Practical Halacha for Pluaralists

I was invited to eat at a friend’s apartment last Friday night. I have been really busy lately, and haven’t been around much, but this weekend I happened to be free. I had not seen this particular friend, and really wanted to spend some much needed time catching up with her.

However, there were few potential problems with this meal:

1. While they consider themselves “kosher”, she and the rest of her apartment mates actually keep “kosher style”, in which they do not check for hechserim, but will not eat any non-kosher meat, will not eat anything that mixes meat and milk (though they will eat non-hechshered cheese-apparently the mixing of renerts with curd isn’t enough basar v’chalav for them), and will avoid any products with xanthan gum listed in the ingredients.

2. Both the door to enter her building and the door to enter her apartment require a electronic swipe card.

3. She lives on the 10th floor of her building

4. She is what I call “Zachor Shabbat”. While she does keep Shabbat as a day of rest, she will occasionally do things that Shomer Shabbat Jews will avoid, such as turning off and on lights, and turning off and on ovens.

I wanted to eat with her, and I did not want to do anything not acceptable by Orthodox Jewish halacha.

Some would suggest avoiding the situation all together. One friend said, “This is why alot of people have the custom not to eat anything cooked by people who are non-Shomer Shabbat.” It’s just not worth it, they’d say. You never know what could happen. A million things could go wrong in a situation like that. Someone who doesn’t follow the halacha isn’t going to be as careful as someone who does.

First off, that last statement is just not true. I’ve seen plenty of “Orthodox”, “Observant” people who “accidentally” flip on lights that they forgot to set before Shabbat, or pick out all the tomatoes from their salad because, well, tomatoes taste slimey and they just get in the way. It’s not that all Orthodox people aren’t careful, it’s just that Orthodoxy does not by definition include careful attention to all details of halacha as part of it’s mission statement of sorts. And many times, it’s the non observant people that will go above and beyond the call of “hostess duty” in order to make their guests feel more comfortable.

Let me share what happened in this particular case:

She asked me to take her shopping a few days before Shabbat. Because I was with her, I could say things like “Does your salad dressing at home have a hechsher on it?” She wanted to do everything she could in order to make me comfortable eating at her home, and she was aware that our standards of kashrut are different. I never put it as “I keep kosher and you don’t”, though in my mind I regard her apartment as non-kosher, but I say “you and I have different standards of kashrut.” Not once has she gotten offended by this. (She and I are close enough that she would tell me, or at least I’d be able to tell by her facial rections.)

I asked her if I could come over Thursday night to help her cook. In this, I accomplished two goals. First off, I got to spend some quality time with her, while also reducing the amount of time needed to actually cook the meal. Second, I could serve as the unofficial mashgiach. She had already agreed to cook things in disposable pans covered with two layers of foil, and when she needed to cook meatballs in a pot, I told her she could borrow one from me.

Actually getting into her apartment required some thought. One of her roomates was not planning on going to services, so we asked her if she wouldn’t mind staying in the apartment until we got there, and therefore she could let us in the door.

Getting into the building was a little trickier. We waited until other people went into the building, and followed behind them. The biggest problem was getting up the 10 flights. I didn’t mind walking the steps (and as it turned out, neither did 6 out of the 10 others who were with me), but the door to the steps is locked at the first floor, for security purposes. So, my friend told me what she was going to do was go up in the elevator and come down and open the door for us. I wasn’t a hundred percent comfortable with that, until someone pointed out that we are in no way asking her to do melacha. She has to go up to her apartment anyway. Now, she could leave her apartment, walk down the stairs, open the door for us, and then walk back up the stairs with us. Or she, of her own free will, can take whatever combination of elevator and stairs she wanted. Turns out, she took the elevator to the second floor, walked down to the first floor, and then walked back up with us to the tenth. It was an experience.

My point in telling over this whole story is that I could have just said, “No, thank you. It sounds great but I’ll be unable to come.” But instead, I chose to make it work. In regards to Michael Broyde, I’d like to say that, with all due respect, you’re wrong. Orthodoxy can in fact be supportive of and encourage pluralism. It’s what makes this religion great.

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