content top

Keeping Kosher and Maris Ayin: What is the Issue with Maris Ayin?

Kosher Flavored Crab Chips YUM!!!!!!

Keeping Kosher and Maris Ayin: What is the Issue with Maris Ayin?

This picture raises an interesting question in halacha (Jewish law) known as ‘Maris Ayin.’ The concept of maris ayin is that we can be doing something permissible according to Torah and halacha, but to the onlooker, we may be doing something wrong.

For example going into a McDonald’s to use the toilet is fine but someone may see us and think we are going into McDonald’s to eat and conclude that it’s okay to eat there.  Today because going into a McDonald’s and similar non-kosher restaurants to use the toilet is a common practice, Rabbis have ruled that there is no problem with maris ayin. However, sitting down at the table to drink a soda there would cause a problem.

In recent years there has been an explosion of fake dairy and fake meat products. You can now make a sandwich with fake meat and fake cheese that looks like the real thing.

When these products first came out it was a serious issue of maris ayin, but today it’s common practice to eat these; for example to have pareve (non-dairy) ice cream after a Shabbat meat meal. We no longer worry about this being maris ayin. It is still a good idea to bring the ice cream container and put it on the table so people can see that the ice cream is not dairy.

According to halacha it would be fine to drink fish blood, but because people would see us and may think we are drinking animal blood, it is forbidden to drink the fish blood. But say you lived in an Eskimo village where it was common practice to drink fish blood, or comes a time when drinking fish blood is a daily health ritual performed by everyone, it is possible to say that it would become permissible to drink the fish blood.

Kosher Crab Flavoured Chips for Sale

The key question in maris ayin is what will someone think? With this bag of chips, at a distance someone could see the large image of the lobster but not the little kosher symbol. If I were eating these chips, I’d either put them into a new bag or eat them from the existing bag with the picture facing me. This way I don’t need to worry that people may think Crab Flavored chips are kosher, because this could lead someone to buying a brand in the future which is not kosher.

Read More

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with the Jewish Community in New Caledonia

Traditional fishing boat at Ille Des Pins New Caledonia

This story is about my Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur experience in 1998 with the Jewish community in Numea, New Caledonia.

“A person’s earnings for the coming year are determined in the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.” (Talmud, Beitza 16a)

The plane taxied slowly to the airport terminal and then came to a stop. I strapped on my backpack, picked up the Torah scroll, and headed to clear New Caledonian customs. As I had expected, a man met me at the exit gate. He was thrilled to see me with the Torah. “It has been so long,” the man said. “May I carry it?”

I handed him the Torah which he held reverently for a few seconds. Then his face lit up with the biggest smile. “We are so delighted you could come,” said the man. “We are maybe 150 Jewish people here, mostly from Algeria and Tunisia. It has been a long time since we have had a rabbi and a Torah.”

“I am not a rabbi,” I corrected him. “I am an 18-year-old studying in a Rabbinical seminary. Perhaps one day I will be a rabbi.”

“Yes, but you can read from the Torah. You know how to blow the shofar, lead the prayers, and put up some mezuzot. We here cannot do this very well. We are isolated on this island.”

The man’s name was Abraham. I knew this from having spoken to him on the phone. Other than knowing his name, I knew nothing about him, though I’d learn a lot as he welcomed me to stay in his home for the following weeks.

Abraham spoke with me in French. I understood most of what he was saying with my Montreal, Quebec French, though there were some differences. When we needed clarification we switched to broken Hebrew. Abraham had never been to Israel but his parents had taught him some Hebrew when he lived in Algeria.

The truth was that I had not wanted to come to New Caledonia for the High Holidays. I had just spent almost an entire year of intensive study in Australia and was scheduled to fly home to Montreal. I wanted to see my family and friends. There was also a synagogue in Montreal that had offered to pay me $800 to conduct services over the High holidays.

Placing a Mezuzah in New Caledonia

But two weeks before the end of the school term a call had come through. The Jewish community of New Caledonia wanted a rabbi for a few weeks. The senior yeshiva students laid a “guilt trip” on me. I was the only student in the yeshiva who could lead a service, blow shofar, and speak French. In addition, they knew that I had backpacked solo around Europe, so they thought I might just be crazy enough to go solo to this French Polynesian island.

After a large dose of hearing that I was the only one who could do the job, I agreed to go. I found someone who would lend me a small Torah scroll, provided I insure it. Also, as requested by the community, I purchased 10 mezzuot and 50 kippot on the agreement that they would pay me back for everything.

Though I wouldn’t earn the money I could have earned in Montreal, I imagined that I would at least have some fun exploring the island. But upon arriving in New Caledonia, I wasn’t so sure about that.

