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Many Baalei Teshuvah (returnees to Judaism) confront various conflicts regarding their interactions with non-observant family and friends. A big one, which has not been discussed here (AFAIK), is about how to eat in other people's homes when necessary.

This is not a question on the permissibility of eating in a less-religious home, eating in a non-kosher restaurant with family, or the general mindset of being a houseguest in a non-frum home. More specifically, this is about how to practically keep kosher in a family member's house that is unquestionably unkosher.

Let's say a visiting observant Jew is in a situation where they must stay with nonobservant family for a week (or some other short period of time). How does one arrange for comfortable, kosher living? Is there any literature which spells out an arrangement convenient and simple for both parties?

For simplicity's sake, this question does not deal with keeping Shabbat.

I doubt many nonobservant family members would be interested in kashering their entire kitchen for a relative's temporary stay, but would still try to politely accommodate. Obviously, the bridgework between family or friends is a personal, subjective affair, but I'm wondering if people can provide any literature or personal account for resolving this sensitive halakhic impasse.

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part of it depends on how offended the host family is about your keeping kosher. If they want to make accommodations for you and kasher a sink or reserve space in the fridge, that's one thing. If they have no interest and you have to survive on paper goods, plastic ware and PB+J sandwiches you make in your bedroom, that's another. –  Danno Jun 26 at 20:43
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@Danno and Aryeh, for this to be answerable, I think the working assumption needs to be that the need to accommodate has already been agreed to, and the only question remaining is by what methods the observant family member can eat in the home, yet the host(s) can be least inconvenienced. –  Seth J Jun 26 at 20:52
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Hello Aryeh. Chabad excels in situations like these. They offer a source for kosher meals and just might invite you to dinner Erev Shabbat! They can also advise how to store and heat food in a non-kosher kitchen. –  JJLL Jun 27 at 0:32

3 Answers 3

After the Return by Rabbis Mordechai Becher and Moshe Newman, a guidebook for baalei t'shuva, covers this. To summarize the discussion in Chapter 6:

  • You should offer to do (and fund) the shopping to avoid placing an extra burden on them.

  • The best case is that they agree to kasher the kitchen, and he says that some parents are actually willing to do that for an observant child so it doesn't hurt to consider it. But if not, the rest of these points apply.

  • You can't heat anything in a non-kosher utensil, but you can eat cold food from clean non-kosher plates/utensils.

  • If you want to eat hot food, buy a pot (or other utensil) or kasher an existing one. You can cook in a non-kosher oven if the dish is covered and sitting on a clean surface (he cites YD 108). You can cook on a non-kosher stove so long as the burner ring is clean (he doesn't cite a source). You can cook in a non-kosher microwave so long as your container is closed or covered with plastic.

  • Store kosher food in a closed container or wrap it well.

  • You can eat at the same table as people eating non-kosher, but don't share a surface. A placemat solves the problem (he cites YD 88, Shach 2).

  • You can't use a non-kosher dishwasher. It is possible to wash dishes in a non-kosher sink if you're careful not to touch surfaces. Alternatively, use a sink that isn't used for non-kosher food, like a laundry sink.

  • Disposable utensils can help you past many problems.

(There is also a discussion of hechshers and what does and doesn't require them.)

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The reality is that for many Baalei Teshuva they simply won't have the knowledge to really dynamically adapt to such a situation. Things like this can raise situations that can absorb the greatest Rabbis in discussions about exactly what to allow and what not, and anyone facing this situation for real should discuss the expected situation in advance with their Rabbi and see what they can and cannot do given the specific layout, kitchen and accommodating nature of the situation.

That being said, there are some things the bring up with the Rabbi that can help with the discussion:

  • How, if at all, to wash dishes in a non-Kosher sink
  • How to maintain oversight on anything you are bringing in
  • What options are there for double wrapping food in an oven
  • I love the BBQ suggestion, if the outdoors is accommodating, but then you have to think about how you store and seal the meat in the fridge before use
  • What you can and cannot do with a microwave. Opinions can vary widely there, but double wrapping may be an option, and some would be even more lenient. But also investigate what materials are microwave safe. It would be very unfortunate if you ended up attempting to double wrap in aluminum foil.
  • Eating at the table together with those who will not be eating Kosher
  • How to avoid issues of Lifnei Iver (MeDerabbanan anyway) (e.g. pass the pork chops please).
  • The Rabbi's availability for spur-of-the-moment questions

In general remember that דרכה דרכי נואם - The Torah's way is pleasantness, so you are looking for an arrangement that reduces the friction, not one where you can technically be keeping Kosher, but that makes situations stressful and unpleasant for everybody.

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A main part of the answer seems to be in some of the above comments. In brief, the easiest solution is to use cold already prepeared foods and paper / plastic goods. By "cold" I refer to either items already cooked that don't need to be reheated (e.g. - take out), or items that don't have to be heated in the first place (bread, cereal, cheese, etc.)

If you want to be a bit "fancier", you can make a bar b q by buying 1 or 2 of these portable 1-time use "charcoal grills" and you can grill whatever you like. Suggestion - stick to stuff that grills quickly like thin steaks and chicken cutlets. These grills are convenient but they are small and don't last that long.

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