May a Jew Travel For Pleasure?

Over the years I’ve gone through some fascinating travel books. Not only guidebooks like Lonely Planet and such, but also books that address the essence and spirit of travel and explain how best to maximize the experience irrespective of where you decide to go.

Some of my favorites:

  • “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel”  and the sequel “Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer” by Rolf Potts.
  • “Traveler’s Tool Kit: How to Travel Absolutely Anywhere!” by Rob Sangster
  • “The Four Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss
  • “The Road Junky Travel Handbook”,
  • The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton, and other books.

I’ve seen a few good travel films too on the essence of backpacking like “A Map for Saturday” by Brook Silva-Braga.

One thing they have all have in common is to encourage travel for the sake of the journey and not to arrive somewhere in particular. They see travel as a way of life, to explore the world, meet with people and cultures, taste (literally and figuratively) what life has to offer. It is also an inner journey to know oneself on the way and develop one’s potential. Some might call it a “geographical cure” (like driving from New York to L.A.) to find insight or inner peace on the way.

As I read those books I too get a craving to travel more. G-d has given us a beautiful world, so many places to see, so many people to meet, so many things to do, and why not see all that I can while I can still do it? Call it Wanderlust or whatever. I have it, and travel books just make the feeling grow and grow…

traveling for pleasure | The Wandering Jew by By François Georgin (http://www2.ku.edu/~sma/almanac/peri8.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Wandering Jew
Then a little voice in my Jewish head begins to ask questions. I start to wonder about the value of travel for travel’s sake as a Jew. Is it good thing, is it bad or is it neutral?

(As a byline there are Rabbi’s who divide every act into two types; a “Mitzvah” – a positive action or an “Aveira” – a negative action AKA a “sin”. There are no neutral actions. Anything that doesn’t make you grow spiritually will pull you down. There are also Rabbi’s who accept the philosophical possibility of a neutral act. It can be good or bad and it can be neutral).

Is travel for travel’s sake and for pleasure a good thing or a bad thing for a Jew to do or maybe it’s neutral and it all depends on where you go, what you do on the way (and with whom…)?

I’d like to divide the answer into 3 parts:

  1. Traveling to the Land of Israel
  2. Traveling abroad from the Land of Israel
  3. Travel for the sake of travel

Traveling to the Land of Israel

Traveling to Israel whether for business, family, pleasure or whatever is a definite YES. It’s an absolutely awesome Mitzvah to visit the Land (and even better to live there permanently, but we won’t go into that now…). The Talmud states that every step we take walking around in Israel is a fulfillment of God’s Will. So if your Wanderlust takes you to the Holy Land, don’t hesitate for a moment (as long as passport and money is in order).

Leaving the Land of Israel

Leaving the land of Israel has specific Jewish Laws governing it. According to the Halacha (Jewish Law), one may not leave the Land of Israel just for pleasure alone. One may only go (even temporarily) for very good reasons:

  • To earn a living
  • To study Torah
  • To find a spouse

In reality, there is a bit of flexibility in this rule as one may also travel abroad for physical and mental health reasons, to visit one’s parents, to visit the grave-sites of Rabbinical figures and close family members, to visit the sites of the Holocaust and basically to fulfill a Mitzvah abroad.

CIA WorldFactBook-Political world

In my humble opinion this extra list gives a broad range of freedom of choice. After all, living in Israel might be a Good Deed, but it can also be challenging at times. Stresses pile up politically, socially &  personally, at work, at home, in the family and in marriage. Sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered, to take a break, disconnect from the day-to-day hassle and go abroad for a few days or weeks to clear the mind and soul.

We covered so far 2 out of 3 of the travel categories, and now we get to the issue of:

Traveling for Pleasure

Climbing the Kilimanjaro | traveling for pleasure
Climbing the Kilimanjaro

In my humble opinion when one travels to get rid of stress or any of the reasons mentioned, its pretty clear that travel can be good. But what about going on a 6 month backpacking journey across the Asian Continent? What about climbing the Kilimanjaro Mountain in Tanzania (it’s the highest peak in Africa and takes over a week of heavy walking, including Shabbat, to make it to the peak)? How about kayaking the 7000 km route of the Amazon River or sailing across the Pacific?

To be honest I’m still struggling with the idea and haven’t come to a definitive conclusion. On one hand maybe a 6 month trip is good for the body and soul, but on the other hand…..

What’s your opinion?

