Hi Rabbi Simon
I hope you can advise me.
If there are families who invite you to eat and they say they keep kosher at home fully, BUT you know for a fact that they eat out vegetarian/fish etc. are we allowed to eat by them? I’ve been reading about it and read that you should never ask someone about their kashrut level at home if they say they keep as it is too disrespectful.
Thank you for your delicate but practical question.
In the first instance, I would like to share with you a Q&A from our newsletter last year. This is related to your Q insofar as it reflects the sensitivity of the matter and the need to strike a difficult balance.
Ask the Rabbi: Shabbat hosts with indeterminate Kashrut
Since becoming observant I generally don’t eat a meal prepared by someone who is not shomer Shabbat, the reason being that if they don’t respect Shabbat how can I assume they’re respecting kashrut? That’s led to some uncomfortable moments over the years when I’ve had to turn down invitations. However, I now face a particularly awkward situation: for we have accepted invitations at another couple’s home for simchas and Sunday brunch. We know them well, they’re friends, they’re vegetarian and buy only kosher products. We’ve also recently accepted Shabbat invitations. I assumed they had become Shomer Shabbat but I’ve just become aware that they’re not quite. What should we do? I wouldn’t want to lose their friendship.
All the best,
These situations are notoriously awkward and pit important values (personal observance vs. interpersonal relations) in tension with one another.
Your policy of accepting invitations at Shomer Shabbat homes is a good one, as strictly speaking one who does not respect Shabbat cannot be relied upon to uphold the laws of kashrut in a conscientious way. Nevertheless, some posekim maintain that if one has good reason to believe that the (putative) hosts are indeed committed to kosher observance and that moreover they would not serve non-kosher food to their mitzvah-observant guests, we may attribute their lack of Shabbat observance to an insufficient appreciation of the severity of the matter, family practice/influence, longstanding habit, etc, rather than a wholesale rejection of the Torah and its teachings.
There is, however, the problem of the permissibility of food prepared and served on Shabbat by one who is ignorant/neglectful of the relevant laws. Nevertheless IMO in this instance you do not need to imperil your friendship over this by cancelling your plans to join them for a Shabbat meal. Better to use it as an opportunity to subtly teach your hosts about hot plate, urn, slow cooker and other Shabbat appliances (if they do not make use of these already; hopefully they do). Even if their Shabbat observance remains flawed in some respects, they can/should uphold the laws relating to the kitchen on Shabbat. In this way they will hopefully progress toward an uncompromising commitment to Shabbat observance in every way.
Good luck and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Rashi Simon
I would not go so far as to say that one “should never ask someone about their kashrut level at home.” Much depends on the specifics of the individuals (or families) involved, their backgrounds and relationship to one another and to mitzvah observance generally. A person might say (and believe) that s/he keeps kosher at home, yet in reality her kosher standards, possibly due to ignorance or forgetfulness, are in fact very much wanting. By the same token, a prospective guest may adhere to kosher standards of a particularly rigorous nature. In such a case s/he may “apologise” and say that she only eats certain hechsherim or adheres to specific halachic standards (such as glatt/halak, halav Yisrael, or similar).
Having said this, it is still possible that one who eats out “vegetarian” may uphold a respectable standard of kashrut in his/her home. Still, I would urge particular caution WRT vegetables which are prone to infestation. In kosher outlets one can buy certain vegetables which have already been checked (“Bodek” brand or similar). One who is not skilled in checking for insects (and with the time and patience to do so) would do well to buy these and otherwise stick with “safe” produce options (cucumbers, tomatoes, most fruits; avoid strawberries). Is it time for another Kesher “Bug’s Life” how-to-check-for-insects workshop?
I hope this somewhat equivocal answer is nonetheless helpful. Feel free to get back to me if you would like to discuss this further.
Best wishes and hag same’ah
Rabbi Rashi Simon