Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Chassid In The Workplace Asks For Advice

(Picture courtesy of

Received today via e-mail:

I know you deal with this often, so I wonder what works for you:

Where I work, my coworkers often bring food to work for everyone (when they have a child, or when someone is leaving for greener pastures, etc). Out of consideration for the frum people, they often go to the trouble to get kosher food.... however, the usually get cholov stam or food from a "kosher" place that hasn't got a hashgocha that I ever heard of.

Some of the more modern guys might eat it, but there are a couple of us that won't.

What do you say in these situations? I dont want them to be insulted, so I make light of it - and they dont get outwardly upset at all... but I dunno what they're really thinking. What I cant understand is why they don't ask beforehand, but in any case what do you usually say?

A Simple Jew answers:

The fact they don't ask beforehand is a big issue and this is what I faced with my brother-in-law recently at the anniversary brunch.

The issue you raise is a real problem because for the non-observant Jew or for the non-Jew, when something is kosher, it is kosher. They simply don't understand gradations of kashrus. If you try to explain Pas Yisroel or Cholov Yisroel you often come across sounding like a Martian and you get a glazed-over expression in response.

To be quite honest, I do not have this problem in my office since I am the only Jew who keeps kosher and people generally know that I will not touch 99.9% of what they bring in. The only thing I eat is when I see the box with a clearly labeled hechsher.....that, or sodas like Coke.

I am sorry that I could not be of more help.

Request For Reader Feedback - How would you answer?


At October 18, 2006 at 11:40:00 AM EDT, Blogger Unknown said...

Depending on the relationship, you could explain that kosher could have different connotations. Perhaps explaining that you're "strictly kosher" would help, perhaps explaining that while the food may contain only items that would normally be kosher, that's not enough for your level of observance... teach basic symbols (OU, Star-K, et al). This is good if it's something that might come up often - better they understand once than be consistently insulted that people won't even eat the "kosher" food.

If it's a one-time thing, though, saying you can't eat right then might work.

Here's a trickier one: They get real kosher cake from a place such as... My Most Favorite. Meanwhile, maybe they had gotten Mendy's for everyone for lunch a couple hours earlier. Try explaining that one! :)

At October 18, 2006 at 12:41:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the best would be to say not to buy any food for you anymore, without your detailed request, and period. This way such situations will be avoided.

At October 18, 2006 at 12:42:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I already wrote before, that trying to pretend - is bad, because it would never help to solve such things in the future.

At October 18, 2006 at 12:50:00 PM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I have dealt with this issue many times (tangential blog entry here) because until very recently Milwaukee had no real "kosher" restaurant for people to buy food for me. However there were several "Kosher-style" delis that non-ortho"docs" were sending the drug reps to.

So they'd bring me corned beef sandwiches from Benjis (where ham and cheese is on the menu) or, what really gets me--bagels from Einsteins which is NOT kosher here and I'd sit there and smile at them.

The problem you describe is even more hairy, because of the various gradations of kashruth and people's adherence to various proprietary hechsherim--satmer shchita, chol yisroel, etc.

Hear me now and believe me later: nobody, but NOBODY will understand that, even other orthodox Jews. In fact, I personally have issues with this being very devisive for our people.

Be that as it may, my advice is this:

Round up all the "kosher" employees and have a little meeting. Decide on a list of places that is acceptible to ALL of you (a "highest common denominator", if you will). Then circulate the list to the company or whomever is catering for your company.

End of problem.

At October 18, 2006 at 1:14:00 PM EDT, Blogger FrumWithQuestions said...

I would just ask for them to order a salad or something to get around it or just eat something before work and pretend that I am not hungry. Although it is not good to fake it sometimes you really have no choice.

At October 18, 2006 at 1:21:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Very tricky question, b/c of the cholov yisroel issue. If it happened to me, I'd just say, "Thanks, but, as you know, I keep kosher, and I'm very careful about which kosher symbols I eat. It's driving my spouse crazy. We hardly have anything to eat in our pantry".

At October 18, 2006 at 1:22:00 PM EDT, Blogger Ahuva said...

I agree with PsychoToddler. It took several conversations over a period of weeks to get a close friend of mine to understand that there wasn't some Pope-like authority that owned all the "kosher symbols" and made sure that no one could use them unless they were really kosher. She thought it was "snobby" of me to say that I would eat some hechshers and not others because, after all, they're all kosher right? The symbol proves it! Wouldn't "they" take away the kosher symbol if they weren't really following the laws? (aarraag)

I don't intend to attempt the cholov yisrael/cholov stam conversation. Ever. It would just be impossible to explain.

But don't fake it if there's any alternative... that will just make it that much more difficult for the next frum person they encounter.

At October 18, 2006 at 1:56:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's what I usually say....

"I'm sorry, I really appreciate you trying but I'm somewhat of a fanatic about these things. Because of that my religious position requires that I only eat the super-duper-extra-kosher stuff. Fortunately, that's readily available in our area at xxxxx location or xxxxxx well know products. If you're able to get those for us fanatics, that would be great. If not, hey, we really appreciate your efforts in considering kosher at all! Thanks!"

By self-labeling as someone really unusual, it puts the onus of the position on me and makes them perfectly comfortable in saying no. Yet it also opens the door to accomodation if they want. Sometimes I tone down the "super-duper" and use "extra kosher", "extra stringent kosher", "extreme kosher", then I point to my big black kippah and beard and say, "hey, you'd never guess that I'd be fanatical, right?" That always gets a smile.

At October 18, 2006 at 2:13:00 PM EDT, Blogger Bob Miller said...

