How Do You Tell People They’re Doing Certain Mitzvos Improperly?

My children are good friends with children in the S family. Although the S family shared with us that they are relatively recent BT’s, their background is not widely known. Recently my 13 yo daughter mentioned to me that the S’s do not sift their flour. I suggested to her that she tell her friend that it is important for Kashrut. She agreed to tell her friend, but didn’t think the information would get to the mother this way. Some time after when my 11 yo son’s friend was visiting, I happened to find a bug while sifting flour. I showed them the bug, hoping he might tell his mother. But knowing 11 yo boys, I didn’t really count on it. A few days later while sifting flour I found a lot of worms! I rarely find anything when I sift, but there might have been remnants from that first buggy batch that grew in the interim. I was disgusted and a bit traumatized by this, and made sure to tell my daughter and her friend when they walked in shortly afterwards. I hope that now the information will make it back to the S parents, although I am still doubtful.

But the incident has left me pondering how to handle telling fellow BT’s if they are missing important Mitzvot. I’m sure that Mrs. S would sift her flour if she knew that it was a Kashrut issue. But should I even approach her about it? And if so, how? I can’t think of a way to bring this up in casual conversation, especially because we are not really friends. Things like this don’t just come up in conversation. How have other people handled such situations? How would you want to be approached if you were on the other side of it?

– Chana

8 comments on “How Do You Tell People They’re Doing Certain Mitzvos Improperly?

  1. ttfb — yes I live in Israel. Does sifting flour only apply here?

    Bob, I would send information via children because the information got to me in the first place via children (13yo’s). I am not comfortable addressing this issue with her without her sharing it with me first directly.

    Actually, I brought up the issue because I think that it is interesting as a general issue (not specifically about sifting flour). In general, if we know that someone is not doing a Mitzvah only because of lack of knowledge, should we tell them about the Mitzvah? And if so, how?

    Devra, you made some good points. To generalize, we should first give the benefit of the doubt that the information we have is incorrect. We should also consider that they may be relying on a Halachik opinion that we are unaware of. And only with these in mind should we even consider bringing it up — and when we do, we would do it without necessarily making our goal obvious.

    A postscript: just today, I found another bug in my flour! Really, it is very unusual for me to find bugs in flour. I took advantage of the situation and called up my daughter, who was sleeping over at the S’s house. I told her about the bug, and she got appropriately grossed out. Then I suggested that she could pass on the information. She laughed, and said, “I figured you would say that.”

  2. 1. Why send messages via children to begin with? Who knows what gets through?

    2. This is a matter of information and not rebuke, anyway. Rebuke is for someone who knows the rules but flouts them.

    3. If you know a good brand or two that don’t need sifting, you can think about a way to bring that to Mrs. S’ attention as friendly, helpful advice.

  3. I like Larry’s response.

    Of course we need to know the halachos of Tochacha (rebuke), especially the fact that it’s result oriented.

    What the Shulchan Aruch will not deal with is all the potential ways to get results in different situations. This is why it is very helpful to discuss ways that have worked or might work.

  4. I wouldn’t put it to them in terms of ‘you are violating kashrut because you don’t sift your flour’. Rather try to reveal what your practice is, and why, in a way that isn’t an implicit or explicit reproach to them. In your case I might suggest you tell Mrs. S about your experience and ask her if she knows anything about pre-sifted flour. That way she picks up the information without it being a reference to her practices at all.

    Given you don’t have much contact with Mrs. S, you may have to work a bit to find a way to pass that along. Still, I think this approach is more likely to get people to improve their practices than straightforward rebuke is. At least, it works that way for me.

  5. The Shulchan Aruch teaches us how to reprimand our fellow. It’s worth taking the time out to learn, for it is not only a social relations question – it’s also a halacha.

  6. Obviously this is a toughie. But the first question I would ask is: How does your daughter KNOW they don’t sift their flour?

    Then I would consider other things. I don’t know where you live but in Israel you can buy presifted flour. And some poskim hold that if the flour was kept under refrigeration within 24 hours after grinding you don’t HAVE to sift. And some people hold that brands can have a chazaka of being clean.

    Finally, if you are absolutely sure that they are not sifting flour that needs sifting, I might try this: if you are friendly enough with Mrs S, suggest that you would like to do a kashrut chevruta and at some point (not off the bat) slip in the halachot of flour. Or invite Mrs S over for coffee, and whoops! You “suddenly” remember that you have to sift your flour now or you won’t have it later when you need it. Or just mention how grossed out you were when you sifted your flour and found all those worms!

    Good luck!

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