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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.