Finding a Solution To Kosher Dilemmas

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Dear Miriam,

We keep a kosher kitchen. Our good friends (who have a similar level of religious observance) have told us they have a kosher kitchen, too. Based on that representation, we’ve previously done potlucks where they come over and contribute to dinner by bringing something. Recently, we were at their house and noticed they had products we wouldn’t use in our kitchen. We are now uncomfortable with them bringing food to our house to use on our dishes. They’re coming over soon and insisting on bringing something. We’ve tried to tell them not to bother, to no avail. We don’t want to offend them, but we are worried they will be upset/feel bad if we tell them the truth. They like cooking, so we can’t just say “go buy a dessert or bring fruit.” How do we navigate this?


Complicated by Kashrut


Dear Complicated,

Imagine you ask a friend, “Do you like movies?” and they say yes. Great, right? You invite them over and put on a black-and-white screwball comedy, or a horror movie, or a musical, or something animated. In response to being presented with any of those genres, your friend might recoil, or make a face, or laugh and say, “Well I like movies, but not that kind of movie!” Keeping kosher for most American Jews outside of Orthodox settings is kind of the same way. You may have heard the phrase, “two Jews, three opinions?” Well, two Jews keeping kosher, three definitions of what that means. 

While I so appreciate that you took your friends at their word the first time around, in actuality, you needed to have asked many specific follow-up questions before surmising that “keeping a kosher kitchen” meant the same thing for your two households. People may have different standards on specific products for all kinds of reasons, none of which you’ll know without further discussion.

Since this would be a change in your shared eating habits, and since it’s coming solely from you, I suggest texting your friend and saying, “We’ve decided we want to be a lot more strict in how we keep kosher in our house. Unfortunately for our shared potlucks, that means not putting food cooked in other people’s kitchens on our dishes anymore. Thanks for understanding! I really look forward to seeing you next week. No need to bring anything but yourselves.” 

Other less final options could include using disposables when they come over, ordering the complete meal from a kosher restaurant and telling them you wanted a break from cooking, or having them bring a home-cooked dessert and, since it’s cold, accepting that it could touch your dishes (since there are different rules around contamination for cold vs hot contact). These options probably just delay the more difficult conversation for another time but could offer a short-term solution. 

Or, since these are good friends, opt for the truth, however uncomfortable it may be. “I realized recently that way back when we talked about keeping kosher kitchens, we didn’t really discuss what that meant. Before the next time we bring food over to each other’s houses, can we spend some time making sure that our kashrut expectations match? Whatever you choose to do in your house is great by us, and we totally respect your choices, we just realize we may have different definitions, and it would be helpful to clarify.” You may even realize that there are some things you’re more strict about, and some things that they are. The possible variations, for better or worse, are endless.

The final option I’ll offer is letting your friends be “grandfathered in” to your own household’s kashrut. This is not a perfect solution, and I know many people who would not consider this an option at all. Nonetheless, these are good friends, their food has already been on your plates, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings or ruin your friendship. Before you allow someone new to bring food over, you’ll be equipped to ask the right questions, but for now, with these already-established eating partners, you could ignore what you think you saw in their house, and move ahead with dinner. 

Be well,