Is it hypocritical to keep kosher at home, but eat non-kosher out?

July 28, 2010

Question: My parents are probably typical of many in keeping kosher at home but eating non-kosher meat out. I keep getting into arguments with them because it all seems so hypocritical. Shouldn’t you keep it all rather the bits you feel you want to keep?

Rabbi Naftali Brawer

Naftali Brawer is rabbi at Borehamwood and Elstree United Synagogue.

Your question assumes that there is no sound basis for keeping kosher at home while eating non-kosher when away. On this you are absolutely correct. The laws of kashrut are incumbent on us as individuals regardless of where we find ourselves at any given time.

Of course, the consequences of eating non-kosher in one’s home are more profound in as much as it will render one’s kitchen not kosher. This goes some way to explaining, though not justifying, why people would be more careful in their own homes than when eating out.

Hypocritical is one way of describing such behaviour. To quote the late Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John Joseph O’Connor, “religion is not a salad bar” from which we can pick and choose only the bits that appeal to us. Judaism — like all faiths —demands submission to the will of the Almighty, no matter how inconvenient it might be. However, taken to its logical conclusion the term hypocrite could apply to anyone who does not fully commit to every last detail of the Torah — a most untenable position to maintain.

The reality is that most people don’t sift through the Torah, cynically picking and choosing the aspects they find appealing while rejecting the aspects that don’t meet their approval. For most people, Jewish living is part of a journey and it can be a complicated one at that. Many, quite possibly your parents, are progressing on this spiritual journey, even if it’s not at a pace you would like to see.

Instead of focusing on the fact that they don’t observe kosher outside their home, why not focus on the fact that they keep kosher inside their home? No one has the right to judge another Jew’s journey. Everyone has their own set of challenges; both internal and external. Who says that God evaluates a Jew by the quantity of mitzvot one observes? Perhaps it’s the quality of one’s observance that gives God pleasure?

It might well be that in terms of sacrifice and commitment, it is more difficult for your parent’s to maintain their kosher kitchen than it is for other more observant Jews to maintain theirs.

Getting into arguments with your parents over this issue is not only counter-productive (no one appreciates being called a hypocrite) but it also violates the biblical command to honour one’s parents; a mitzvah no less important than keeping kosher.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain

Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue.

Curiously enough, I agree with both you and your parents.
You certainly have a point that it seems wrong to alter your Jewish observance depending on whether you are at home or not. If you feel kashrut is a valuable observance, then you should keep kosher wherever you eat. Place is irrelevant alongside principle.

It is also a poor education for children, giving the message that Judaism has geographical limits rather than applying at all times and in all places. It could lead them to accuse their parents of having double-standards.

However, you can turn the argument round and say that your parents are being consistent in their own way — kosher indoors, non-kosher outside — and may be doing so for principled reasons.
One might be that they want to create a Jewish home as an example for their children, a way of passing on the heritage for you to emulate or reject. Another might be because they genuinely follow the once common adage, “Be a Jew in the house and an Englishman in the street”.

I am not saying that they are right, but you may need to credit them with more Jewish feeling than you allow. At least, they have maintained the tradition enough to enthuse you with it. Hypocrisy would be pretending that they kept kosher at all times when they do not do so. Inconsistency would be sometimes keeping kosher at home and sometimes eating treif at home.

Personally, I do go for the “at all times” approach. One of the great values of kashrut is the way it reinforces one’s constant identity as a Jew, permeating the day and affecting even the most mundane aspects of life, such as the rushed breakfast or quick lunch at work.

But remember that its purpose is also to remind you to act as a Jew should act — greet others with a smile, help those in distress, be honest in business — and without the ethics, then kashrut by itself is valueless. Equally, a kosher home that is full of backbiting and rows, is no home for a Jew.

As for you, you will probably be better off if you follow a rule that applies to many other situations in connection with Jewish rituals: concentrate on what you keep (and why), and make sure your own Jewish life is in order, rather than worrying about what others do.

Last updated: 3:48pm, July 28 2010