It wasn't kosher but does it matter?
November 22, 2009 4:28 PM   Subscribe

Should I apologize (or otherwise acknowledge our "oops") for cooking my Jewish co-worker's family a decidedly non-kosher dish following the birth of their first child?

A close co-worker's wife had their first child last week. Mom and baby are home and doing fine. Last month, we also gave them a pretty large care package of baby/new mom stuff.

Because we are Experienced Parents, instead of sending flowers after they came home, my wife and I wanted to send over a home-cooked meal for the family. Without thinking things through, my wife took over a lasagna made with Italian (pork) sausage. The mother didn't say anything at the time. I think only my co-worker keeps kosher (I've seen his wife eat shellfish and pork). I certainly knew he kept kosher in a low-key, Reform kind of way, but my wife just didn't remember. (Their last name is VERY Anglo-Saxon.)

At first, I was all "OMG I need to call him right away to point out that the dish was made with pork", but then I realized that meat + cheese was a pretty clear non-kosher sign.

What's the appropriate thing to do tomorrow at work? Hive mind, where exactly do you think this this faux pas falls on the spectrum between "Eh, no big deal" versus "I can't believe how inconsiderate that was"?
posted by QuantumMeruit to Society & Culture (39 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If there are potentially members of the family who would eat it, then I wouldn't worry about it at all—it may have even been useful. I have orthodox relatives who keep kosher, and I'm pretty sure they would be bemused by this rather than offended. I wouldn't make a big deal out of it.
posted by grouse at 4:33 PM on November 22, 2009

Yeah, I might say something like "oh, hey, sorry about the pork, hope someone at your house could enjoy it" and leave it - it was really nice of you, and a totally unintentional oversight.
posted by tristeza at 4:34 PM on November 22, 2009 [8 favorites]

Unless your co-worker is a huge jerk, I'm leaning towards this being a no big deal thing, especially given that he's pretty low key about it.

Let him know tomorrow you've realised the mistake and apologise for it and, I'm willing to bet, he'll probably say it's all OK and that they probably appreciated the gesture.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:35 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I were you you I wouldnt volunteer this information. I would do so if there was a physiological or biological risk associated with the food you served them. In this case, ethically speaking, their is no loss associated with any party for not knowing this information.
posted by london302 at 4:36 PM on November 22, 2009

Speaking as a vegetarian, I'm sure he checked the food before eating if he cared about keeping kosher. Also, if I had accidentally eaten some meat, I'd probably....rather not know. Both of these points lead to the conclusion that you should probably just let it go. It was a nice gesture, and it's ultimately his responsibility for making sure he adheres to his dietary requirements (by asking you if it was kosher beforehand, or quietly feeding it to his dog when you left if he felt uncomfortable asking).
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:36 PM on November 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

I grew up Jewish and eating bacon. It's fine to say nothing, but if you say something, it shouldn't be any more penitent than "I realized later that there's pork in that... I know you're Jewish... hope that wasn't a problem."

FYI, this:

I certainly knew he kept kosher in a low-key, Reform kind of way

Is completely meaningless. There is no such thing as keeping kosher in a low-key Reform kind of way. If you are low-key and Reform about your Judaism, then you just don't keep kosher.
posted by bingo at 4:41 PM on November 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

don't tell him about the pork...i don't eat pork and if i had eaten it i would rather not know....since it should've been obvious that it was meat and cheese, this part was evident. you're his coworker not lover so it's ok to not know every detail of their life including what they eat and don't eat. he should've appreciated the sentiment regardless though. relax.
posted by saraindc at 4:49 PM on November 22, 2009

Speaking as a low-key Reform Jew: your co-worker probably wasn't overly distraught, and if his wife doesn't keep kosher, then it's likely that she appreciated the extra free food. If he brings it up, you can apologize, but otherwise...I agree that you should just leave it alone.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:49 PM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yeah - people who keep kosher check their food religiously (sorry, couldn't resist). They're also generally very forgiving of other people's ignorance on the topic. I'd just let it go.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:49 PM on November 22, 2009

My old boss just used to hiss and make a cross with his fingers (and receive a corresponding "Yeah, right, man, what good does THAT do you against the Powers of Pork")whenever I'd get the pork at the Thai place down the street, and he's pretty conservative in his Judaism (right of Reform, not quite Orthodox).

