware were not tovelledbesha’at ha’dachak (in times of need) when asking a question about it would be extremely insulting, one can rely on the lenient poskim who permit eating off non-immersed dishes on a temporary basis (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol. 2, 31:8).

The Allegation of Unpleasantness

Some claim that asking the five questions is offensive, and therefore, it’s better not to eat. Indeed, one must examine and evaluate what the host would prefer, that they not ask him the five questions and not eat with him, or ask him the five questions and be able to eat with him. In my estimation, in most cases a masoriti Jew would prefer all questions be laid on the table, and that the guest feel comfortable and able to eat. Moreover, chances are that the answer to four of the questions will be satisfactory, and this will please the questioner and the person asked. Granted, as far as tevilat keilim is concerned, chances are the answer will be that the dishes were not tovelled. However, since there is a solution by using plastic or porcelain dishes, this will not cause great unpleasantness. In addition, it could be that as a result of this question, before the next visit, the host may tovel his dishes.

A Cake Made by a Traditional Jew

Q: At our workplace, where most of the employees are observant, one of the non-observant workers brought a cake that her mother made in honor of her birthday. She said her mother does not observe Shabbat, but is very careful about keeping kosher. In the end, the workers were apprehensive about eating it, and thus the cake remained untouched until it was finally thrown in the garbage. Did we do the right thing?

A: When a person brings a cake and says it is kosher because a masoriti person who is careful to keep kosher prepared it,if the person who brought the cake is a reliable person – he can be trusted. Nevertheless, one question should be asked: If the dough contained an amount requiring separating challah, was it taken? When there is a safek, a crumb can be separated. If there is fruit in the cake, one must also ask whether terumot and ma’asrot were taken, and if it is uncertain, terumot and ma’asrot should be set aside.

Concerning products from which cakes are made there are no questions, since in Israel, these products are kosher, and only someone who makes a great effort to search for non-kosher products can find them, and a masoriti is not suspected of doing so.

One need not ask whether the flour was sifted, since even if it was bought from the shuk (marketplace) and not sifted, the cake is kosher. The reason is that in most cases, there are no insects in flour, and in a case where it is no longer possible to check the flour, we go according to the majority (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol. 2, 23:15). And as for the eggs, me’ikar ha’din (according to strict halakha), it is not obligatory to check them for blood since they are not fertilized (ibid, 24: 2-3). And there is no concern that the cake was baked in a treif baking dish, since the person is masoriti.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.