Working with נכרים

Last Friday, I met up for coffee with an alumnus of mine. She is also the Head tutor for a subject I teach. Even though she has spoken to me hundreds of times, she had never raised these issues on her mind, even though we are in close contact. She already knew that I only eat Kosher (we had coffee at Glicks) and she knew that I was uncontactable on Friday afternoons until Motzei Shabbos, and lots more. I’ve had dinner with her and her boy friend, mother and grandmother, and yet, she hadn’t raised these issues about Judaism until now. I’ve known her for about ten years, and vividly recall giving her a scholarship in New Delhi, many moons ago.

One evening, we spent an hour planning the tutorial sessions she was going to run, and I drove her home on my way home from University. Suddenly, she opened up with a few issues that had been playing on her mind.

  1. Why is it that when Jews eat with us at a function or restaurant and they order their own food, that they sit at a different table, or at a distance from the rest of us.
    I wasn’t sure what the circumstances were, but I noted that there was no reason that I could think of precluding a Jew eating at the table with everyone else. I explained that sometimes it was a little embarassing when one’s food arrived in a double-sealed container that was messy to remove, but other than this, I was mystified.

    More to the point (and I didn’t relay this thought) such behaviour creates an uunecessary enmity between the Jew and נכרי. They might think we are elitist. חז”ל certainly didn’t encourage social fraternising, as witnessed by Halachos such as סתם יינם, בישול עכו”ם and more, however, if one is in a work environment and such interaction is important, well … you’re either there and behave like a mench, or change jobs! Presumably, if the Jew had already agreed to eat special meals, the issue of מראית עין was not extant, especially according to contemporary Poskim. If their Rov had paskened that they should eat separately, it would seem that any benefit keeping כשרות is counterbalanced by unecessary enmity. It isn’t always possible to miss important lunches, and I’d urge people to carefully consider the ramifications of their behaviour.

  2. She knew that I always left early on a Friday and so did this fellow-employee. She asked why her fellow Jewish workmate was seen having a drink on a Friday afternoon when he should have been home for Sabbath. I explained that it was probably summer time when Sabbath comes in later.

    Now, although there is an איסור to teach Torah to נכרים, I think it’s a good idea to explain to fellow employees (let alone one’s boss) the mechanics of when Shabbos starts. Like many of us, I am in a mad rush, especially in Winter, to finish work and jump inתו the shower just before Shabbos. My fellow workmates know all about me leaving for Shabbos, and in Summer, they will often say when passing my office, “don’t you have to be leaving now.” They even correct themselves and note that sunset is later in Summer. It’s important not to be too precious about our rules. Explain them, adhere to them, and people will respect you. Take the time to do so. If you do, questions like the above will not arise.

  3. Once the Jewish employee received their Kosher meal without eating implements. This can happen and is embarassing. It’s probably happened to most of us. Thankfully, for me, Unger’s Catering (shameless plug) always provide implements, and metal ones at that. The employee was lucky as there was an IGA across the road and they ducked out and bought plastic knives and forks. The non-Jews were bemused, however, because he was drinking Coke from a glass. They asked him why he used the glass and didn’t use a knife and fork. He apparently mumbled that he was a Rabbi and had special rules.

    Again, it’s not too difficult to explain the difference. People can understand absorption. Unfortunately, rather than doing so, the Jew advised his fellow work mates that he had special strict rules. This only made matters worse. My alumnus countered that she was a Priest (Brahman), and she also had rules (vegetarian) but what made him different to other religious Jews. They started asking him which Temple he presided over, and it became uncomfortable. They felt he was a strange fraud.

    There is no need to obfuscate. Be clear, precise, and do your best to explain. They even scoffed at his Rabbinic claim by stating (presumably because he had told them) that he had studied laws which may have been unrelated to his behaviour.

  4. On birthdays, the company had the nice practice of buying a cake and celebrating an employees special day. This is quite common. When such a celebration happens in my workplace, I come to the “round table” event where they sing Happy Birthday, but I don’t eat the cake. These days, my fellow work mates say “Have some cake, and then correct themselves with “Oh yeah, you only eat Kosher cake”, and sometimes they ask, “what can be non-kosher in a cake”. There are even nice side effects. I regularly inform one staff member who is lactose intolerant about products which are pareve.

    Unfortunately, this Jew not only organised a Kosher cake for his birthday (which is, of course, perfectly reasonable) he asked everyone how it compared, and they responded “it tastes nice”. He then approached the person responsible for overall cake purchases in the company and asked whether perhaps they could always buy Kosher cakes. I certainly wouldn’t do that, however, it got worse. He noted that he could get a “good deal” for the company because it was his relative who actually made the cake, and she was also able to cater in-house for all manner of event. This left a very bad taste. He didn’t realise it at the time, but other employees heard about this shameless pursuit of business for one of his family members and were unimpressed/span>;;;

The end result is that many of us are also looked upon as being somewhat strange(r) and worse, opportunistic. Before you counter that there is always at least one person who will “muck up” and there’s not much we can do about it, I know the person involved in this case. He’s no fool. He is quite capable of explaining and able to act in a proper and Mentchlich manner. I would rather not have to defend the rest of us and say that this person acted beyond the pale of normal decency.