Chances are your coworker will understand if you just say something like the previous posters have suggested. If you've seen his wife eat treyf before, I'm guessing she's not going to be too picky while she's also not getting much sleep and feeding her child.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:53 PM on November 22, 2009

You should have given him a heads-up if it contained something that his wife would be able to eat and not him, so they didn't plan on eating it together instead of planning to prepare another meal for him. It's not a huge deal, but it would be in line with your gesture to simply apologize to him for "forgetting to tell him" there was Italian sausage/meat+cheese in there. (He doesn't need to know you didn't remember his dietary requirements when you were preparing food for him.)
posted by autoclavicle at 4:54 PM on November 22, 2009

And if you're really close friends, don't forget that 2-3 weeks down the line, they'll still be hungry and sleep-deprived, and lots of the initial attention will have faded away. A second meal - kosher this time - would be a wonderful gesture.
posted by barnone at 5:00 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a non-Jew (though partially raised by wild Jews, at least on my adoptive grandmother's side), I think their rabbi would say that consuming trafe food unknowingly doesn't violate dietary laws and so the incident isn't worth bringing up.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:02 PM on November 22, 2009

Best answer: Hi, I am a Jew who eats pork married to a Jew who doesn't eat pork. It's not all or nothing, as some posters upthread suggest. There's a wide range of observance, and there are certainly lots of Jews -- my dad, for instance -- who eat milk and meat together but don't eat shellfish or pork. If a co-worker who knew we were Jewish had given us a sausage lasagna right after our son was born, we wouldn't have been offended, and we would have appreciated the sentiment, but at the same time the gift wouldn't have helped my wife and we might have wished you'd thought about it a bit more carefully. I very much doubt the couple will bring it up with you. An apology isn't necessary, but it wouldn't be at all out of place. Certainly nothing big: think "silly me," not "forgive me."
posted by escabeche at 5:21 PM on November 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

I would definitely not say anything about realizing later there was pork in the dish. In fact, I wouldn't say anything at all unless your co-worker brings it up first.

I'm Jewish, and though I eat bacon and sausage and salami I don't eat ham or pork. It makes no sense, I know, but I also know I'm not the only Jew who has particularities and self-rationalizations about how I observe (or don't observe) Jewish laws.

In my experience, a lot of Jews (at least amongst my friends and family) make small but (for them) significant distinctions that have no rooting in Torah but make personal sense and satisfy the need for their particular level and definition of Jewish observance.

So: that he ate some lasagne containing pork sausage may mean nothing to your co-worker...but it could also be significant. You don't know. And because you don't know, here are your choices:

a) If you tell him, he'll have to confront it and you don't know what that reaction will be. Maybe he'll shrug it off, maybe he'll blame you (in spite of his low-key Reform kosher keeping ways and Anglo-Saxon last name)
b) If you don't tell him, and he doesn't say anything to you, then no one is hurt. You might feel guilty, but by telling him what you do, in essence, is transfering your guilt to him. The guilt? Trust me, you'll get over it.
c) If he brings it up, that he ate it, that it tasted strange, that he wants to know what was in it, then (if I were you) I'd do my best "oh my god, I just realised there may have been some sausage in there! I'm so so sorry"

In any event - people who keep kosher at home generally don't bring any outside food into the house (unless they know 100% for sure that it's kosher). If he keeps kosher at home, then he probably dumped the lasagne or gave it away before he even got it home. If he doesn't keep kosher at home, and he was okay with the meat and cheese in one dish, I'll bet he still stuck his fork or knife in there and moved bits of food around to see what was in the lasagne, etc. and either someone ate it, no one ate it, or after a couple bites they realised it wasn't for them.

Take your cue from him.
posted by dismitree at 5:44 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been at a meal where the only dishes were pork curry and lettuce - I don't eat pork and somehow that never got communicated to my host family so I went hungry the first night. It was a little annoying - I know they mean well but it doesn't stop the fact that I'm hungry!

I'd say apologise, and maybe ask if there's something you can do to make up for it. Your friend might be a bit put off (as eschabeche said, "we might have wished you'd thought about it a bit more carefully") but if you make a sincere gesture to show that you weren't being deliberately insensitive then things should be ok.
posted by divabat at 5:44 PM on November 22, 2009

It's definitely not a "I can't believe how inconsiderate that was." I would mention it in one of the low-key ways mentioned upthread ("sorry, I just realized that there was pork in that lasagna, and you don't eat pork" or something) and ask him about his personal kashrut guidelines. Obviously he does not keep kosher in the strictest (or even strict, it seems) sense, but everyone has their idiosyncrasies and if you're close, it'd be useful for you to know his for any future situations.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:53 PM on November 22, 2009

I'm unclear if you still have the chance to prevent the unintentional pork consumption. If there's a chance they haven't eaten it yet, I say, call them up and let them know! It's not that I think you owe them a big apology, but if you can prevent accidental pork eating, I'd say, try to prevent it.