In the week preceding Rosh Hashana, I visited Jews in and around Numea. I affixed 10 mezuzot to door-posts, put tefillin on people, helped a boy find a yeshiva in Israel, and even had an interview with a local newspaper. I was kept busy teaching Torah and it seemed as if all 150 Jews wanted to meet and talk with me.

I was asked to sit through a number of community meetings and I gave my two cents when asked, and sometimes even when not. At one point they were discussing building plans for a new synagogue and mikva. One of the big donors did not want to give any money towards the construction of the mikva. “If you have money for just a synagogue or a mikva, Jewish law requires that you build a mikva,” I explained. It took a little more convincing, but in the end he agreed to contribute.

I finally did get a few days’ break in the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. A wealthy community member rented for me a wave runner for a full day. I rode from one island to the next, stopping off to snorkel in the reefs teaming with magnificent coral and fish life. The next day he gave me a plane ticket to one of the smaller neighboring islands. I cycled around, exploring native villages where people lived in grass huts, caves filled with bats, and deserted white sandy beaches. I picked green coconuts to drink and found plenty opportunities to escape into my own tropical paradise.

When I got back Abraham set me up to go spear fishing with one of the local champions he knew well. Needless to say I didn’t spear anything but the fisherman gave me half his catch to take back for Abraham to cook for us. It was a delightful change from canned tuna.

Spear Fishing in New Caledonia for Rosh Hashanah food

The two and a half weeks flew by. As Abraham drove me to the airport, I sat in the car thinking; “Even if I did not make any money I accomplished a lot and had a great time. The money made in Montreal would have been nice, but I got to have an incredible experience.” In addition, I had flights to Montreal and would please G-d see my family in the next 24 hours.

“We are very thankful that you came and for all your help,” Abraham said, as he bid me good-bye. “We want to give you something as a token of our appreciation.” He handed me an envelope. In the envelope there were $1000 Australian Dollars, which equaled $800 Canadian based on the exchange rate at that time. I had just received the same amount of money that I would have earned had I forgone New Caledonia and gone home to Montreal.

At the young age of 18, my trip to New Caledonia had helped me realize that I could not make one penny more or less than what G-d had intended for me. I did the right thing by coming to help the New Caledonian community, I had an awesome experience, and I received the exact amount of money that was destined to be mine.

*The Talmud (Beitza 16a) states that the amount a person will earn for the year is determined in the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, except for one’s expenditures in honor of Shabbat, Jewish holidays, and for the Torah education of one’s children.

Read More

Celebrating Our First Anniversary: How We Met!

We met in Lima, Peru.  It’s the kind of meeting that could not have happened without G-d’s direct involvement.  There’s just no other way to explain it!

I was studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina and had two weeks of vacation between my summer internship and the start of school, so I decided to spend one in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador and one in Peru, visiting Machu Picchu.  I happened to know the Chabad Lima shaliach’s daughter and so decided to stop there for Shabbos in between the two other legs of my trip.  If it hadn’t been for that friendly connection, I might never have shown up there.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Ben was one year into his initial four-year round-the-world travel plan. He stopped in Lima, planning to spend just a couple of days.  While he was there, though, he found the book Garden of Emunah by Rabbi Sholom Arush.  He decided to sit down and learn it, which took him a full three weeks.  At the end of that three weeks, I walked in.

Rabbi Ben was sitting at a computer and I thought he was an employee, so I began to speak to him in Spanish.

“I speak English,” he said dryly.  “And your accent is terrible!”

First meeting in Miraflores, Lima, Peru

Rabbi Ben and I exploring Miraflores the first weekend we met, in Lima, Peru

I was insulted because I thought my accent was perfect, but when he announced that he wanted to split the cab fare and accompany me into the city, I accepted.  I am Jewish, after all!  During the whole cab ride, he made jokes about my degree in philosophy and I decided I had to find a way to get rid of him.  But although I kept disappearing into museums he didn’t want to enter, he patiently waited for me outside every one of them.  We also did other “romantic” things like to visit the Museum of the Inquisition.  In spite of all that, we actually ended up having a really great time together.

We didn’t see much of each other on Shabbat, but afterwards, we went to the open-air market at Miraflores, where we joked with local children.  When it was time for me to go back to my hotel, he walked me back and then had me add my contact information to his “address book,” which contained the contact information of every other person he’d met in his travels (I’m guessing it contained about 250,000 names).  I figured I’d never hear from him again, especially since he had a flight to Europe booked for later that week.

