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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Kosher Komplications

I had a very annoying experience last night.

We were invited to a dinner party in a friend's apartment. Though this particular couple does not keep kosher, some of their frequent guests, including the Ortho family, do. The hosts, being exceptionally gracious - or sick of watching us eat pretzels and sip soda every time we go there - decided to order everything from a Manhattan kosher restaurant known to have fabulous food. I was psyched, but not as psyched as OrthoDad. For the first time that we were going to be eating over at their place, we figured we weren't going to have to drive around after the party, looking for a restaraunt that was open at 11 PM, or alternately, stop on the way at the local kosher Dunkin Donuts that is open 24 hours.

So imagine our chagrin to arrive just in time to see our hostess pulling the catered food, uncovered, out of her oven. The selfsame catered food that was delivered double wrapped in foil pans, with a seal that read "kashrut not guaranteed if seal is broken". All the food had been transfered to her (non-kosher) casserole pans to be heated up in her (non-kosher) oven. All of the salad dressings had been transfered to her fine china. To boot, she informed me that she had made a few of the salads herself, and they were mixed in together with the rest of the buffet, but "not to worry, I used all kosher ingredients". She also laughingly complained about how hard it had been to get past the double-wrapping on the food: "It was wrapped up like Fort knox! Haha!". Hahahaha.

So basically, we were in the worst possible position. Our hosts had gone through a tremendous amount of trouble and expense to make us feel comfortable, and we couldn't eat a blessed thing. To complicate matters, our co-guests who keep kosher didn't seem to be following as strict an interpretation of the kashrut laws as we were, and were merrily snarfing up the offerings from the buffet. We tried to be inconpicuous, and were not planning to tell our well-intentioned hosts that we couldn't eat. So what to say when the hosts asked why were eschewing the kosher food (that they had paid way too much for, of course), and (yet again) eating only pretzels and soda? My husband pulled the host aside, and, as gently as he could, explained about the laws of heating food up in an oven that had been used to cook non-kosher food, especially within the past 24 hours. Yes, he explained, even if the food being heated is completely kosher. No, he explained, the fact that the other couples who keep kosher are eating the food won't change our minds. Of course, he added how grateful we were that they had put in so much effort and expense on our account, and how he hoped the fact that we didn't eat didn't take away from our gratitude. Outwardly, the couple seemed to take it well, but I can imagine the nature and tone of the words they exchanged after we left. Yes, I will send them a large gift with my thank-you/apology note.

And guess who ended up making an 11:30 PM run for donuts and hot chocolate last night on the way home? Natch.

The good news is, I'm not too worried about what we'll eat when we are next invited to eat at the home of this particular couple.

Somehow, I don't think there'll be a next time.

31 Comments:

Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

First of all, most Sepharadi poseqim would say that reicha (treif-transfer through the "aroma" of food cooked in a non-kosher oven) can't really make food treif.

Second of all, even Ashkenazzi poseqim typically hold that because modern-ovens are ventilated, reicha is not a concern. (This is based on the Tosafistic idea that in "large" ovens, reicha is not a concern.)

Most poseqim wouldn't tell you to rely on these leniences ideally, but in a case where your friends went through such effort (blahblahblah etc.) to make you feel comfortable, you could probably rely on them.

And as for the pans on which your hosts re-warmed the food-- had the pans been used for treifos within the past 24 hours? This, too, could be a way to find a leniency.

10:34 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Most poseqim wouldn't tell you to rely on these leniences ideally, but in a case where your friends went through such effort (blahblahblah etc.) to make you feel comfortable, you could probably rely on them.

"probably rely on them"? That just isn't enough for me.
Both I and my husband are well aware of leniencies that could have been found. they weren't there. We are not Sefardim, so the oven (especially since the hosts admitted that the oven and pans had been used within the past 24 hours) did make the food unacceptable for eating by us. I am not making halachik decisions for you, Mar Gavriel, and I did not judge the guests who ate the food. But I would appreciate being accorded the same respect.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Pragmatician said...

If there is a next time just eat (or cook at home)BEFORE you go there, that will save you from looking for an open store after hours.