- atheist/non-kosher Jew and vegetarian
posted by serazin at 6:10 PM on November 22, 2009

You have the obligation to tell them. Regardless of whether they keep kosher, not keep kosher, have Anglo Saxon sounding names or whatever. It's a tenet of the Jewish faith to keep dietary laws and they ought to know. For their own sake - not yours.
posted by watercarrier at 7:11 PM on November 22, 2009

Observant jews do not expect non-jews to know the ins and outs of kashruth.
They would never hold what you did against you, and an apology is unnecessary.

There are really only 3 possibilities:
Kosher--they took the food, said 'thanks', and gave it to someone who could eat it or just dumped it. They appreciate the sentiment but could not really accept the food.
Ingredients-Kosher--they took the food, said 'thanks' and saw the cheese-meat combo. See above.
Not so Kosher--they took the food, said 'thanks', and ate it.

Orthodox jews would never eat a food gift from a non-jew. Or from a jew they did not know intimately. Most accept the OU hechsher (the O with a U in it you see on many packaged foods) but that is the limit.

Others make their own rules. But no one expects non-jews to make sense of this stuff.
posted by hexatron at 7:12 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

And those that would advocate not to speak up on this, knowing that they in fact did ingest pork (an unclean animal in the laws of Kashrut) may influence their dietary observance in the future. These things have a way of changing direction and not to tell them is to leave them in the dark about something which is according to the Jewish faith something that is also spiritually damaging. Whether or not they were in the know about eating it at the time is moot. The food was still consumed - that is the crux of the matter.
posted by watercarrier at 7:15 PM on November 22, 2009

And a final thought on this subject - as an analogy - what if in the odd chance in a million, God forbid they developed Trichinosis from eating the pork? Do you not think they'd be better off knowing that they had consumed tainted meat and could get the right kind of treatment for that parasite? Well, in Judaism pork IS considered tainted meat - it's tainted with uncleanliness just instead of the word *Trichinosis* - it's known as *Treif* with a side effect of being the cause of spiritual illness. This is why people need to be aware of the ingredients they eat, the way it was prepared and by whom - in order to prevent such illness - and if they do eat something which is *Treif* - regardless of whether they did it before - they still need to know exactly what they put into their bodies to take corrective measures. I don't know if I made myself clear enough on this.
posted by watercarrier at 7:29 PM on November 22, 2009

There are really only 3 possibilities:
No, there are not. There is a huge amount of space between what you call "ingredients-kosher" and "not so kosher," a space which contains a substantial proportion -- maybe even the majority -- of American Jews, including, from what we can tell from the OP's description, the couple in question.

why in the hell would you APOLOGIZE about making somebody lasagna? They should thank you for the effort.

What on earth makes you think they didn't? If somebody cooked me something they knew, but forgot, I was allergic to and couldn't eat, I'd thank them, and they'd apologize. And everybody in this scenario would be doing the polite thing. Right?
posted by escabeche at 7:31 PM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

And it's very hard to imagine, given OP's description, that the husband is the kind of Jew who will consider himself "spiritually damaged" or in need of "corrective measures" as a result of having eaten the sausage. He's just a not-particularly-religious Reform dude who doesn't eat pork. Please don't sweat this, QuantumMeruit. Just call their house right now and say "I'm really sorry, I forgot you don't eat pork and there's pork in the lasagna." And he'll either say "Oh, no problem, I don't keep kosher anymore" or "Oh, no problem, I noticed and didn't eat it, no big deal." (He will say the latter whether or not he actually ate it, but the "no big deal" is likely to be sincere.)
posted by escabeche at 7:36 PM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Jews don't have to consciously *consider themselves spiritually damaged or in need or corrective measures* - basically the adage is *you are what you eat and become what you consume*. This transpires on an unconscious level till they are informed of the ramifications of their actions and they can then commence on becoming Kosher and adhering to the other 613 laws set into place to keep them healthy, alive and thriving.
posted by watercarrier at 7:41 PM on November 22, 2009

