Question: May one eat a kosher meal in the house of non-observant relatives?
Short Answer: Under certain circumstances, it is permitted to eat a kosher meal in the house of non-observant relatives.
I. The Strict Opinion
Rav Moshe Sternbuch (T’shuvos V’Hanhagos 3:254) cites an unnamed opinion who rules that it is forbidden for a person to eat even a kosher meal in the house of a non-observant relative, lest the person accidentally come to eat non-kosher food. The source of this prohibition is the Taz (119:4), who cites this opinion in the name of the Hagahos Ashri. Similarly, the B’chor Shor (Avodah Zarah 39b) rules that this prohibition is not merely a chumra but the plain halachah.
Rav Sternbuch adds that this rule is similarly found in the Gemara (Shabbos 13a), that a zav (impure male) may not eat together with a zavah (impure female), lest they come to eat together when only one of them is impure. The Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 11:26) likewise rules that it is forbidden to stay at a house where the owner is “muchzak” (i.e., known) not to observe the laws of kashrus. If you stay at his house, you cannot eat meat or wine there until an observant person testifies that they are kosher.
II. Reasons to Be Lenient
Nevertheless, Rav Sternbuch notes that there is room to be lenient and permit you to eat foods (other than meat and wine) in a situation where you must stay at the non-observant relatives’ house, as the Rambam does permit a person to eat these other foods. Indeed, Rav Sternbuch suggests that we are lenient in order to avoid machlokes and in a situation where you have a chance to make the non-observant Jew observant.
Rav Sternbuch also suggests an additional reason to be lenient. A non-observant relative will likely respect the wishes of his observant relative and avoid non-kosher food, even where the non-observant relative does not keep kosher for himself. However, this leniency only applies where the observant person recognizes that his non-observant relative is an honest and trustworthy individual. This is distinguishable from the above-mentioned Rambam, who forbids residing in the home of a non-observant Jew, as the Rambam is limited to cases where the observant person stays in the home of a non-observant Jew with whom he has no familial or friendly relationship.
The Gemara (K’subos 85a) provides a proof to this distinction, as Rava trusted the words of Rav Chisda’s daughter, as he was familiar with her, as opposed to Rav Papa, who did not trust her, as he was not familiar with her.
III. The Caveat
Nevertheless, Rav Sternbuch, despite his lenient ruling, only allows an observant person to eat in the home of a non-observant relative where the non-observant relative does not do the cooking. Rav Sternbuch holds that cooking by a non-observant Jew is tantamount to bishul akum and thus forbidden.
IV. Interesting Ramification
An interesting ramification results from this halachah, that a person may not eat in the house of a non-observant Jew where the person does not have any familial or friendly connection to the non-observant Jew. People sometimes permit themselves to eat foods that do not have a kosher symbol based on the reasoning that the ingredients do not list any non-kosher items. Rav Sternbuch explains that this reasoning is faulty, and it is forbidden to eat the food. As mentioned above, one may not eat even kosher food in the home of a non-observant Jew, lest he come to eat non-kosher. Ingredients in a food without a hechsher is no different – it is forbidden lest you come to eat foods with non-kosher ingredients.
Rav Sternbuch adds another reason not to eat foods without a hechsher. Since a manufacturer only needs to list ingredients above a certain percentage, it is possible that non-kosher ingredients are mixed into the food.
Next Week’s Topic: Must a person do t’shuvah if he accidentally eats a vegetable that has bugs?