Second meeting at Parque del Amor, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, in Lima, Peru

The second time we met, again in Lima, Peru, Rabbi Ben took me to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life, and took me to the romantic Parque del Amor.

To my surprise, Rabbi Ben did email me, just a few days later, to tell me he canceled his flight and was still in Lima!  A friend of his had gotten engaged and Rabbi Ben was staying in the Americas for a while so he could attend the wedding.  Plus, the Chabad of Lima had offered him a chazzan position for the high holidays that he couldn’t refuse.  I happened to have the first flight into Lima that Thursday, and the last flight out, giving me an entire day free there. As a result, we were able to spend my last day in Peru walking together in Lima and getting to know each other.  Unfortunately, Rabbi Ben was still insistent on continuing with his round-the-world travel plan and I was not interested in waiting for him.  We parted ways and I thought I would never see him again.

For the next two-and-a-half years, we kept in touch sporadically via phone and email.  In December of 2009, Rabbi Ben was finally in the same time zone as me, so we were able to talk on the phone more.  It took me two months, but I finally managed to convince him to visit me in Miami, Florida, where his grandparents also happened to be at the time.  He found the perfect flight: one that got him into Miami in the morning, so he could have lunch with his grandparents, but flew out in the evening, just after having dinner with me.  Then he’d fulfill his longstanding promise to visit me, but instead of staying too long, he’d end up on the beaches on Puerto Rico.

But G-d had different plans.

Rabbi Ben had accumulated quite a few air miles over the years, so he always checked his statements meticulously.  However, this time, he had misread the date of their expiration.  He had mixed up the day and the month, reading it European style instead of American style, and as a result, he found his air miles expired.  He called the company to try to fix it and they told him the only way to do so was to take a flight of a certain distance within the next couple of weeks.  A flight to Miami was just what he needed.

At our l'chaim (engagement party) in Miami Beach, Florida

Only divine providence can explain how, 3 years after first meeting in Lima, Peru, Rabbi Ben and I finally got engaged! Our l'chaim took place in Miami Beach, Florida, followed by our wedding in Jerusalem, Israel.

So he had to forego his planned “perfect” flight to Puerto Rico in favor of one that went just to Miami, but was on the right airline.  Late on a Tuesday night, as I was driving home from work, Rabbi Ben called me.  “I’m flying in tomorrow afternoon – can you pick me up at the airport?”

This was a huge surprise to me, since I hadn’t seriously expected him to come visit.  But I was happy to see him again, so I rolled with the punches.  He only planned to spend a couple of days visiting his grandparents before continuing on to Puerto Rico.  But he never made it to Puerto Rico.

Instead, after only a couple of months of dating and a Pesach trip to meet his family, we got engaged.  A few months later, we were married in Jerusalem, Israel, overlooking the Kotel.  And now our first year has passed… It’s amazing how time flies!

G-d had to work hard to get us together, across thousands of miles and several years, but in the end, everything happens in its proper time.  It is a true story of divine providence, as is every story of “how we met.”  But in our case, I think G-d had to work extra hard!

Read More

Parshas Devarim: To Sum It All Up, Just Have Faith

A squat toilet in Amman, Jordan

Getting used to squat toilets in Jordan helped make things easier for me when I got to India. It was a blessing in disguise: something we encounter all the time in life. If we have faith and trust in G-d, we'll be able to see how G-d is helping us and doing everything for our good... even if it might not seem like it at first glance.

There are so many times in travel that I am stuck in a situation and I just want to cry (and ok, I’ll admit it, sometimes I do).  I’m sitting there looking at this hole in the ground that calls itself a toilet and I want to cry.  I’m looking at this bucket of warm river water that is my “shower” and I want to cry. My luggage is lost, again. Why does G-d have to do these things to me?

Of course, there are much greater challenges we face in life; things like death and disease.  But the thing about travel is that inconveniences and annoyances like these are pretty much everyday occurrences.  You have to deal with so much on such a daily basis that something that might seem small in the grand scheme of things is, at that moment, quite huge.

The challenge is trying to see everything as divine providence.  Other nations have an angel watching over them, controlling their fate.  But not us Jews, oh no. We have G-d himself watching over us and we have no fate.  We alone have the power to create our own fate.  What G-d wants from us is to make the right choices and He gently pushes us in the right direction, lovingly, like a father of small children.  Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t see it.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Jews, who are now on the verge of entering the land of Israel, get some pretty strong reminders from Moses.  He reminds them of the sin of the spies.  He reminds them of the sin of the golden calf. He reminds them of how they wanted to return to Egypt.  In short, he keeps reminding them of the times when things got tough and instead of trusting G-d to do what’s best for them, the Jews started crying.

