Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Treife with a "t"

This is going to sound stupid.

Katrina, your friendly neighborhood (Upper West Side of New York, natch) kashrut monster, has discovered the latest, greatest danger to people who keep "hekhsher" kosher. Keeping "heksher" kosher is insisting that the food you buy actually has a reliable (not touching with ten-foot pole right now) symbol of kosher certification (i.e. a heksher) as opposed to, e.g. reading the label and being satisfied if none of the ingredients are obviously unkosher.

That danger is . . .

(Wait for it)


Yes! Dairy tea? Did you know that there is such a thing? If you look at your boxes of tea, you might find that some of them are labelled kosher dairy. How can tea be dairy? I frankly have no idea, and perhaps what is labelled dairy is only considered so because of some insane chumrah (strict legal interpretation), but since I don't have time to research it, I'll have to take the kashrut agency's word for it.

So why is it such a problem?

Because one doesn't expect tea to be dairy, of course.

This problem was first brought to my attention by BFF, who once noticed that the tea she bought was dairy. She figured, " I will just only drink it after dairy meals." Then, when she was bringing out all of the teas after a meat meal, she forgot, drank the tea in a china cup from her wedding, and ended up having to put that cup away for a year before using it again.

Since my wedding and the china cups it brought into my life, I have been really nervous about making the same mistake. Part of the reason is that I am anal and crazy about stuff like this. But I think that it can be a problem. Here is a case in point:

Recently, I was at an academic conference that served kosher food to everyone for lunch. The administrative assistant in charge of the conference is not a kashrut expert, but it's not rocket science: the kosher deli brings in its platters of meat wrapped in about 10 layers of plastic, the assistant puts the platters out and unseals/uncovers them with the help of the jaws of life, and then the conference participants eat the food. Bottles of soda, urns of coffee and hot water, and a box of tea were put out, too. With my new obsession with dairy tea, I looked at all the tea bags to see if any of the tea was dairy. And it was! There were four bags of Celestial Seasonings cinnamon (or apple cinnamon, I don't remember) tea that were marked dairy! People could have drunk the tea by accident. Since many of the participants were Israeli da'ti'im (literally, religious people, but closest to American modern Orthodox), I doubt it would even occur to them to look to see if the tea was dairy.

So I hid the four bags of tea in my briefcase. I had one of teabags with breakfast at the conference the next morning, and I still have the rest.

Yes, it sounds really stupid, and I'm not proud of it, but I couldn't think of another option. I didn't want to leave them there, and if I had made an announcement, the secular Israelis and non-observant American Jews would have thought that I was insane. When I ordered a kosher meal at dinner one night after the conference, I had to listen to a rant from one of the secular Israelis on the evils of the Israelis Charedi kashrut establishment, as though I am somehow implicated in their shenanigans. (For the record, I support religion-state separation in Israel; if Israelis want kosher food, they can pay extra for it, just like we in the good old US of A do).

So, if you keep kosher, please make sure your tea is pareve (neither meat nor dairy). If it has a kosher symbol and is NOT marked dairy, it's pareve. I find myself actually siding with the Star-K, one of the more, shall we say, strict (insane) kashering agencies, because they no longer certify dairy tea as kosher, based on the principle, "You shall not put a stumbling block before the blind" (Leviticus 19:14). In this case, I think they are on target, although I'm still not checking my lettuce with a fluorescent light box.