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 !!