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Let's say a Jew travels on a long transatlantic flight. There are no food options except the on-board menu and non of them are kosher-certified. In this situation is it okay to choose a safer option (e.g. vegan or vegetarian)? Or should a Jew then abstain from eating for the duration of the flight?

A similar situation could occur with purchasing food in a country where no kosher options are available - would it be okay to buy milk and vegetables from a non-Jewish supermarket?

Basically, when is it possible to make an exception and when should one avoid eating at all costs? Since many locales around the world don't have any sources of kosher food, how can compliant Jews travel there? What degree of certainty is needed in the fact that a certain food is okay before it is permissible to eat it?

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    Note that if this is relevant to you, contact your rabbi for guidance rather than relying on what you read here. (And if it may become relevant to you, plan accordingly so you have kosher food.) – msh210 Mar 21 '17 at 7:33
  • Are you going to die if you don't eat it? I don't understand what's confusing here. You can have known kosher food, known not kosher food, and safek food. Is the question "can I violate a safek prohibition even when it's not matter of life and death?" and if so, why might you think that would be permitted? – Double AA Mar 21 '17 at 14:56
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    @DoubleAA It might be permitted if one is reasonably certain the food would have been kosher if it was up for inspection, but no official certification proves that it is in fact so. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Mar 21 '17 at 15:02
  • Jonathan you need to edit your post to have it ask what you want it to ask. Now it sounds like your question is how certain one must be that a food is kosher in order to eat it. – Double AA Mar 21 '17 at 15:12
  • @DoubleAA post updated. Does it look good now? – JonathanReez Supports Monica Mar 21 '17 at 15:17
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It honestly depends on the context of the situation. There isn't a universal standard because it all depends on what knowledge you have, where the situation is occurring and what what the circumstances may be. The Torah is extremely specific regarding a situation where the laws may be broken. This is usually only ever done during a situation where you face physically harming yourself or another.

Pikuach nefesh is the standard by which we honor Torah. We do not honor Torah if it means that we are going to harm ourselves or harm another.

Example, you wouldn't eat Kosher food over non-Kosher food if you were certain that the Kosher food was contaminated with E-Coli. The act of eating tainted food is equal to drinking poison. Thus it's declared "Pikuach nefesh"

We see this concept mentioned twice in Torah and discussed in the commentaries.

You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which man shall live: I am the LORD.

-Leviticus 18:5

I gave them My laws and taught them My rules, by the pursuit of which a man shall live.

-Ezekiel 20:11



To answer your specific questions:

Let's say a Jew travels on a long transatlantic flight. There are no food options except the on-board menu and non of them are kosher-certified. In this situation is it okay to choose a safer option (e.g. vegan or vegetarian)? Or should a Jew then abstain from eating for the duration of the flight?

Unless you have a medical condition which would make fasting dangerous (hypoglycemia for example) then you would abstain from eating. Fasting is not unusual from the Jewish perspective as we practice ritual fasting in religious practice. To go without food is not considered a form of self-harm unless you have a medical condition or the time which you are going without food is long enough to be harmful.

Vegetarian does not mean Kosher. The Vegetarian option would possibly include dairy which doesn't come from Kosher sources. This means that it wouldn't be considered the "safe" choice.

Even the vegan option would be questionable depending upon the circumstances of the preparation. The Kosher certification of a food product doesn't just gaurantee that the product was made with Kosher ingredients. The standard means that the product was made in a factory which separates meat and dairy.

If I eat a mixed green vegan salad from a service which also sells salads dairy and meat (BLT salad for example) then the salad could have possibly been prepared under unclean circumstances. The salad might very well be clean but the fact that we don't know means we are treading on breaking dietary law.

With regards to specific Talmudic discussions on the breaking of dietary laws, you can find them below.

-Yoma 83:a:2

A similar situation could occur with purchasing food in a country where no kosher options are available - would it be okay to buy milk and vegetables from a non-Jewish supermarket?

  1. You are responsible for doing research for the area which you visit. If you knew you were traveling to a country, you need to be aware of their dietary laws and prepare accordingly.
  2. You would only be allowed to eat foods which supercede dietary guidelines. This being mostly vegetables. The dairy options from those countries would not be allowed and since you have options which you know for certain would not break dietary laws, you would be forced to choose those.
  3. Even if you do choose vegetables over dairy, you still have to make sure your cooking situation meets standards. You would need to make sure that you're not cooking with utensils which haven't been cross contaminated with diary/meat. Your cooking surfaces would also need to be sterilized and/or covered with tin foil to prevent contamination. This way, even if the surface did touch meat/dairy before you were cooking there, there is no chance of mixing occurring.

Chabad has a detailed explanation of what goes into maintaining a Kosher kitchen. These are some of the standards you would need to maintain within this place you traveled.

Even if they don't offer kosher options, keeping kosher is still possible. The responsibility is on us to make that happen.

  • Comment (for OP) on "1.You are responsible for doing research for the area which you visit". My rabbi and every "devout" observant person I know have told me a general rule they have prior to picking a vacation destination. They don't go anywhere where kosher food is unavailable. They outright tell me that there are numerous beautiful places in the world that their heart desires them to visit. But, because they are Torah observant, they simply can never go there. In the end, this becomes a matter of your priorities & mindset. If you're even the slightest bit uncertain, you don't go there! – DanF Mar 21 '17 at 16:05
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    @DanF if you really want to visit a place that badly you could just take a jar of peanut butter and buy fresh fruits and vegetables (with terumah/maaser and bug caveats). I can't imagine there are too many places where you couldn't go at all for food reasons. – Heshy Mar 21 '17 at 16:44
  • @Heshy "with terumah/maaser and bug caveats" -- That's a biggie which could mean you can't go there. How would you know if in some random country they have problems with bugs in their vegetables? – Ploni Jun 8 '17 at 0:10
  • @Ploni so you follow the instructions from the OU or star k or whoever and check them. It's not that hard. – Heshy Jun 8 '17 at 13:25
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Really, you're dealing with two different cases here. The first case is one in which you are temporarily confined and there are only things that are non-kosher available. In this case, because you would expect to deplane soon, it would not be permissible to eat the food. If for some reason you were stuck on the airplane for days on end, then it would become permissible to eat non-kosher food to stay alive. The other case is being in a foreign country where kosher-certified foods aren't generally available. The good news is that many foods are "kosher by nature": they're permissible even without certification. Raw vegetables and fruits are definitely in this category, as are many other raw plant-based ingredients. Milk might be kosher without certification although this is a hotly debated topic and applies on a country-by-country basis. By this logic, too, in the case of the airplane, it would be permissible to e.g. drink bottled water.

But as others have pointed out in the comments, you really need to consult a competent authority if this is not just hypothetical, since there are many, many distinctions that I'm not covering here.

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