Many retail and industrial products come in a range of different grades. Some have higher quality or better documentation and some have less. Some customers want or need top of the line products, and some can get by with less. Some people need food that has never been in the same plant with a peanut.

In this context, it shouldn't be too challenging to explain gradations of kashrus supervision, and how some levels of supervision are less universally accepted than others.

At October 18, 2006 at 2:45:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> She thought it was "snobby" of me to say that I would eat some hechshers and
> not others because, after all, they're all kosher right? The symbol proves it!
> Wouldn't "they" take away the kosher symbol if they weren't really following the laws? (aarraag)

For such people, a good answer is - "isn't it snobby to go to a good doctor? Aren't they all graduated from doctor school after all and have a doctor diploma on the wall? The diploma proves it!"

At October 18, 2006 at 2:56:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So many great answers! There's nothing for me to say (but I especially agree with Akiva...)

A Yid:

At October 18, 2006 at 3:24:00 PM EDT, Blogger Judah HaKohain said...

May I chime in? Simply thank them but refuse. Why is it such a big deal? If you were Vegan and they brought something made from eggs or dairy, etc. they would understand if you didn't eat it. It raises your neshoma to stick to your beliefs politely but firmly. People will respect you more, though it may (probably will) be uncomfortable for the moment.

I myself work in a very "mean" industry. Most Yidden I work with came in to work on Yom Kippur and the boss catered in pork ribs in honor of my "absence." Did it hurt? Yes. Do I regret anything? No. My conscious is clear and I have more of a connection to Hashem because of it.

May Hashem bless you every time you forgo an earthly pleasure with an immeasurable bounty in the next world!

At October 18, 2006 at 4:07:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Judah Hakohain. It shouldn't be such a big deal.
I myself face a similar issue but davka with the frummest people! I'm on a pretty strict diet (I would only eat natural food (no commertial food, sugar, commertial oil, spices, meat etc.) which basically excludes most food prepared in frum jewish homes. So when we're invited out I tell them right away that I'm on a diet, and if they don't mind, I'll bring some of my own bread and peanut butter. If they insist, I tell them they could make me a green salad with nothing on it. Then during the meal they ask me all questions about it with me ending up sometimes giving a whole class on nutrition! It can actually be quite fun.
A simple (but difficult) suggestion: by cutting out junk food from your diet (something frum jews should be doing anyway - forget about "ushmartem lnafshotechem", I think it's also an issue of being an am kadosh) you could avoid many of these issues.

At October 18, 2006 at 6:34:00 PM EDT, Blogger Mottel said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At October 18, 2006 at 7:20:00 PM EDT, Blogger Mottel said...

So many good ideas have already been given here, but to add my two Grosze and perhaps synthesize some of the ideas already brought here . . .
I would first follow PsychoToddler's approach by speaking to the other religious workers and working out some common standards for future events
When speaking to colleagues, however, about your level of kashrus, be frank.
Tell them that kosher food effects one's spiritual sensitivity and since it is your desire to remain at the highest, most refined level possible, you are very scrupulous in your standards -just like an athlete needs special diet to stay fit.

At October 18, 2006 at 7:41:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beside the kosher issue, usually the type of food most people order-in is not to my taste or ability to digest. Most take-out food is so bad for you, that it is a real Bracha to have to say

"No thank you, I need to follow my own diet. You enjoy and I'll eat what I brought."

With all the myriad nations behind our take-out counters, it is better not to eat that food. The quality of cleanliness in the myriad nations does not come up to the standards that we assume the American restaurants/take-out establishments were or are holding by.

I usually explain why I cannot eat what "they" ordered. There is always an item or two that can be used to support your particular kosher strictness. Eventually they will understand, and it will be a KIDDUSH HASHEM that you are strong in your observance. Believe me, even if they wince, they are paying attention and take it all in. Be straight and honest. In time they won't order for you, or they will come beforehand to ask you. They will come to respect you greatly, and even come to ask your advice on occasion.

You could request that they let you know the day before, and you would make sure to be prepared to join them - that is, IF YOU INDEED EAT AT THE SAME TABLE WITH THEM?

At October 18, 2006 at 8:15:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am on the other side of this issue. My goal is making everyone comfortable. My brother is observant and I am not. When I host a family function I make sure that all that is served is kosher to his standards, we use paper and plastic etc. It's no skin off my nose to respect his beliefs. Non Jews who attend don't even know they are having a kosher meal.

At October 18, 2006 at 9:47:00 PM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Mike, you may not be observant, but you are a real mentch.

At October 19, 2006 at 2:25:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jack Steiner said...

I don't have a good answer to share, but wanted to comment. Politics are everywhere. It is more than a little frustrating.

At October 19, 2006 at 11:37:00 AM EDT, Blogger Mrs. Balabusta said...

I have two things to add:

The first is that I am the only Jew where I work, and after 3 years people understand that I only eat food I bring from home. Also in my department we have a vegetarian and some who are lactose intolerant. I am just a horse of a different color, you could say.

Secondly, what bother's me more is when we have staff meetings that include lunch off campus at a restaurant that is treif. For 2 years I went along with it, but now I have decided that I am so uncomfortable that I won't do it anymore. Does it have reprecussions at work? Yes. Can I live with it? Uh huh.

It's sort of strange, but people respect the idea of standing up for your principals, even if they think you're crazy.

At October 19, 2006 at 12:23:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It took them 3 years to understand? Other things (for example their money loss) they might understand instantly.

I just don't go to such "stuff meetings". Most of them are informal anyway. Formal meetings in the place where I work are never held with food, and warning is given in advance - don't bring any food at all.

At October 20, 2006 at 6:55:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also don't go to the staff meetings. And if they fire me - good, I'll have one more reason to move to Eretz Yisroel!


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