Being hosted by a non-observant Jew

While one may eat the food of a 'Traditional' Jewish host based on the five specific halakhic questions mentioned in previous columns, this does not apply to a host who does not keep kosher.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Judaism Har Bracha yeshiva
Har Bracha yeshiva
פלאש 90
Eating at the Home of a 'Traditional' Jew

A few weeks ago I dealt with the question of whether an observant guest is allowed to eat the food of a masoriti (traditional) Jew who eats kosher, makes sure to separate dishes – namely, not to cook meat in a milk dish, or to cook milk in a meat dish – and he is known to the guest as a reliable person who can be trusted. Since the host may not know the halakha properly, or is not exact in its observance, it is impossible to rely on his general statement that the food is kosher, consequently, I wrote that he must be asked five questions encompassing all the problematic issues of kashrut:

1) As for the meat, it must be clarified that it has a credible hechsher (kashrut certification). Those who are makpid (scrupulous) to eat glatt meat should do so when they are hosted.

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 tiny insects, it must be clarified whether they were rinsed well. Those who are mehadrin (stringent) should ask whether the vegetables were bought from insect-free produce, or soaked in water with soap, and then rinsed. If they were cooked, even those who are mehadrin may eat regular leafy vegetables that were routinely cleansed.

4) As for metal and glassware used for eating, such as metal cutlery and plates and glasses, one should ask the host if they were tovelled (immersed in a mikveh). If not, one should eat with 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 separated – one should separate a small bit himself.

Foods Prepared in a Secular Jew’s Kitchen

Q: Is a guest of a reliable secular Jew who does not keep kosher also permitted to eat his food based on these five questions, or similar ones?

A: It is impossible to eat foods prepared by a secular Jew in his kitchen based on specific questions, for two reasons:

1) Since he does not keep kosher, it is impossible to suggest questions by which to check the kashrut of the foods, as it is difficult to foresee which problems may arise, and to go over all of the halakha’s of kashrut is impossible.

2) Since he is not makpid about kashrut, he occasionally cooks forbidden foods in his pots, and thus, it is forbidden to use them without hagalat kelim (immersing them in boiling water). And even if a complete day has passed since forbidden foods were cooked in them, in which case the taam (taste) emitted from them is pagum (off-tasting), our Sages penalized and forbade foods cooked in pots that need kashering for all those whom the foods were cooked for (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 32: 3,

3). In addition, the dishes they eat from were not tovelled, and in the opinion of most poskim, it is forbidden to eat with metal and glassware utensils that have not been tovelled (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 31:8).

How One May Eat the Food of a Secular Jew

Nevertheless, as guest of a secular Jew, one may eat packaged foods that have a kosher stamp, or foods prepared in recognized kosher restaurants. This is provided the foods are served on disposable dishes and utensils, for the dishes they eat off are prohibited to be used without hagalah and tevilah.

May Food be Heated?

If the secular host ordered cooked food from a kosher restaurant, the food may be heated in his oven, provided the food remains in a disposable container, and is wrapped in aluminum foil, to prevent steam from the oven entering the food.

If the food is heated in a microwave, it should be placed in a kosher vessel, such as a disposable plastic utensil, and wrapped in a plastic bag, to prevent steam from the cavity of the microwave entering into the food.

One may drink coffee or tea of a secular Jew in disposable cups, or in porcelain cups intended only for coffee or tea. In a pressing situation, glassware may be used, even though it has not been tovelled (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 31:8; 32:5).

Whiskey without a Kashrut Certification

Q: May one drink whiskey and other spirits without a hechsher?

A: Just as all foods and drinks need a hechsher, so do all kinds of liquor. However, regarding whiskey, since the method of its preparation from grains is known, many poskim permitted drinking it without a hechsher, and many people do so. And although some manufacturers age the whiskey in wooden barrels that have previously absorbed the taste of wine produced by non-Jews, and the taste may be absorbed in the whiskey, since the wine emitted from the barrels does not comprise a measurement that would render a sufficient taste, the poskim instructed to permit whiskey (Iggrot Moshe, Y.D. 1: 62; Minchat Yitzchak 2: 28; Mishneh Halakhot 10: 108; Minchat Asher 1: 44).

However, all this pertains to genuine, high-quality whiskey whose methods of preparation are known, and any violation would be considered damaging to consumers. But if it is cheap whiskey, or has other flavors mixed in, one may not drink it without a hechsher, lest the manufacturer added non-kosher ingredients (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 37: 9).

The Sephardic Minhag Concerning Glatt Meat

Q: Rabbi, you wrote that guests who are makpid to eat only glatt kosher meat, when hosted by religious or traditional Jews, should do so as well. Why didn’t you write that all Sephardi Jews should also be machmir in this issue?

A: Because in practice, most Sefardic communities were accustomed to eat regular kosher meat and not glatt. In other words, if there was a sircha (adhesion) on an animal’s lungs, they would peel the sircha, fill the lung with air, and place it in water. If there were bubbles of air coming out of the lung – it was a sign that there was a puncture in the lung, and the animal was treif, but if there wasn’t – it was kosher.

