Kashrus and the BT

As I said previously, as major as kashrus is, it was one of the last mitzvos I was able to embrace. The reason for that was that I couldn’t bear to hurt my mother. I was sure she would take my refusal to eat her food as a personal rejection.

My mother is not the only one who feels this way. I know a Stoliner family, all FFBs, whose daughter married a man from another Chassidus. The new husband was strict about eating meat from the hechsher of his Chassidus, so the mother had to buy the right meat if her daughter would be coming for Shabbos. The mother had no problem with this, but one of her friends asked in horror, “Aren’t you insulted?” If a frum woman, who ought to know that kashrus is simply a halachic issue and not an emotional one, still assumed her friend would feel insulted or rejected, how then would the average secular mother feel? After all, we mothers do put love into our cooking.

The way to bridge this gap is by being mentschlich. BTs cannot demand that their parents change their old ways to suit their new needs. Parents are masters of their home, and everything the BT does should be with this thought in mind.

I learned how to keep kosher within my mother’s non-kosher kitchen through intensive shiurim at my seminary. In addition to practical and detailed discussion about everything relating to food and cooking, we received advice about how to make the transition easier for our parents. One piece of advice was: Respectfully ask for exclusive use of one rear burner on the stovetop. By choosing only one rear burner, we would effectively show that we were not imposing our way on everybody.

Another piece of advice we received was to take responsibility for the family grocery shopping. This not only insured that we would get the kosher food we needed, it would relieve somebody of a chore. By being helpful, our observance of kashrus would no longer seem like an imposition to our parents.

There’s a wonderful book called Keeping Kosher in a Non-Kosher World by Rabbi Eliezer Wolff. It deals with the specific issue of keeping kosher in a non-kosher home, but the topic of eating out is covered as well.

Although the book is not well-known, I think it’s a must have for a BT. This link will take you to its actual contents, but I think the book version should be distributed at kiruv centers around the world. I also think it should be renamed Keeping Kosher in a Non-Kosher Home but that’s really a small thing.

Chabad also does wonderful work kashering people’s homes, but they can’t help when parents aren’t willing to make a complete change-over. But even BTs living with non-frum parents or roommates can find workable solutions. Keeping kosher in a non-kosher home is not simple, but it is possible. And I can say that with authority because I’ve done it.

10 comments on “Kashrus and the BT

  1. Kressel – I enjoy reading your posts very much and I am so glad that you brought up this topic! I know I will have to deal with this issue when I move back to my parents’ house after graduation, and while they are understanding, I also know their limits (or at least, their limits at the moment). I am looking for strategies that will help me maintain my level of kashrut while maintaining family harmony, and this post really helps! I will remember your suggestions! (and I will also look for the book you mentioned)

    Thanks again.

  2. I’ll second what David Linn was told – at the end of the year, Midreshet Rochel had a day long seminar on precisely the issue of dealing with family after a prolonged stay at yeshiva in E”Y. And I was shocked at what the rav speaking about kashrus said was allowed. But all (and ONLY) for shalom bayis with parents, when living there. Otherwise, research, ask, and plan in advance.

    If you need to ask for a separate meal anyway, be explicit about what is being requested – find out the local kosher caterers/restaurants in advance, and pick one that you find acceptable. If there are’t any, try to make a connection with a local orthodox shul or chabad house and ask for local suggestions.

    Don’t expect someone not frum to do the legwork and guess what’s acceptable.

    It’s the wrong impressions and assumptions that show up to cause grief, every time. Remove as many as you can. If someone volunteers to get you kosher food, check out the details first, don’t assume it’s OK.

