The Kosher Roadtrip: Part 2
Updated: Jul 17, 2022
Join Rabbi Zalman Krems, Rabbinical Coordinator of KVH-Rabbinical Council of New England and Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger, as they discuss what the traveler on the go needs to know about keeping kosher while on the road, in a wide-ranging conversation covering many food products that a traveling Jew may encounter from fish to nuts.
Rabbi Hisiger: What about baked items?
Rabbi Krems: Baked items are another area of confusion for many people. Chazal tell us that there is a gezeirah of Pas Yisroel, that a Jewish person must have some involvement in the baking process but they add that one can be lenient and eat Pas Palter in some situations. This leads some people to think they can eat bread anywhere when they travel. But that is only true if they know that the ingredients and that the equipment hasn’t been compromised. Sometimes, the bread is baked in treif equipment. In some countries, they use lard in the bread. We know that most countries don’t use lard but one still has to make sure that they only use the basic ingredients: flour, sugar and water. Anything beyond that could be a problem.
Rabbi Hisiger: Can one go into a store and buy a closed bottle of beer or whiskey?
Rabbi Krems: The same rules apply. One has to know what the item is.
In Scotland, they have relatively tight laws on how whiskey can be made, so we know that Scotch whiskey does not pose a serious kashrus concern. While there is the well-known question of the sherry casks, we won’t get into that today. If that issue is taken care of, whiskey has a chezkas kashrus.
Beer, on the other hand, is more complicated. While the Shulchan Aruch says that beer is always kosher, in the 21st century it has become a lot more complicated than that. Many companies today are making craft beers that contain different ingredients and flavorings and they are not beholden to any real standards. Micro breweries are without a question a problem. Most kashrus companies say that you can still drink plain beer from a large reputable company and assume it is kosher, but as time progresses that could change.
Belgium and Germany are countries of beer purists and they stick to the original ways of making beer but internationally there are beer companies doing anything and everything to enhance their beer.
Rabbi Hisiger: What about fish? If one knows the simanim, can he buy fish anywhere?
Rabbi Krems: This question usually comes from people who are in-town and are used to purchasing fish with a hechsher. Those who live out-of-town, who don’t have access to kosher fish shops, usually know the guidelines, which are actually quite simple. If you can see the skin of the fish with the scales on it, the fish is kosher. The only question is how it was cut and whether the residue of a non-kosher fish could have gotten on it. Even if the store shares equipment for kosher and non-kosher fish, it is cold, so it is an issue that can be dealt with.
Duchka d’sakina is an issue, so you’d have to make sure that the knife was rinsed before the kosher fish was cut. Some people are machmir to scrape away a bit more afterwards. The cutting board also needs to be clean to get rid of the residue of other fish. This can be achieved by placing a piece of butcher paper on it.
Rabbi Hisiger: What if you can’t see the scales but they tell you what type of fish it is?
Rabbi Krems: That means absolutely nothing. You need to see the scales.
There is a machlokes if the scales were taken off but you can see on the skin the space where the scales used to be. Most Poskim say that’s okay but Rav Nissim Karelitz held that it is not.
Rabbi Hisiger: Is frozen fish any different?
Rabbi Krems: Any time you purchase processed items you are running the risk that other things were mixed in that are not necessarily on the label. It’s better to use fresh fish if you have that option. If you have no other choice, and there is nothing else listed on the label, you can use frozen fish.
Rabbi Hisiger: What are the guidelines for eating meat while on the road?
Rabbi Krems: Meat obviously needs a hashgacha. Shechitah is highly complicated and one has to make sure it meets his standards. If the package says that it is kosher and it is properly sealed with two chosamos, it would be fine but it is not recommended to eat any meat unless you know it is coming from a reliable place.
Rabbi Hisiger: Are there any items one comes across while traveling that don’t need a hashgacha?
Rabbi Krems: The rule of thumb is that anything raw, like fruits and vegetables that don’t have bug problems, are okay. Anything beyond that is very geographic in nature. In some countries, dry roasted nuts are fine and contain no concerns. In others, they process them on the same line as nuts with oil, which obviously does need a hechsher. Processing other nuts on the same line will mess up the entire production from a kashrus standpoint.
Rabbi Hisiger: Which is an important thing that you are mentioning. That even if someone is knowledgeable enough to read the ingredient list on the label, they don’t know the equipment that it was made on.
Rabbi Krems: And you also don’t know if they used processing agents, there can be many problems in processing. Maple syrup, for example, is assumed to be kosher, but they have to use antifoam to make it, which can be treif. Traditionally they used to use a piece of bacon to stop the foam from flowing over.
Rabbi Hisiger: I remember my father once told me that there are problems with release agents as well.
Rabbi Krems: Right. Candies could be made in molds that need release agents to get them not to stick to the machinery that could be treif. People don’t understand why there are limited amounts of gummy bears and other gummy products, and the reason is very simple. All those things are created in molds that are made from starch, and they reuse the starch, and a lot of that starch is treif. So it isn’t so simple to come in and just kasher the whole factory. So like we said before, if someone would be allergic to something there, they would never dream of touching it.
Rabbi Hisiger: This was a fascinating conversation. Thank you for all of the tips.
Can you leave us with a Let’s Talk Kashrus takeaway for our viewers?
Rabbi Krems: The takeaway should be that if you’re going on vacation to another city that is out of your comfort zone, you should do your research beforehand by speaking to a Rov and finding out what available products meet your standard. You have to do your own research even if you walk into a restaurant in your own area, as well as on the road. Speak to the Mashgiach. Ask questions. That’s the best thing. It strengthens kashrus and strengthens your own awareness, you may find out things that you ever even knew. If you’re traveling somewhere, in Europe and other parts of the world, or even in out of town communities in America, there are lists that can be found of what products you can buy without a hashgacha. This list will change from one place to another.
The bottom line is: Be prepared and be an informed kosher consumer.
Rabbi Hisiger: Thank you Rabbi Krems.
Rabbi Krems: It was my pleasure.