My appeal, therefore, is to please be careful. We attract enough attention when we are visibly Jewish and observant. This is something חז”ל intended. At the same time, when we do so, it should be an opportunity to act in a manner which promotes the true essence of our religion and its moral standards.

We need to all try harder, me included, to remember that we are a דוגמא and how we conduct ourselves can be קידוש שם שמים, or חס ושלום the opposite.

And no, I’m not inviting others to tell me more horror stories, let alone name anyone.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

17 thoughts on “Working with נכרים”

  1. Do we really always want to promote “the true essence of our religion and its moral values”?

    What happens if we are asked why all beer is kosher, but why wine has different rules, where the real reason is because of gentile supervision?

    What happens if we are asked about Amalek and our genocidal obligations in respect of women and children?

    How do you do explain this in a menschlach manner?

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    1. Look, you need to explain Kashrus
      On wine I say everything has to be supervised and mention that there were cases in Germany where blood was added, a derivative thereof.
      Amalek isn’t an issue.
      At the end if the day though Kashrus is do-able

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      1. Wikipedia indicates that blood and isinglass (derived from sturgeon) were or are used to clarify both wine and beer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finings

        I would just answer with the truth: Judaism has special laws for the production and consumption of wine because of its role in religious ceremonies.

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        1. Thanks Joe. God help us if they ever use blood derivatives in beer. Can you imagine the Aussie uproar!
          Yours is a good answer, but I do like seeing the reaction when I mention blood in wine 🙂

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  2. Your response on wine is pretty inadequate. Blood could just as easily be an ingredient in beer. And if they are well-informed or subsequently verify your answer, they will realise you are fudging.

    And why is Amalek not an issue? I’ve been asked about it and fumbled through an answer that it is something I struggle with.

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  3. “We attract enough attention when we are visibly Jewish and observant.” Doesn’t that sound a little self conscious? Especially after “explain them, adhere to them, and people will respect you.”

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  4. This has been an ongoing issue for many businessmen in particular, and for many years. I remember many stories related by business people who dealt with non-jewish associated, staff, clients etc, that when it came to explaining reasons for various “jewish” and religious observances ,it proved to be uncomfortable.
    Today, with all the exposure in the media, I would say that it is somewhat easier.
    I really found it odd when jewish-owned businesses would have a “Xmas Party” at the end of the year, they would arrange it either in a kosher restaurant or have it internally. catered kosher. “tartei desarsi”
    Nowadays they call it an end of year party.That’s progress!
    No doubt that there are many issues throughout TaNaCh and the Talmud, that would be difficult to explain to a non-Jew, and even to a Jew who is unfamiliar with Judaism.
    Personally, I have found that with tact and careful considerations, it can all be explained.

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    1. For about 15 years, I simply never attended Xmas parties. Then I got into the habit of gently changing it so that it was sent out as a end of year party. The University doesn’t send Xmas cards either, they use the terminology “Seasons Greetings” or similar.
      Since then, we do have end of year parties, but I still don’t go because I don’t like to impose that they order Kosher food for me, and I certainly don’t like hanging around drinking beer while everyone else is fressing. That’s just me. I also am not someone who particularly likes attending social functions anyway.

      There really is no reason to have to discuss anything other than kashrus, shabbos and yom tov. Tanach and things like that should be avoided as one can easily end up “teaching” Torah.

      I have a book in my office, and if a missionary style person ever visits me, I just give them the book and say, sit down, and if there is something you have to say that isn’t answered by the book, let me know.

      I once had a very sincere staff member, a genius in fact, who wanted to discuss sources for Yoshke. I told him that because he relied on translations that were biased, he could never get to the bottom of it. Being a sincere academic, he then asked me to teach him Hebrew! I declined, but advised him where he could do so. He’s now in New Zealand, and we are close friends, but I’d imagine that he did learn some Hebrew.

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  5. I don’t for certain, but in regards to point 1, why would it be different than 2 people eating together, one milchigs and one fleishigs, which require a hekker of seperartion? And yes pas and bishul akum were creating to prevent fraternization through eating together which can lead to issur chasnus….

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  6. What about when-not so long ago- a Rabbi and and Kashrus mashgiach, visited a food factory together. Included in the party showing them around, was a woman. When she offered her hand, the Rabbi shook it, but the mashgiach politely declined, saying he couldn’t due to religious reasons.

    The former had a lot of explaining to do..

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    1. If I was the Rabbi I would have told her quietly later that the Mashgiach was the one who actually worked for a living and relied upon and that Rabbis were just in the diplomatic corp so they had special dispensations to be lenient 🙂

      Boom boom

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