It's not kosher, but we're cool
November 23, 2016 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Several years ago a friend of mine gave me a word that meant "it's not kosher, but it's more important to be a kind guest than refuse non-kosher food". I forgot the word. Any help?

My friend - we're out of touch now, so I can't ask her - is Jewish and keeps kosher. I asked her what she does when she is offered food at a friends house that she knows might not be kosher. She smiled and gave a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and said something like "it might not be kosher, but it's more important to be a kind guest than refuse non-kosher food. That's called _______". Of course I forgot what the actual word was. I think it was Yiddish and it might have started with an M but I could be totally, totally wrong.

Is there an actual term for this, or is it something that my friend made up?

posted by Elly Vortex to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A mitzvah? A mitzvah is a good deed.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:52 AM on November 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Well, as an Orthodox Jew I can tell you that's 100% made up (different branches of Judaism have different approaches to keeping kosher, and I am not saying hers isn't valid, just that it's not such an accepted practice that it has its own term). There are a lot of opinions that you can let minor things slide (an often-cited example is shaking hands with members of the opposite sex) because you shouldn't embarrass someone. That isn't a well-known phrase, it comes from Leviticus 25 Al-tono ish et achio.

There's a better-known concept, derech eretz which loosely translates to 'the way of the world', basically meaning being a good person in your dealings with others.

If she was just talking about being a good person generally, the Yiddish term is being a mensch.
posted by Mchelly at 8:47 AM on November 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

From context, it seems that the correct answer would be a synonym to "kind gesture", which is a mitzvah....which is not a made-up concept.
posted by bearette at 8:53 AM on November 23, 2016

Mitzvah actually means commandment. Non-Orthodox people tend to use it as "good deed" colloquially but that's not quite accurate.

I can think of an opposite term--chillul Hashem--which would describe making a bad choice that's not necessarily, strictly speaking, a sin. That one basically means desecration of God. But agreed that in strict interpretation of kosher laws her choice wouldn't fly.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:02 AM on November 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

When she's at others homes? Or when she has guests? If it's the second d, she probably said hachnansat orchim-being welcoming to guests. I agree with Mchelly, though that whatever she's doing is her thing.
posted by atomicstone at 9:09 AM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: atomicstone, it was when she was going to a friend's house. It specifically came up when we were talking about a potluck Thanksgiving she was attending with her "Thanksgiving Orphan" friends.

The word very well may have been Mitzvah. I had initially ruled that one out because I thought that she said a word I wasn't familiar with, and I've certainly heard of Bat Mitzvahs etc.
posted by Elly Vortex at 9:24 AM on November 23, 2016

(Another relevant principle, though again not likely to be the one your friend is talking about, is pikuach nefesh, the preservation of human life: you're allowed to break kosher or break a fast if you're starving or ill. But that's a much higher bar than just "to be a kind guest.")
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:26 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest chillul hashem -- it's sometimes described as avoiding the appearance of impropriety, like eating a cheeseburger in public when it's actually kosher and made with vegan cheese so it's ok...but it LOOKS not ok. It's not exactly the same but it seems thematically related.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:36 AM on November 23, 2016

My understanding of chillul Hashem is more about doing things that are shitty interpersonally while being visible as a religious Jew--doing things that make a bad impression when you are representing the tribe, so to speak.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:46 AM on November 23, 2016

Safe traif.
posted by porpoise at 11:12 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Kosher-style" is a common thing-slash-cop-out that you here. Basically, serving or eating food with no obvious pork, shellfish or (assuming meat is otherwise served) dairy, but not getting too worried about the state, character or provenance of the kitchen(s), cookware, ingredients, etc.
posted by MattD at 11:51 AM on November 23, 2016

Chesty is talking about marit ayin
posted by atomicstone at 11:54 AM on November 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Aaah, I thought this article on the founder of 'Noah's Bagels'had the word but it doesn't...but it definitely touches on the concept:

'It took “heroic measures” to obtain kosher certification, Ferris said, including permission to keep it open on Shabbat, something Alper felt was a necessity.
“There’s a leniency in the Talmud that if there’s an important communal need, some [kosher] strictures can be loosened,” Alper said.'
posted by The Toad at 2:05 PM on November 23, 2016

Well, as an Orthodox Jew I can tell you that's 100% made up

Is it? About 45 years ago, when my grandmother had cancer, my parents put her in the best nursing home in the area, which happened to be an Orthodox Jewish home. (We're Reform Jews.)

My grandmother did not like the Kosher food and had practically stopped eating. My mom talked to the rabbi and asked please, would it be okay to bring her some home cooked food? The rabbi agreed, saying her health and comfort was more important, just please make sure to take home any dishes and food that my mom brought in that day.

That sounds like the same concept to me.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:47 PM on November 23, 2016

As nebulawindphone wrote above, when someone's life is at risk, pikuach nefesh (saving a life) kicks in and there are very few commandments you can't break to save a life. Being a guest at someone's house isn't the same thing as being in a hospital and not being able to eat.

What I was trying to say (and apologies if it wasn't clear) was that there is no concept in Jewish law for eating non-kosher food or otherwise breaking commandments to be a good guest or friend. So while her friend may be able to make the argument that that's why it was important (and I would assume it would be under the concept of not embarrassing someone), there isn't a specific well-known Hebrew or Yiddish term for it.
posted by Mchelly at 5:51 PM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks, Mchelly! I had it all mixed up and I love that lesson of compassion so much I just barfed it up :)
posted by Room 641-A at 7:00 PM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's a concept of "shalom bayit", peace in the home, that I know people have referred to in decisions about eating in their parents' or lived ones' homes, making kashruth compromises they normally wouldn't, for the sake of honoring and safeguarding important relationships.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:35 PM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

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