11:00 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Very pragmatic advice, pragmatician. Thanks.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Ezer K'negdo said...

Oy. What a difficult position. Sorry you had to go through that! Hopefully, if they are thoughtful friends, they will make an effort to try to understand your position and not take it personally. I hope this is the case for you!

Have a restful shabbat!

EK

11:18 AM  
Blogger tuesdaywishes said...

What a bummer! I hope this doesn't damage your friendship. Do you ever invite them to your house? Or maybe meet them somewhere? Or do stuff together that doens't involve food?

I suggest theater tickets as a gift, stay away from anything food-related, even wine or chocolates.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Akiva said...

Yasher Koach.

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is only one of the many very good reasons that Orthodox Jews should eschew the company of their secular, assimilated estranged brothers and sisters.

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Essie said...

anonymous,
what????? Dare I even mention the word kiruv?

Orthomom,
I would suggest meeting them at a restaurant next time they want to spend time with you. But I totally understand what you went through. Have been there myself in the past, as well. In my case, it's family who do not keep kosher. They go to the trouble of getting quasi-kosher food with a hechsher I may not trust, or they heat up the kosher food uncovered. And then get upset when I won't eat it.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Orthomom: Kol KaHakavod to Orthodad for explaining it. That must have awful for him!

I wonder which would have been worse -- if the story had been aabout a non-Jewish couple instead of a non-observant Jewish couple.

Work situations are the worst. I'd rather starve (or have pretzles and diet coke) than worry about people getting me Kosher food. (Even though they are honestly very sincere about it)

3:18 PM  
Anonymous (anonymous) said...

(grunt)...I'm an anonymous prick so I'll take this opportunity to spew ignorance and all the other filth that passes for social grace in Brooklyn and other peasant, closed minded, theocratic societies. Like this gem: OY, you ate TRAIF? that's why you should never eat BY goyish, oh, i mean not Heimish, oh i meant not frum, oh, i meant Orthodox, oh, you know what i meant, dammit--yiddin who aren't exactly like you.

3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am amused at the fact that your anonymous commentor feels the need to criticise your alleged insularity when, in fact, you went to the party, and conducted yourself in line with your convictions.

Tough situation, good call.

- Moishe Potemkin

4:07 PM  
Blogger Stacey said...

this reminds me of a funny (or sad) story. my brother married a girl from a very small town in the deep south. her family is what can only be described as egalitarian traditional conservative (or something like that). anyway, we went through all kinds of crazy stuff the weekend of their engagement parties.

background on their "orthodox trained" rabbi- this is the man who told my entire family how he abandoned orthodoxy because his wife was put down and not allowed to participate enough by the evil movement - she then sang on stage and danced at the wedding ceremony a few months later - someone is not an eshes chayil woah. but i digress. he and his apikores wife decided to follow me and my husband around the buffet at the engagement party explaining to us very loudly in earshot everyone what was "kosher" and what was not.

this made things even more uncomf because like you, we were pretending to pick around, etc. they drew attention to us with their "tour of kashrus by the rabbi." they basically said all the food was kosher that did not have visible meat in it. NICE. we were like um ok whatever.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

The CEO of my company told me a story yesterday: After spending a week at a customer site in Indiannapolis, our customer wanted to take our Israeli team out for meal. They took the group on an hourlong trip to "Shapiro's Kosher Style Deli" (or something like that).

Their heart's sank. The customer had tried so hard to impress by taking the group to a Kosher place...and now, to be told it wasn't really Kosher at all?

One of our team decided to be brave and said, "Well, maybe there's some sort of rabbinical supervision" in order to get off the hook, though the Clam on the menu seemed to be a dead giveaway.

The owner, a big African American fellow came out and took one look at our group and said, "You guys can't eat here! Nothing's Kosher here! Forget it, there isn't a real Kosher place for 100 miles in any direction."

Our customer was devistated. The group started walking out to the parking lot, when the guy came running after the group yelling, "Wait a minute"

Everyone turned around and he said, "We do have some Kosher food -- here's an unopened 999 kosher salami. See? Its a closed package. Now, here's a brand new knife, never been used - so you can use it once. Here are some closed paper plates as well...that's the best I can offer."

