Dear Cyber Rav,
I grew up Orthodox: Shabbos, tefillin, kashrus, the works! I’ve strayed. I had to work on Shabbos so I did. I had to get to work early so I gave up daily davening. And as far as kashrus went, I married someone who was willing to keep a kosher home but wouldn’t give up eating in restaurants. I couldn’t see keeping kosher at home and then eating in restaurants, so I essentially gave up on the kashrus thing altogether. So I, too, eat out, though unlike my wife, I’ve never eaten pork or shell fish. I guess it’s not in me.
But we have these friends who are Conservative. They portray themselves as observant, but I have my doubts. They regularly go to shul on Shabbos, but they watch TV in the afternoon. The husband goes to minyan at the synagogue occasionally, but I doubt he puts on tefillin every day.
We get together with them regularly and often go out to eat. They have this code they live by. They won’t eat meat or chicken and stay away from virtually all the fried foods in the restaurant. I keep on telling them that it makes no difference. The plates are treif, the silverware is treif, the pots and pans are treif, etc. So what difference does it make if they order only dairy or fish? They’re eating treif anyway! I’ve never charged them with hypocrisy. They are our friends and I wouldn’t insult them, but I know that they are doing it wrong. How can I convince them of this hypocrisy without insulting them?
Dear Honestly Treif,
We should really discuss this over lunch. Where shall we meet?
Kashrut is a way of connecting with God, with Jewish people throughout time, and with Jewish people throughout the world. That means that we are more or less in agreement with our choices about food. When your friends go to the local diner, they know that the meats and the chickens have not been slaughtered according to Jewish law. They therefore refrain from meat and chicken, as kashrut-observing Jews the world-over would. Kosher fish are not subject to any ritually mandated slaughter so as long as the fish is kosher (e.g., salmon, tuna, etc.) then your friends are making a conscious choice to eat that which tradition permits, again, as kashrut-observing Jews the world over would. All vegetables are kosher. All fruits are kosher. Your friends will probably refrain from entrees that are clearly heated in pans where mixtures with forbidden foods are likely. Scrambled eggs, for example, may be a bit too close to the bacon and the same oil that fried the fish may have fried the chicken so fried foods are generally not good choices. Given these broad-based parameters, 85% of the menu is still off limits for them. I think your friends are acting honorably by balancing their friendship with you along with their fealty to Jewish tradition.
How would you prefer your kashrut-observing friends to behave? Let’s say your friends demand to eat only in kosher restaurants. Is it fair that they impose their will on you? Is that the kind of consistent piety you admire? Or, is it better to find something on that treif menu that really isn’t treif at all? Is it better to say to the community—we’re Jews, so we don’t eat in your non-kosher restaurant? Is that your idea of piety? Or is it better to say we’re Jews, we love our community, and we are grateful for the small business owners who open restaurants and welcome us into their dining rooms? What would you like the Jewish message to be? Is piety only a function of what we eat? I realize that some people would answer that question “Yes,” but it’s a piety I don’t subscribe to and would never promote.
I think the real question here is what the kosher message should be. The Torah, a terse document if ever there was one, could simply have said—never break bread or drink with non Jewish people or unobservant Jews. That’s not what the Torah said. It gave us some guidelines as to what we should eat and what we shouldn’t eat. Aren’t your friends doing that?
Aren’t you, as well, someone who has never eaten pork or shell fish. Perhaps what really irks you is your friends’ insistence that it is possible to still maintain an acceptable level of kashrut at the same time that you have rejected kashrut altogether (though apparently, not altogether if you can’t bring yourself to pork or shell fish consumption).
You will never be able to convince your friends of their hypocrisy because you have described a couple who adhere to Jewish principles with great devotion and honesty. They are not going to be religiously dogmatic in their relationship with you—let’s thank God for that. They are doing an honorable job of balancing observance with modernity. They are, in many ways, more kosher than Jews who consciously avoid non-kosher restaurants and never, therefore, think of these matters or the implications of Jews saying to non-Jews, we will never eat your food or drink your water. This is not what kashrut was ever meant to be. Why should we turn it into that or allow so-called “frum” people to convince us that this is what kashrut was ever about!
If only all Jews were as devoted to kashrut as your friends! Maybe the time has come for you to have another talk with your wife about keeping a kosher home. Jewish ritual is not like being pregnant when you either are or aren’t. Jewish ritual is on a continuum. I don’t know where you are at on the continuum, but Conservative Jews are always encouraged to do more, not less.
Rabbi Rafi Rank
The Cyber Rav