Monday, June 20, 2011

What a Halachic Non-Jew (Or Someone Who Doesn't Keep Kosher) Can Contribute to a Kosher Meal

You’ve been invited to a Shabbat meal. That's great! But oh no, they’ve asked you to contribute something towards the meal! As a halachic non-Jew, this can raise a lot of kashrut issues. So what are your options?
  • Bring nothing and simply enjoy the hospitality of your host. Being an overly polite Southerner, I don’t suggest making this suggestion to the host! Try to be helpful. There are definitely ways you can contribute towards the meal!
  • Sodas and other non-grape drinks. This is the second easiest/cheapest route.
  • Fresh fruit or vegetables. While it may feel somewhat rude, don’t prepare them before arriving at your host’s unless your host has explicitly told you they trust the kashrus of your kitchen. (Remember not to "cook" them in any way.) If that isn't explicitly volunteered by your host, allow them to handle any cutting and washing. Be kind and don’t bring items that require more onerous preparation (leafy greens). Good choices are grapes, berries, melons, maybe pineapples, mangos, oranges, bananas, carrots, celery, and tomatoes. Avoid broccoli and cauliflower! For halachic reasons, avoid "sharp" veggies like onions.
  • Store-bought, packaged cakes and cookies. 
  • Store-bought, packaged challah. 
  • Wine. By most opinions today (your mileage may vary), you can even bring non-mevushal wine so long as you stop touching it once someone (not you) opens it. 
There are other items that could be fine, but these are needed at almost any Shabbat meal. They're also easy to procure even without many kosher resources (especially sodas and fruits/veggies), as well as being within just about anyone's budget.

The best part? None of these things have to saying, "Look at the non-Jew!" You will blend in with everyone else bringing items. Sometimes, you feel the need to just blend in, and these ideas can help.

NOTE: When buying any packaged food, make sure that the host will accept the hechsher on the item and that the hechsher and packaging remain intact. I once brought packaged pastries, and the host had to decline to use them because she couldn’t find the hechsher. Sure enough, it was just hard to find! In the end, we enjoyed delicious rugelach. Be gracious and don’t take these things personally. In fact, your host will probably feel just as embarrassed as you do. If a problem pops up, deal with it calmly, and if you can’t share the item, that’s life. You’ll do better next time.

NEXT: How to get it there.


  1. In all honesty, if you live in a Jewish community, you can surely buy ready-made side dishes from a kosher store! We have many here, and you can buy delicious side dishes prepared in their kosher supervised kitchen, so no worries about kashrus. It's like a normal deli counter, they generally charge by weight. This is also a good option if you are just put in charge of 'a side dish' when they don't consider(or know) the kashrus concerns. When I have communal meals with friends, I am most often put in charge of either one side dish or one dessert, and this is a great way to go.

    Also, if you bring wine as a host GIFT(not as a contribution to the meal, but a thank you for being invited to the meal or, more commonly, if you are being hosted for sleeping arrangements as well), don't expect them to open it for the meal. They won't necessarily open it, especially if they have other wine they intended on serving for this meal. While it's nice, it's not expected that they MUST open your wine. Especially if you bring something non-mevushal... Even if a fair amount of people will be okay as long as you don't touch it, they may not feel comfortable with the situation.

  2. Personally, I don't like the side dish because I think it could bring attention to not having a kosher kitchen, etc. The items above allow you to "pass" more effectively. Similarly, the hope is that the other guests don't know the status issue (so long as the host knows and you both have the knowledge to deal with it) because it isn't the other guests' business. That said, if you make a mistake, you will have to own up to it unless you can get rid of the rest of the wine without being suspicious.

  3. Do you know if any posek permits a non-Jew to prepare food for a Jew? A large number of orthodox Jews have non-Jewish housekeepers, and some have these housekeepers prepare food. Do they have any opinion to rely on?

    Regarding hard-to-find hechsherim, I was once in KeyFood and an orthodox girl came up to me with a bottle of soda. She said "I never buy soda, but my host asked me to bring a few bottles, and I can't find the hechsher." I pointed out that the soda bottle had the hechsher on the cap, which I guess is not a place someone would normally look. :-)

  4. The sodas are a very good point! Coke was the first nationally-available kosher item! The rabbi who still certifies it is one of 3 or 4 people in each generation who know the recipe for Coke! Most sodas that are kosher don't have hechshers on the label. National brands (like Coke products) normally don't, even though almost all, if not all, of their sodas are kosher. (Check large kashrut organizations' websites, like the Chicago Rabbinical Council or the Orthodox Union.) However, store brands generally will have a hechsher. I've noticed that some places in larger Jewish areas print the hechshers on the lid. I don't buy those Coke products because the hechsher lid doesn't give me Coke points codes :D

    Non-Jewish cooks. That's difficult. There is a reason it's very expensive to certify a kosher restaurant. I don't know the details confidently enough to give you a full answer, but there must be Jewish supervision. A Jew would have to turn on the stove, etc, to begin the cooking process. (Though this seems to be lacking in some kosher restaurants with only random kashrut inspections instead of a full-time mashgiach, so maybe it isn't an absolute rule. Or maybe I just don't see the full story. This has been the rule when I cooked with people in their homes.) The Jew who supervises the cooking would be a mashgiach (or mashgicha for a woman). To be honest, I don't know how these households make it work unless they limit it to non-cooking and/or cook with the household worker. It seems like way more trouble than it's worth. However, maybe they just hire a non-religious Jew, and an outside might not realize the worker is a Jew. Then, as long as the Jew is trained to handle the kashrut issues, they could cook.

    All that said, if you want an opinion, there is probably someone out there who will give it to you. Within limits, of course, but I think this could be an area for wiggle room for a more left-wing rabbi. Also, maybe there are circumstances that would legitimately justify a leniency even in stricter circles. I don't know.

  5. yehudis golshevskyJune 21, 2011 at 2:08 AM

    In industry and the restaurant business, they rely on the pilot light. Meaning, the mashgiach had to set the pilot light, and further lighting of the stove--days, weeks, whatever later--is only an extension of that initial lighting and can be used for cooking by a non-Jew. Of course, this is in the case of a gas stove, which most commercial applications still are.

  6. Also avoid spinach, romaine and leaf lettuce, etc., which must be checked (unless the host specifically asks you to bring those items).

    Readers might enjoy some of the instructional videos on the cRc website, including how to check lettuce.

  7. So, there might be a loophole. From what I've read, bishul akum (cooking of a non-jew) only applies under two conditions: (1) the food must be good enough for a king's table and (2) the food must have been inedible before. That is, if the food wouldn't be served at a wedding, a non-jew can prepare it. And if the main ingredient was edible in some form before cooking, a non-jew can prepare this dish, too. Relying on this, though, sees a little bit intricate to rely on with a non-jewish housekeeper...


  8. Nudnik, thank you for pointing out that I assumed too much knowledge in what I wrote. I'll clarify the text.

  9. Greetings,

    Can there be no issue of passing through a reshut harabbim ?