Monday, December 10, 2007

Kosher or not?

We spent the weekend in Vancouver, B.C. celebrating Chanukkah with the in-laws. My Mother-In-Law made the most delicious latkes I've had in years. She also served a wonderful brisket on the side, which sparked an interesting question for me. If she served tofu, dairy-free sour cream with it, would it be considered kosher? I struggle with the ruling against mixing chicken and dairy, because the explanations I've received seem solely based on perceptions of what you are eating.

This question brought some interesting, varying answers. They were:

1. A Chabad Rabbi told me that it would be kosher to serve dairy-free sour cream with the latkes and brisket, as long as *everyone* knows that there was no dairy.

2. My good friend Yonah (a Chassidic Rabbi) said that the meal itself is kosher, but that the mixture would be forbidden under the law of Maris Ayin, the law against misleading people. He seemed open to the idea that, if everyone was informed of the dairy-free content, then it would be permissable.

3. My husband said the prohibition comes more from how it affects the community. Most Americans would believe, "If I am eating something kosher, what does it matter what someone else thinks?" The laws were developed in a different society, however. It was (is) a Jew's responsibility to help keep his community members in touch with the mitzvot. So, if a community member sees you eating a cheeseburger (even if it is soy cheese), you are putting them in an uncomfortable position to feel like they have to correct you. If they did correct you, and they realize they were wrong, you just set them up for an embarrassing situation. Since it is forbidden to embarrass someone, you avoid even the perception of eating non-kosher food.

These varying answers are so interesting, and point to the diversity of opinions on this topic. What do you think?


johnschochet said...

It's perfectly kosher, especially if everyone knows the dairy isn't real. Whether you have moral qualms about eating something designed to taste unkosher is another issue, but that doesn't make it unkosher. If something complies with the law but feels wrong to you, there's no reason you have to do it. Eat applesauce with your latkes and brisket, and save the sour cream for a latke-only meal the next day.

Leah in Chicago said...

This is a hard one for me. The challenge comes from a friend who grew up separating meat and dairy (including poultry)but then tried soy cheese on her turkey sandwich. That's kosher, but she felt really weird about it.

I'm not a big fan of dairy-free dairy and would rather go with the Apple Sauce, saving the real sour cream for the next day.

rivster said...

Just because we have figured out clever ways to get around the laws doesn't mean that should be our course of action! I tend to agree with Rabbi Yonah about appearance. Sour cream is dairy and even if it's not, it looks dairy. And acts dairy.