To be continued…

Glatt Kosher Pork Fat

A few years ago I had the opportunity to go on a guided tour of a few cities in Italy. We were a Jewish group, though I might have been the only one who was openly religious. Part of the deal was that all the food during the tour would be strictly Kosher. At one of our stops on the Eastern coast we had a catered lunch specially brought in from Switzerland – Glatt Kosher. The group was supposed to eat the meal in some hall which rented out dining rooms for catered meals.

Naturally I checked out the documentation and seals of the food to be sure it really came from the Kosher catering from Switzerland (by now it’s a matter of instinct to check everything I eat abroad) and everything was perfect.

During the course of this really sumptuous meal I noticed that a few people from the group were munching on a packaged bread-stick (sort of large pretzel) from a company called GrissinBon. It was in my humble opinion totally incongruous with the rest of the Swiss/Jewish style of the rest of the food. I took one of the bread-stick packages to check it out and to my horror discovered that it contained PORK FAT (besides for milk…).

My first though was OMG I’ve just eaten a non-Kosher meal !! Once my more rational side kicked in and I reminded myself that I had seen all the documentation from the Swiss Rabbinate I asked around where the sticks came from. The answer was; “Oh, we saw them in baskets at all the tables in the adjacent dining hall and figured it wouldn’t hurt to take a few for the rest of the group….”.

Yes, the meal was originally Glatt Kosher, but with a little misplaced generosity…they had unintentionally served pork at the meal. Years later, till today,  I’ve kept the wrapping to remind myself of the experience.

Glatt Kosher Pork Fat - GrisinniBon Italian bread-stick with pork fat and milk
Italian bread-stick with Pork Fat

Situational Awareness

What’s my message? Does that mean never trust anything and anybody, ever? Of course not. If you’re in a Kosher restaurant with proper Kosher certification and all the meals served at the site are under valid Rabbinical supervision, then relax and enjoy yourself. But when you are in a situation where it is a Kosher meal being served to you within a non-Kosher setting, then you need to have (as they call it in the special forces) “situational awareness” for anything inconsistent. Like in this case Italian packaged bread-sticks didn’t fit in with the Swiss Kosher meal.

A similar situation could arise also when you order a prepackaged Kosher meal at a non-Kosher restaurant or even when you get your Kosher meal on a transatlantic flight (with the solitary exception of El-Al Airlines Kosher Meals, of course). Be aware and notice anything which doesn’t exactly fit it with the meal. Maybe its an extra product without a Kosher seal. Maybe it’s the silverware which might have been used before for non-Kosher food.

After you check out that everything is sealed, Kosher-labeled etc. then enjoy your meal…

Bon appétit ! (or Buon appetito ! in Italian)

Time off for Good Behavior (with keeping Kosher)

It’s interesting that there are people who at home keep a separate set of dishes and pots for meat and milk, would never dream of bringing non-kosher meat into the house and will order take-out only from a kosher establishment, yet the picture changes when they go on vacation.

I don’t know the percentage of Jews in North America or Europe who keep kosher only at home but not outside the home, but there was an interesting survey done in Israel in 2012 by the Israel Democracy Institute which presents findings about practical Jewish observance in the Israeli population.

According to the survey entitled “A portrait of Israeli Jews – Beliefs, Observance, and Values of Israeli Jews“, 76% of the Jewish population keeps a Kosher home but only 70% keep Kosher also outside the house. Of course this includes both dining out in Israel and also vacationing abroad. Though I’m assuming (and I might be totally wrong) that the reason there’s only a 6% difference is because it’s so easy to get Kosher food in Israel. In all the hotels in Israel, most of the restaurants and nearly all supermarkets the food is Kosher (without going into particular standards of Kosher). So if one wants to eat non-Kosher in Israel they have to make a deliberate decision to do so.

As soon as you leave Israel the reality changes completely. Every hotel (with a few notable exceptions here and there) and the vast majority of restaurants in the world are absolutely non-Kosher. You can’t even eat a simple salad or a tuna sandwich without transgressing some major rules… Many Jews as soon as they start their vacation are in limbo when it comes to Kosher, unless they make the deliberate decision to check out everything they put into their mouths.

My question is if a person believes that keeping Kosher at home is the right thing to do, so why do some people (admittedly a minority) decide to loosen up when to comes to eating abroad on vacation? If it’s the right thing to do, its right everywhere. If it isn’t so important to keep Kosher, then why at home yes? (“Of course we keep a Kosher home! We never mix meat and milk etc”)

I think that there are three main claims for the inconsistency between home and vacation:

It’s too hard !