Yeah, sorry, watercarrier is wrong here. No Jewish person who would seriously care about having unintentionally eating treyf would ever eat food that had been prepared by a non-Jew. You do not need to worry about this possibility.
posted by grouse at 7:52 PM on November 22, 2009 [4 favorites]

watercarrier, it seems like you are overlaying some esoteric Orthodox concepts onto the lives of people (i.e. the coworker) who don't subscribe to that stuff. Context is important. Here, it makes sense to evaluate this situation based on a) social convention/manners and b) the coworker's level of observance
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:04 PM on November 22, 2009

I would apologize. Not because this is a big deal or anything--it's just a faux pas, not the end of the world--but because you know you messed up, and it would be nice to say something. So just a quick little apology, just to let him know that you didn't mean to be rude, and then everybody will forget about it 5 minutes later.

(atheist; non-observant Jewish wife)
posted by equalpants at 10:26 PM on November 22, 2009


This isn't quite true. My parents are... well, I guess you could call them lapsed Conservatives. They don't really keep kosher at all... but they absolutely, positively refuse to eat pork on the grounds of religion.

So I guess what I'm saying is there's a whole spectrum of "keeping kosher" and you can't safely assume anything here.

I would say that the OP should apologize for the mistake in an offhand sort of way (kinda like what equalpants just said).
posted by Target Practice at 11:50 PM on November 22, 2009

And a final thought on this subject - as an analogy - what if in the odd chance in a million, God forbid they developed Trichinosis from eating the pork?

It's not even one in a million odds- there are on average 12 cases of trichinosis a year in the US. No need to freak the OP out with extremely unlikely scenarios.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:13 AM on November 23, 2009

No Jewish person who would seriously care about having unintentionally eating treyf would ever eat food that had been prepared by a non-Jew.

Replace "prepared by a non-Jew" with "prepared in a kitchen that is not absolutely known to be kosher" and I'm in absolute agreement.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:19 AM on November 23, 2009

i wouldn't worry about it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:30 AM on November 23, 2009

I'd apologize, and use the apology as a way of finding out what their food requirements/rules are like - that way, if they're open to it, you can make them another meal. Or if they're never going to eat food you made for them, then you know, and can find some other way to be helpful, and they don't have to (potentially) feel bad about pitching your food.
posted by dubold at 6:54 AM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - OP is trying to solve a specific problem, not debate Jewish philosophy. please take extra argument to metatalk or preferably email, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:10 AM on November 23, 2009

If it were me, I'd just make another dish and send it, on the off chance that they didn't get the intended result out of the first dish. How I explained this would depend on how well I knew the person I was giving the food to.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:30 AM on November 23, 2009

I would apologize to your friend, not because I expect him to be at all offended by the lasagna, but because even a belated acknowledgement that you're aware of his dietary restrictions would probably be appreciated.

Athiest, married to nonobservant jew, has friends who are variously vegetarian, vegan, lightly kosher, diabetic, allergic, lactose-intolerant, and just plain picky. Our dinner parties are a blast, let me tell you
posted by ook at 8:40 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to all for a very interesting discussion. I spoke with my co-worker and he had a good laugh at my "oops" story.

I presented it as a, "Hey, by the way, on Friday night as I was eating dinner I had a horrifying realization about that dish we dropped off on Friday afternoon. We were eating dinner together and I had a deer-in-the-headlights moment when I realized, wait a second -- lasagna -- meat and cheese, with Italian sausage....oooooooops!"

I think my co-worker was more amused at my self-deprecating, "We TOTALLY missed that" attitude. The meat+cheese combo made it pretty clear to him that the dish was treif. He said it totally wasn't a problem because his in-laws were in town, and they ate the disk "all weekend". His father-in-law was apparently a particular fan.

This discussion is an interesting example of how there's a big variance in expectations about keeping kosher. Also, AskMe was a good backstop for me in just verifying that I hadn't done something totally beyond the pale. Thanks, Hive Mind!

posted by QuantumMeruit at 12:01 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Er, that should have been -- the in-laws ate the DISH all weekend.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 12:04 PM on November 23, 2009

I totally missed the part where you didn't just feed him pork for dinner, you fed him pork for SHABBOS dinner. When you do something, you do it right!
posted by escabeche at 12:40 PM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]

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