  3. The only thing I can say is what a Rabbi said to me. To paraphrase, even though you shouldn’t embarrass anyone, that doesn’t mean eating blatantly and obviously treif to avoid it. Some people will be offended by you not eating their treif food and there is nothing you can do about it. Be polite: don’t insult people for thinking that something that is not kosher, is; but don’t eat it.
    I would avoid going to non-Orthodox simchas were treif or dubious food will be served unless your absence would be conspicious (i.e. your brother’s wedding, your sister’s kid’s bar mitzvah who lives in the same state, etc…) Closer relatives are usually more understanding about kashrus issues. If your relationship with the host is not so close that you don’t feel comfortable telling them that you need kosher food and making clear exactly what kosher is (or telling them not to get food for you, so they don’t waste money), then you probably shouldn’t go. I made the mistake of going to my mother’s cousin’s son bar mitzvah, and not only did I starve, but I’m sure that the hosts were not happy with paying for a “kosher meal” (vegitarian option from the same treif caterer) that got thrown out.

  4. David,

    If you have advice on how to deal with these things, or with “kosher style” families as you mentioned in your first comment, please let me know. I’m thinking of expanding this into an article for “Kashrus” magazine.

  5. Unfortunately, I have often been on the opposite side of this equation: willing to eat foods that are not my ideal standard, but being given things that are no standard at all. One relative made a great fanfare about serving me on glass plates, even though I pointed out that if the food was cold, it could be treif plates and I would have settled for paper. Turns out the food was bagels, lox and tuna from a non-kosher establishment. I didn’t eat it, and my host was suprised, shocked and offended. I didn’t see what option I had.

  6. I know someone like that, too. I was going to bring her up in the discussion about leniencies vs. stringincies. This girl decided to keep cholov Yisroel, but it wasn’t available in her town. She didn’t know how to cook either, so she was living on dry cereal, fruit, and peanut butter sandwiches. Some might say that’s a higher level, but I don’t think it made the Torah look better in her mother’s eyes.

  7. Excellent, excellent topic. Oftentimes the mistakes that are made at the beginning of the teshuvah process can make a tough road ahead even tougher. I think that one of the first subjects that should be tackled is how to deal with kashrut in your parents home. The idea of taking over the shopping is an excellent one. When I started keeping kosher, I never asked for my parents to foot the bill since they are cost-sensitive people, and as we all know, keeping kosher can be cost prohibitive.

    I remember a friend of mine telling me that when she came back from Israel, very zealous in her observance, her mother tried to be very accomodating. This mother, who deserves a Gold Metal BTW, covered every inch of her countertops (something that is not necessary BTW), and proceeded to buy only kosher (chalav yisrael too). She even went to buy her daughter a take out meal and researched the local kosher markets. Unfortunately, too much zeal can cause a lot of heartache, and the effort the mother put in went unappreciated out of extreme chumrah. After receiving a kosher sandwitch from a local kosher resturant, the daughter asked slews of questions on the resturant and refused to eat the sandwitch after finding out that the Vadd certified establishment did not require Pas Yirael bread. Needless to say, after this incident, the mother was a lot less enthusiastic to help and a distance that was unncessary was created.

    I think the lesson to be learned is that, whenever our parents go out of the way to help us keep kosher, we need to show appreciation. And, we need to know the halacha so that we can use it properly in sticky situations.

  8. Although there certainly a lot of chumras and fences in kashrus, that if not observed, makes eating in a less-than-ideal setting possible, but sometimes parents and other relatives expect one to partake in things that can not be considered kosher by almost any opinion. I have many relatives who consider “kosher style” to be kosher and actual kosher is “glatt kosher.” Usually, if someone makes a crack about food, “not being kosher enough for you,” it doesn’t mean the food is cholav stam and you keep cholav yisroel, it means the food is not kosher at all.

  9. I think it also important for a BT,especially one living at home with his/her parents, to have a good understanding of the difference between chumra (stringency) and the actual halacha. I remember asking a well-known posek certain questions about eating in my parents” house after returning from yeshiva. I was shocked at what seemed to me to be extreme leniencies. I don’t remember if it was this Rav himself or someone else who pointed out that there is a lof of chumrah in kashrus but kibud av v’em (honoring one’s parents) is not simply a chumrah but a halacha.

  10. A parent is usually more understanding about you not eating their food if they are totally secular and have no delusions that they are keeping kosher. Parents that think they keep kosher, but buy kosher meat but everything else is without a hechsher will usually take it harder.

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