Some people think that unless you stick to big cities with some Jewish population or at least a Chabad Center, then its impossible to really keep Kosher on vacation. And besides how can one go to a gorgeous seaside town without at least tasting the local seafood? It’s not fair !!

All or Nothing !

Then there are those who say something like: “Look when I go on vacation there are a number of Jewish things which I find hard to observe, I don’t have a synagogue within walking distance on Shabbat so I either can’t pray on the Sabbath in a synagogue or I’ll have to drive there….I can’t walk around with a Kippa (skullcap) on my head because I’ll look too Jewish and it might put me at risk….and If I’m going to Bora Bora and walking around half-naked all day anyhow, then maybe its a bit hypocritical to keep one thing (Kosher) when I’m not being very “religious” about other things? It’s either ALL or NOTHING !”

Time off for Good Behavior !

My “favorite” excuse is: “I’ve been really good all year along. I kept everything strictly Kosher both in my food and my behavior for a long time. Now I’m going on vacation, a long deserved one, one which I saved up for years. So don’t I get some time off for good behavior???”

I can discuss these claims one by one in painstaking detail, but I’d rather keep it short and simple:

  • It’s possible to keep Kosher in any spot on the globe without exceptions. It just needs a bit of basic knowledge and planning.
  • When G-d gave the 613 Commandments He knew perfectly well that we as humans are not perfect. We’re not angels (some of our kids might be angels but most adults aren’t). There are times and places in life where some of our Jewish principles are more difficult to keep under all conditions. But it’s not all or nothing. Even if we can’t keep one thing doesn’t mean we are exempt from everything else. We do our best with what we have with the hope that eventually we’ll have the strength and circumstances to do it all.
  • “Time off for good behavior” is a very slippery slope. It’s assuming that G-d will turn a blind eye or at least give an understanding wink at times. Maybe He might, but its His prerogative to give – not mine to take automatically. Just like we don’t have the right to disregard driving safety measures when traveling abroad, and we won’t eat unclean food (health-wise) when we’re on vacation, so too there isn’t a time when we are “Off Duty” with G-d…sorry…

Have a GR8, Kosher and happy vacation !!

What is Kosher to eat anywhere – Part 2

On the previous post – What is Kosher to eat anywhere – Part 1 – I gave a list of foods which can be purchased anywhere without a Hechsher (Kosher certification). This list is valid even in the most remote outposts. but there are a few instructions for insuring the Kosher status of each type.

guidelines for keeping kosher
Rice popcorn and beans

So here is the short list of guidelines for keeping kosher:

  1. Fish – only Kosher type of fish of course and when you buy them frozen or fresh there are a few rules to insure your fish is and remains Kosher.
  2. Eggs – need checking for blood spots.
  3. Fruits & Vegetables – It is easier (from a religious point of view) to get only fruits and vegetable grown out of Israel. Anything grown in Israel is subject to the Laws concerning agricultural produce including Trumot & Maasrot (tithing), Orla and Shmitta. If you know how to handle these issues, great – but when you’re far out its better to make things simple.
  4. Leafy vegetables (including lettuce, cabbage, parsley, dill etc) need careful checking for bug infestation. It’s not overly complicated but it has to be learned.
  5. Rice and beans – need inspection for bugs too. Rice, lentils, barley and a few others need only visual checking. but white or brown beans need soaking for a few hours in room-temperature water and after they swell up, you’ll check for bugs INSIDE the bean (after they swell up from the water, they’re a bit translucent).
  6. Flour – needs sifting with a fine sifter to insure no bugs.

There is more to discuss so I’ll be dealing with the specific Halachic issues of each food type in detail in later posts.

Stay tuned… 😆

What is Kosher to eat anywhere – Part 1

Eat Kosher Food Anywhere

One of my first concerns when traveling to a new place is how I can eat Kosher food. If I’m going to a city with an established Jewish presence or a Chabad Center then I can manage just fine by buying food in a Kosher store or restaurant or at Chabad.

If I’ll be going to a city without any “official” Kosher stores but there’s a branch of a big supermarket chain, then I might find many products with a Kosher symbol on them (like OU).

If I load up with Kosher products in my suitcase before embarking on my trip and have enough to last me till I get home, then that’s wonderful.

Nevertheless sometimes I may find myself “at the end of the world”  (Jewish-wise), like Tanzania or French Polynesia  without a single Kosher product on the shelves or in my suitcase and that’s when the real challenge starts. This kind of situation tests the basic premise of this website:

A Jew can practice Judaism in every spot on the globe. Sometimes its simpler and sometimes more complex, but it is always possible to fulfill one’s obligations as a Jew anywhere at all time, with a little planning and foresight.