He saved the day for everone.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Miriam said...

There was this cousin's wedding I went to. Way out of town (different state, I came in by bus.) Took place in a Conservative Shul. I checked with some of the Orthodox cousins who were also attending the wedding, to check out the caterer. Was told Bride's mother had found a caterer that was acceptable to us, and I'd be able to eat. Actually get to wedding, only to find out that the caterer left the food at the door. No Mashgiach, almost everything heated up in synagogue's questionable ovens or cut with synagogue's questionable knives. Basically, I could eat the cupcakes.

The problem was, I was sitting with my parents, for whom it was "Kosher enough" and I got served a plate to push around the contents of and not actually eat. I didn't want to make the other people at my table feel bad, b/c they were willing to eat it and I wasn't, and everyone knew I'd just arrived on a bus, so I couldn't really claim I wasn't hungry.

Oh, and my Great-Aunt felt the need to come up to me and stage whisper, "It's okay, we can eat!" And my mother insisted that Great Aunt was "a pious woman, if she says it's okay, it's okay!" She may be "pious" but she's not fully-observant... and the cousins who are said it wasn't okay.

Point being, I completely emphasize, understand how hard that must have been, and I hope they took it well, because of course there was nothing else you could have done.

I want to know if you get invited back, though, so if you do, please tell us! (and at least eat a snack first, just in case!)

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Essie took the words out of my mouth - at least it isn't family, who insist on cooking in their own self-cleaned oven, with "only used for kosher" pans. . . but get insulted about being supervised, know nothing about bugs, and accept the letter K for hashgacha on spices, etc.

A little bit of knowledge combined with NO practical experience is a dangerous thing.

Either you are right, and there won't be a next time, or it will NOT revolve around food - either way, a much more relaxed environment.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous joe mo said...

I think a lot of the problem (besides all the sinat chinam being thrown around in these comments) is that the words we use to discuss kashrut as so laden with judgementalism. "I don't trust their cooking" "that's not REALLY kosher" "he's too frum for my Rabbi's hechsher", etc.

If we were honest and straightforward, and not looking to put other people down for being too frum or frei, and admitted that within and without halacha, every follows different rules regarding what they eat, and that sometimes two people's rules don't match - and talked about the issue like scholars instead of like adolescents trying to be cooler than everyone else, we wouldn't run into these problems, and nobody would be offended by your eating or not eating.

4:45 PM  
Blogger my bald sheitel said...

yikes. this sounds very uncomfortable. i am sorry you had to deal with this. i personally feel you passed the test in choosing to hold to your level of kashrus versus cave in to be "the nice guy." i admire that. it would be hard for us to do that but i would like to think we are strong enough in our observance level now to do it.

my best friend keeps kosher in her own way (not really kosher according to halacha) and my husband would never eat in her house. i have avoided it so far on my own but i fear the day when i have to. mostly, i fear it because it will come off as "well i am more religious than you now and your food ain't good enough for me" and i feel bad about that........

6:03 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

But I would appreciate being accorded the same respect.

Fine.

And I think that this is the first time you have acknowledged the existence of a comment by me.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

I wrote:

And I think that this is the first time you have acknowledged the existence of a comment by me.

I'm sorry that I said something so harsh. I sincerely ask your mechilo.

8:11 PM  
Blogger Ezer K'negdo said...

jo mo:

THANK YOU FOR THE SEICHEL. Amen, brother.

8:12 PM  
Blogger gabe said...

Sorry about your discomfort, but didn't you kind of bring it upon yourself? When they informed you that they were going to order in kosher food, didn't it even enter your minds that there'd be problems about reheating, utensils, lack of supervision until you arrived, Basar shenisaleh min haayin? (although I don't profess to know entirely what the rules are, I do know that the phenomenon exists, and immediately upon hearing they were doing that, I'd expect that these issues would arise). I mean, it was a dinner party, were you expecting them to deliver your portions like an airline , in a tin which was double sealed?

9:44 PM  
Blogger YMedad said...

I know women exchange menus and recipes so why couldn't you exchange with her the rules of kashrut? I mean if you have been there several times previously and ended up just doing the pretzels, why not call her, invite her over for coffee and explain a few of the basics. Obviously she wants the company and you'd be helping her out.

1:08 AM  
Blogger jlmkobi said...

ymedad - i agree with you (admittedly this is rare occasion especially on political matters). :)
i would think that one could anticipate that there may be problems with the service of the kosher food.
i once flew turkish airlines from israel to the us (great price). very nicely the stewardess brought the kosher food to me and told me that only i was allowed to opent he package. the meat portion was in a seal tin can (like a huge sardine can). knowing my high school physics - i knew that either
a. it gets heated in their pressure heater and explodes
b. she opens it a crack and 'treifs' it (i am sure there are kulot but nevertheless).
(third option she could explode a microwave with the metal)
so i told her to serve it cold - not a very tasty dish.
one the way back there was a breakfast portion. again they brought me the food to break the seal. i saw that this time there was the standard double aluminum foil. i made sure to tell the stewardess three times to not open the foil... but of course it was served to me open.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Elie said...

Seems like you did the best you could in a very uncomfortable situation. We had a dinner like this a couple of weeks ago and I was quite worried we'df have a similar problem, but fortunately the hosts were more familiar with the rules (dinner was brought in from a kosher place and not reheated in their oven, all plasticware, etc.); in fact they went out of their way to keep asking us, and the other Orthodox couples, if they were doing things right. But they were the exception, it seems. Many people who feel they are "kosher enough" just can't understand why it isn't enough for you.

8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Orthomom:

I think you handled the situation as best as you could. There's nothing you really could do at that point, and kudos to Orthodad. (I'd have made Mrs. JDub do it!)

This is the hardest thing with being Ortho and still dealing with the outside world. It's still worth it, though. Esp. for those of us with non-Ortho family.

For thanksgiving, I went to my mom's (she of the non-kosher house). She got food from a kosher place, and explained to the guy that her oven was trayf. He explained to her what to do with the double-wrapped food, and it worked out great. However, until the food came out and we saw the double wrapping, we were holding our breath.

So sorry you had to go thru with this.

JDub

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some years ago we were invited to our Reform but very close neighbor's child's wedding out on Long Island. It was in a shul. I asked some friends of mine who had grown up in the area if there was any chance of kashrut there and was told "no way". The hosts graciously offered to provide "kosher food",and we agreed. This wedding was Motzai Shavuot, and by the time we got there, it was in full swing. We were pretty hungry and somewhat disappointed to find that our Kosher food was a simple melon platter. Nevertheless, we attempted to enjoy ourselves, despite being pretty starved. At the very end of the wedding, I went out toward the coatroom to use the restroom and came upon a young man in a kippah, white shirt and black pants sitting on a sofa. I asked him, "what brings you to this affair?" he responded, --I am the mashgiach, this is a glatt kosher affair, this shul does not allow any other kind! Unfortunately, he had no food left for us to eat! There is a reverse lesson here--ALWAYS CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK!!

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This situation often happens with BT, it reminds me the time when my sister invited a BT girl for Shabbath and the girl said that their VITA(?) herring is not kosher because it has vine. Never mind it had an OU hecher.

1:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

joemo, you kind of have it backwards. All the judgementalism and interference in these stories is from other people trying to tell those who are more strict than they how they can (and should) eat the food. All the folks trying to maintain their own standards were doing nothing more than that, they weren't telling anyone else not to eat.

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a shame.

You did a good job in a really uncomfortable situation, where, among other issues, you did not want anyone to be embarrassed.

The suggestion of tuesdaywishes of theater tickets makes me think that yes, along with the thank-you/apology you mentioned in your post (which you might have already sent and this thought would be too late), you could give theater tickets for all of you to go together, showing concretely that you still want to spend time together.

I liked the story from jameel; how great was it that this proprietor was knowledgeable about kashrut to the extent that he could look after kosher patrons both by protecting them from eating in his non-kosher establishment and by subsequently finding a way to provide!

Please let us know what happens. I hope it works out well, with understanding.

8:19 PM  
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