This was the custom in Morocco, Libya, most of the communities in Tunisia, and the rest of the communities in North Africa, as well as in Thessaloniki and most of the communities in Turkey. In addition, this was also the custom in Yemen and Persia. The places where they were machmir to eat only glatt in accordance with the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch was (Y. D. 39: 10) in Eretz Yisarel, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. In Ashkenaz, as well, the custom of the majority was to be lenient, while some were machmir.

The Basis of Differences in Customs

Apparently, the differences in customs between the countries was largely due to the degree of monetary loss involved. Since there is dispute over sirchot among the Amori’im and Rishonim, and the safek (doubt) concerns a Torah prohibition, at first, the prevailing instruction was to be machmir. However, in a place where the treif animals could not be sold to a non-Jew, determining an animal treif could have caused a catastrophe for the owner, for the loss of an animal would have been equivalent to the loss of a month or a few months’ salary, and for the poor, the question could have involved life or death. Therefore, in such a great sha’at dachak (time of need), they relied on the lenient opinion.

In places where Sunni Muslims lived, the Muslims were willing to buy the treifot, and therefore, all followed the opinion of the machmirim (strict), as Rambam testified (Shechita 11: 11). However, in places ruled by Shiite Muslims, such as Yemen and Persia, they considered food touched by a Jew as unclean, and were unwilling to buy the treifot, and as a result of the pressing circumstances, the Jews there acted according to the methods of the lenient poskim (Maharitz in Makor Chaim, 31: 96).

In the Christian countries of Ashkenaz, the situation of the Jews in the times of the Rishonim was precarious, and many times it was difficult for them to sell the treifot to the non-Jews, and therefore, they acted leniently to check thin and medium-sized sirchot by squeezing and touching them, but they were not lenient to peel thick sirchot and inspect them by placing them in water to see if air bubbled out.

In Spain, as long as the war between Christians and Muslims was unresolved, Christians generally acted with a certain tolerance towards Jews, and as a result, they were able to act in accordance with the opinion of the machmirim, as Rashba ruled (he lived in Barcelona, and ​​died in 1310). However, as Christians grew stronger, the hostility and hatred of the Jews increased, until Jews had to rely, be’sha’at ha’dachak, on the most lenient opinion, and would peel the sirchot and check them with the air-bubbling method (Beit Yosef, Y. D., 39: 22).

In North African countries, for many generations they went according to the machmirim opinion, but after the Christians expelled the Jews from Spain (1492), and many immigrated to North Africa, once again the discussion arose as how to act. In Morocco, where the largest Jewish community in Islamic countries developed, the dispute was fierce: the veteran residents wanted to be machmir as was their custom, and the Jews expelled from Spain were of the opinion that the halakha went according to the lenient poskim, and in addition, when it was not a sha’at dachak, all sirchot had to be checked by peeling and placing it in water to see if air bubbled.

For about fifty years the controversy continued, until the rabbis of the expelled Jews came out on top, and the halakha was decided according to the lenient opinion. And this was the custom not only in Morocco, but wherever many of the Jews expelled from Spain arrived, their custom of acting leniently was accepted. As a result, the custom of almost all communities in North Africa was to be lenient, except for Algeria and Djerba. In addition, in the large Jewish communities of Salonika and Constantinople where many Jews expelled from Spain arrived, they also acted leniently.

Reasoning of the Lenient Poskim

In practice, in the era of the Rishonim, during the periods of Rambam and Rashba, most Jewish communities were machmir. But over time, due to the influence of the Jews expelled from Spain, the custom of the majority of communities was to act leniently. This is because at first, the lenient poskim were of the opinion that l’chatchila (ideally) it was correct to be machmir, and only in times of need was it possible to rely on the lenient opinion. However, at a later stage, the lenient poskim grew more secure, deeming that, l’chatchila, the halakha was to act leniently, seeing as the general rule is that a treif animal does not live longer than twelve months, but in practice, found that most sirchot of the lungs do not cause the death of the animals.

The fact is that many times close to 80 percent of older cows are found to have sirchot, and it is understood that if they are not slaughtered, they will continue living for a few more years until they die of old age. And even in young calves, sometimes approximately 50 percent of them are found to have sirchot, and it is clear that if they are not slaughtered, they will continue to live for several years. And in the opinion of the majority of poskim, when there is a dispute among the poskim if a particular defect renders an animal treif, and it is found that in fact the animals do not die from it, it must be decided on the basis of reality that the halakha goes according to the lenient poskim.

The Most Important Chumra

About this claim, the machmirim respond that the halakha should not be decided on the basis of reality, for a defect determined with certainty as causing an animal to be treif – makes the animal treif even if it turns out that the animals do not die from it. In practice, since this is the most important chumra of the laws of kashrut, pertaining to a Torah prohibition, and many people are emphatically machmir about it, as well as entire communities, those who are always machmir – even when hosted, are machmir.

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