I’ve done some research on the products that don’t need any official Kosher supereat kosher foodvision which can suffice to “keep body and soul together” wherever you go. Assuming one needs proteins, carbohydrates. grains and vegetables, then the following is available anywhere in the world.

Foods That Don’t Need Kosher Certification

  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Coffee (unflavored)
  • Tea (unflavored)
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Grains
  • Flour
  • Oats
  • Semolina
  • Corn Meal
  • Pure Honey
  • Nuts (dry roasted without oil)
  • Dried Fruits (without oil)
  • Pure Spices (pepper, paprika, sesame, cumin, ginger etc.)
  • Bottled Water
  • Pure Orange, Grapefruit or Pineapple Juice

It’s a very basic diet but livable in a pinch at least until you can get a larger selection of Kosher food.  Of course you’ll need a few cooking utensils and a heat source, but those are basic things anyone can handle.

There is a much larger list of “Foods Which Don’t Need Kosher Supervision” in Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz’s website – KosherQuest though some of the products he mentioned might be valid only in North America or in Western countries and not in every spot on the planet. I would advice contacting Rabbi Eidlitz directly for clarification.

In addition there are some Halachic concerns about the products in my list (Kosher Laws for stuff grown in Israel, bug infestation, blood in eggs and others), which I’ll deal with in a later post.

Enjoy !

What is Kosher to eat anywhere – Part 2

Jewish Living On The Go – Introducing Jewish Traveling

Observing Jewish Tradition while traveling can be a challenge for the uninitiated yet in my opinion it can be also empowering and inspiring if you know the basics of Jewish Living On The Go.

So what are the primary issues that one needs to know and deal with when you travel, whether it’s for business, pleasure or any personal reason?

I’d divide it up into a few basic requirements:

Kosher food

Kosher fast food Mcdonald's - Jewish Living On The Go
A Kosher McDonald’s in Israel

The saying goes that an army marches on its stomach. Well so do regular civilians. Of course some places have plenty of Kosher stores and restaurants. One can also contact the local Chabad Center which usually has a basic Kosher store. But some places are so far from Jewish culture that you really have nowhere to buy labeled Kosher products. Therefor you need to know what are the ingredients and products which can be purchased literally anywhere with being concerned about Kashrut. We also need to know how to prepare and cook the food when you don’t have a regular kitchen. All this and more will be elaborated on in further posts.

Sabbath & Festivals

shabbat challah candlesticks - Jewish Living On The GoKeeping the Sabbath and Festivals involves observing many Do’s and Don’ts even in an absolutely religious environment. In fact as the Chafets Chaim wrote in his introduction to the six volume set of Jewish Law “Mishna Berura”, that if one doesn’t constantly review the various Laws of the Sabbath they will definitely end off transgressing them. So when one is in transit, whether simply in a non-Sabbath observant locale without an “Eruv” (see Wikipedia link) or in a hotel with electronic doors it can get a bit sticky.

Synagogue and Prayer

Great Synagogue Plzen Czech Republic - Jewish Living On The Go
Great Synagogue Plzen Czech Republic

Men are required to pray in a Minyan (quorum of 10 male adults) three times a day. There are thousands of synagogues across the world and even websites showing you where the closest one is, but sometimes there aren’t 10 Jews in a city, never-mind a synagogue. So how does one find a local synagogue and what to do when you’re without? Also how does one pray when one is in a public place like an airport?

Belief

How do we deal with issues of interacting with other religions, whether visiting houses of worship or talking to clergy of other faiths?

Modesty

boys and girls dating - Jewish Living On The Go
Dating Abroad

When traveling abroad we often arrive in places where modesty in dress is rather liberal (sun, sand & beaches…). How do you cope? Or do you avoid them totally? Interacting with the locals might involve additional challenges like shaking hands with or being secluded with members of the opposite sex. When can one be more lenient and what to do when you’re stuck in a challenging situation?

All these issues and many more, will G-d willing be discussed in further posts.

I must emphasize in advance (and I’ll mention this repeatedly) that anything I will write is my personal opinion for informative purposes only and to arouse new venues of thought. Or as they say: “A good question is half an answer”. It does not come to replace the advice of a qualified authority on Jewish Law.

Connecting Travel & Jewish Living

Translate »
%d bloggers like this: