Thursday, April 22, 2010

Office Issues

Keeping kosher is way more difficult to do with Jews than it is with non-Jews. If you are eating a meal with non-Jews and they ask, "Why aren't you eating?" you can reply, "Well, I'm a religious Jew and I keep kosher and this food is not kosher." Most people have heard of Kosher even if they don't know exactly what it means. As one person once asked me, "Is your food blessed by Rabbis?" The first time I heard that one I was like, "What? No. That's not what Kosher means." Many Americans are very interested in diversity and learning about different religions so the practice of keeping kosher is fascinating.

When it comes to non-religious Jews, however, things get a little more complicated. I work in an office that is mostly non-religious Jews. There are some non-Jews and there are a few other religious Jews, but we are the minority. Today my department had a lunch meeting and they ordered food from a restaurant. I knew about this meeting for a little while, but didn't want to ask where they were ordering food from because I didn't want them to order special food just for me. Also, there is one guy in my department who is also religious who has been there much longer than I have, so I figured there was a chance that they would be ordering kosher food anyway. The last time we had a lunch we went to a restaurant outside of the office which was Kosher.

I was one of the first ones to arrive at the meeting, since I am a fairly on-time person and for some reason I don't run on "Jewish time," the special time zone that the rest of the Jewish world runs on, that apparently includes non-religious Jews as well. There were a few other people there including the religious guy and I casually asked where the food was from, trying my best to appear simply curious, not as though it would impact me in any way. They of course figured out that I was asking to find out if it was Kosher. The problem is when people insist, "it's kosher, it's kosher!" and have no basis for that. They mentioned the name of the store it came from, which was a place I have never heard of at all.

Upon seeing my hesitation, someone added that the religious guy was OK eating the food. I found this was true when I spoke to him, but unfortunately what he said did not do anything to reassure me, and in fact what he told me made me more likely to believe that the place did not have an acceptable kashrut certification. He held that the food was OK, but made sure to tell me that I shouldn't rely only on the fact that he said it was OK. I felt it would not be appropriate to leave and run back to my computer to look up whether that particular establishment was up to my standards, so I simply decided not to eat the food to be on the safe side.

This would not have been a difficult decision (the food wasn't that tempting), except that like I mentioned, most people in my company are Jewish, so the women have the "Jewish Mother" syndrome. Each person had to individually ask me, "Why aren't you eating?" "Don't you want to eat something?" I couldn't say that the food wasn't kosher, since they would have pointed to the religious guy and said, "Well, he's eating it, it is kosher!" So instead I was stuck hemming and hawing and saying, "Oh, um, it's OK, really, um, don't worry about it." I couldn't even use the excuse that I usually use when we have cake for birthdays, that I'm on a diet. And in my head I always think, "Yeah. The kosher diet..."

Despite the fact that the entire situation made me uncomfortable, (because I would have rather explained my beliefs, which is easy, but I didn't want to embarrass the religious guy), I walked out of the situation relieved. I could have easily given in and said, "Well, he's eating it." I could have rationalized, "Well, I could just eat the fruit/vegetables." Instead I decided to stand my ground and say "Unless I'm sure, I'm not going to eat it." After the meeting I looked up the restaurant online and could not find a website that listed it as a kosher restaurant. It said "kosher" on the restaurant's website, but did not say who was giving it hashgacha, as most restaurants do. And it was equally unclear if all of their chains were kosher or only certain locations. The only thing I hope is that I didn't give off any "holier than thou" vibes to the religious guy and that I didn't make him feel bad eating food which he thought was acceptable (which it very well may be, just as far as my research goes it was not), simply because I was not eating it.


  1. I'm always being offered food by customers, some of whom I don't want to know I keep kosher, I usually make up an excuse about eating healthy or having just ate, but it can be difficult. A few times they've offered me food saying "don't worry, it's kosher", even when it's not. I've also experienced the "he's jewish and he's eating it" thing, that's even harder, but it sounds like you handled it well.

  2. Yeah, the problem with excuses is when you use them to often- "why are you always full?" or if it's healthy food then you can't use that. one.

    Just curious- why don't you want them to know that you keep kosher?

  3. Well, it's easier for me, b/c they don't see me most of the day so they don't know what I eat.

    Personally, I wish I could tell them that I keep kosher and in a larger sense, that I'm "orthodox". What I mean is that I can't tell them, there is good reason to believe that we would lose this customer (our most important customer) if they knew. I can't tell you all the details, but this story goes back over 25 years (before I was even born) and the decision was made by people much more qualified to make such decisions than me.

  4. I always tell people that I keep a very strict standard of Kosher and only eat from certain restaurants. I would advise you to do the same. The people who order the food, rather you be comfortable at a lunch meeting than be left out. It is not a real bother (at least in NYC) to order from Kosher Delight/Deluxe or somewhere else. Also, if you don't speak up relatively early, then for most events you will be left with nothing - and you really don't want that. In fact, you will come to resent the company after a while.
    As for the other guy, simply say that orthodox people have different standards and yours is so and so. Not better but different.

  5. BJG- That sounds complicated.

    Anonymous- I would have spoken up, but I didn't want them to order special food just for me, because I would have felt bad. In terms of the Jewish guy, I didn't want to say I had a different standard because I didn't want to offend him by possibly implying that his standards aren't good enough. Also, I'm not sure they would have understood. "Kosher is kosher, no?"

  6. SternGrad,
    If we change some of the pertinent details, this post could have easily been written by me. I hate when this happens and I just want to yell at the other religious person, "WHY ARE YOU EATING THIS TREIF?! I know where you went to yeshiva and I know your parents, nobody would approve of you eating this."

  7. HZ- I know what you mean. In this case the food wasn't really treif, that was what made it complicated. The restaurant had some sort of Hashgacha, I just wasn't sure if I held by it or not.

  8. I was the 10:26 Anon -

    I have worked for 5 years and gone to meetings with clients and have come to the following conclusions: 1) Don't feel bad about getting kosher food when you can. There will be plenty of times that you go somewhere and kosher food is not an option. You will then be sitting in some non-kosher restaurant, with your co-workers or a client not eating anything while everyone else is eating delicious food and this being the one time that budget was not an issue. If you are in your office, you should always get your food. Again if you don't, then you will be stuck for a long time at this company in meetings where you don't eat anything.
    Clearly, his standards are not good enough for you, so why should you suffer? Also, by not eating, you really haven't accomplished much. People will notice and ask why. Worse, they may be to polite to ask you and ask the other guy! In any event, you will be forced to confront this issue and might as well come out ahead.
    What happens if your company has a more formal annual dinner or some bigger event where everyone is seated formally. Will you not eat there either?
    If people ask, the answer is no! Kosher, like everything else in life, has different standards and your background dictates that you maintain a different, not higher, standard.

  9. Thanks for the advice. I will see what I can do next time. Last time I went out to eat with my company we went some place kosher because the other guy requested it. I was naive to think that just because it wasn't a problem last time, it wouldn't be a problem this time, too.

  10. I know what you mean when people insist "it's kosher, it's kosher!" I go through this with my relatives for years already.

    Instead I decided to stand my ground and say "Unless I'm sure, I'm not going to eat it."
    Thumbs up! Good for you. Really!

    I don't think you gave off the "holier than thou" vibe...especially because the religious guy made sure to tell you not to rely on him.

  11. Midrash Rabah, Parshat Shemini, 13:3

    G_d will make a feast for His servants, the righteous. All those who did NOT eat forbidden meats will merit it.
    To receive quick quotes from Jewish Torah books, go to:

  12. New Diet Taps into Pioneering Plan to Help Dieters Get Rid Of 12-23 Pounds within Just 21 Days!


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