Monday, February 28, 2011

Your Bagel With Cream Cheese and Lox, Is It Kosher?

A lot of Ashkenaz (European) Jews think that the Sefardi-Eidot Mizrach (North African) Jews have an easier time with kashrut restrictions.  Here in Israel, where a lot of the caterers seem to be Sfardim, too frequently we find meat and fish mixed on the serving plates, served with the same utensil, forbidden by Ashkenaz rabbis.  On Passover, we have more restrictions not only about kitniyot (legumes) but even the covering of kitchen surfaces.

This Jerusalem Post article reminds me of the true story of one of the first American-style bagel places in Jerusalem, Beit HaBagel, The Bagel House.  It was owned by a friend of ours, and I even worked there for about six months, another story.  Today it's owned by others and called Holy Bagel.

Beit HaBagel was always kosher, of course.  One of the first things an owner has to do when applying for kashrut certification is to submit the basic menu.  He was horrified to find it rejected as traif.  The menu was just like all of your standard kosher bagel places in New York, with the addition of bourekas to cater to Israeli tastes and the nearby Moniyot Beit Shemesh taxi drivers.

"What's traif about it?"
"It's forbidden to eat fish and dairy together."
"That's impossible.  Bagels with cream cheese and lox are served in all the Orthodox shuls in America!"
Well, what's the story?  The Mashgiach, kashrut supervisor was Moroccan, and according to the Moroccan psak, Torah opinion, you may mix your meat and fish, but it's forbidden to mix your fish and dairy.  Beit HaBagel's owner, David Oberman, had to bring other strictly Torah-observant rabbis to talk to the one who had been assigned to supervise the restaurant-bakery.  Eventually, the kashrut supervisor agreed to permit cream cheese and lox to be served and gave it his approval as a strictly kosher restaurant.


Anonymous said...

im surprised, since the view that fish and dairy should not be mixed is a minority, and great rabbis have said this is an outright scribal error. the only jews i know who are careful about this is chabad.

Batya said...

Not all North African Jews have the same psak about anything. This rabbi was Moroccan; I met him at one point, and he asked me about a neighbor whose father was a well-known Moroccan rabbi.

Hadassa said...

To the best of my knowledge no rav from any eda allows fish and meat to be mixed. We asked about oil that had been used to fry fish and was still usable for more frying. We wanted to use it to fry meat and were told that it was forbidden. The rav knew that we follow Sephardic customs. I am truly surprised to learn about a caterer that uses the same utensils for meat and fish. I would ask your rav about that caterer.
Like a, I have learned that the fish/dairy prohibition started with a scribal error, which has stuck.
The issue is more complicated than fish and dairy. Some Sephardim eat fish that has been cooked with milk or butter, some don't. The groups that I have heard that do not eat cheese and fish together are all of the Sephardim and most if not all of the Hassidim, not just Chabad. I know for a fact that Breslov is also strict and our Breslov friends said that it is a general Hassidic practice. Some Sephardim eat fish and cheese on the same plate if they are both in solid chunks and do not mix at all. There is even a question among some (I can't remember which group) about kashering utensils that have been used to cook fish and cheese together.

Shimshonit said...

I only just learned about the fish/dairy prohibition this year when a child in my daughter's gan brought a tuna and cheese sandwich to gan and was told by the rav (unusually, a Sephardi rav) that she couldn't eat it. Of course, he also told the girls they should expect to obey their husbands in all things when they grew up, so some of our time this year has been helping our daughter UNlearn what she's been taught at mechina.

Batya said...

Hadassa, lots of caterers put a mix of "separated-hah!" meat or fish courses on the same plate, one utensil and have the waiters serve from it. A neighbor blew up at his kid's wedding when he saw it. The other side had insisted on this caterer.
Shimshonit, if you're not Sfard, then the rabbi can only forbid it in his school, but there should have been a notice sent out beforehand.

Ariella said...

My Lubavitch relatives also don't mix milk and fish. So the bagels either have lox or cream cheese, but not both. But I have kosher cookbooks that feature a number of recipes for fish cooked with cheese or milk.

Today some people are mekil on mixing meat and fish with small proportions of fish if they want to use Worcestershire sauce.

Batya said...

People who don't mix dairy and fish or are lactose intolerant have a tough time, especially in the states, because so many items have dairy.

Hadassa said...

Batya, Are those caterers "mehadrin"? Are they following guidelines for regular kashrut? One of the things that Rav Katz taught us in the Kosharot classes is that very often problems with kashrut arise from not following guidelines and not from the absence of proper guidelines. I've seen "mehadrin" caterers have fish and meat platters on the same serving tray, so that waiters don't have to make extra trips to the kitchen, but with separate serving utensils.
We've never had trouble in Israel. Many products that are commonly dairy in America are virtually always pareve in Israel. I did go crazy when I was visiting America, especially because we eat only holov Yisrael.

Shimsonit, there is one exception: prayer. A woman does not have to change her nusah tefila when she gets married. Her children should take on the nusah of their father. For a Sephardia who marries an Ashkenazi, kitniot on Pesah at her parents house there is disagreement as to what she should do.

Ariella, what's the basis for that heter? Rav Katz taught us that if fish and meat have been ACCIDENTALLY mixed there are three opinions: the food is forbidden for consumption, allowed for consumption by the "bitul b'shishim" ruling, or allowed if the majority is meat. (I think I got the majority right. I know that he said "a majority" and I'm almost positive that it was the meat that has to be a majority.) Could those people be "accidentally" using Worcestershire sauce... ?

Hadassa said...

Two interesting links, including many sources.,2079830/Why-arent-fish-and-meat-eaten-together.html

I will take issue with R. Lebowitz on one point: not drinking liquid that has remained uncovered overnight: it is not just a matter of snakes' venom. I know this from a question that I asked R. Levanon, now the rav of the entire Shomron.

Batya said...

If I'm not mistaken the Worcestershire sauce "heter" is based on the alleged tiny quantity of fish. Not that I'd buy it.

It's really important to ask shailot of rabbis of the same eida, because otherwise you get the "wrong" answer.