I think that’s what I do a lot – what everyone does a lot.  We cry over nothing.  G-d is giving us presents and we’re crying and pushing them away because the wrapping paper makes them look like garbage, when inside is really a very nice gem.  In travel, I find it especially difficult to remember this because so often my defenses are down: I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m cold, I’m cranky, and my luggage is halfway around the world.  But that’s when it’s most important to remember that G-d is there, taking care of us.  I’m tired and cold… so my husband can give me a hug. I’m hungry… so I can eat some fruit and make a blessing on it.  My luggage is lost… so I can go to the store and buy new underwear and be reimbursed for it.  And that’s part of the crucial message Moses wants the Jews to remember, first and foremost, as they enter the land of Israel.  To look back on those times when they didn’t trust in G-d, and to remember them for the future so that next time they would remember G-d… and trust in Him, and have faith.

Shabbat shalom!

Read More

Parshas Beha’aloscha: Learning to Let G-d Guide You

A sunset view of the famous Lake Palace in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

In Udaipur, our first stop in Rajasthan, India, we didn't get a great feeling from most of the guesthouses set along the river. As a result, we kept on walking and we ended up finding a great little gem of a guesthouse that was clean, comfortable, spacious, and bright - and had a perfect view of the famous Udaipur Lake Palace! Because we decided to "go with the flow" and let G-d guide us instead of fighting Him, we got the best accommodations around. This has happened many times in our travels.

Our style of travel is pretty spontaneous. People are constantly asking us where we’re going next, and when, and for how long, and where after that… Occasionally we have an answer, but most of the time there’s simply no answer. We just don’t know! Sometimes we don’t figure out where we’re going until we’re at the train or bus station looking at what’s available that day. We just kind of let G-d send us where He wants us to be and it always works out. As much as I like to joke that I’m homeless, I have (thank G-d!) never had to sleep on the street.

This week’s parsha is highly apropos to this kind of travel. The Jews, while they wandered in the desert, would often get little warning of an impending move. They had to watch the cloud that marked G-d’s presence (the shechina) move from the mishkan (tabernacle) to hover over the camp of Judah and only after this would Moshe sound the trumpets that meant it was time to move. Sometimes the Jews could get pretty confused by all the moving around of the cloud because it didn’t always move at convenient times. It might move in the middle of the night. Or it would pause only for a few hours, giving the weary travelers but a short respite, or it would pause for such a long time that they would start to make camp, only for it to begin moving again without warning!

Our travel tends to be a lot like this. Even when we do have tickets taking us somewhere, it’s often impossible to get a truly “comfortable” travel schedule that allows us to sleep and eat when we need it. Sometimes we have a very long layover and sometimes we have to travel for days with hardly any sleep. I guess you could say that this is the less glorious side of travel!

Rachel with a new friend in Deshnoke, Rajasthan, India

I got stuck for about 12 hours in the tiny town of Deshnoke in Rajasthan, India. At first I wasn't happy about my train being delayed by so much, but because it was, I made a sweet new Indian friend and ended up having a great time!

The thing is, while they were journeying around the desert, the Jews never dawdled or complained about G-d’s crazy schedule. They had His very presence resting on them and protecting them. They didn’t try to fight Him. It’s a lesson we all need to learn. G-d is with each of us, helping us, holding us, directing our lives. Yet, so often, we try to fight Him. How many people told the story that traffic, or a sick child, or a fight with the spouse kept them from arriving to work on time on the day the World Trade Center was attacked? Yesterday, I was reading a story about a little boy with cancer. When he went in for radiation, he refused to remove his tzitzits… because he caused such a delay in the treatment, someone noticed that the settings had accidentally been set fatally high for a boy this size! We really never know just when and how G-d is watching out for us.

Travel is like this constantly and that’s why we rarely have a need to worry. There will be a hotel to sleep in, there will be a bus to the place G-d wants us to go (even if we don’t think it’s the best place!). G-d’s presence is always with us, protecting us, guiding us, if we’ll only let Him.

Happy travels and Shabbat Shalom!

Read More

Tefillin on Chol Hamoed

I’ve been missing my Tefillin so I thought I’d post this story about how I won a raffle for $1,200 worth of Tefillin. Got the smallest Tefillin made. How I lost them in Guatemala and how they miraculously reappeared. Read the full story:
On chol hamoed my custom is not to put on Tefillin. Some people do and some don’t. If one has the custom to put on Tefillin on chol hamoed and has traveled to a community where the custom is not to put on Tefillin on chol hamoed, he should put on his tefillin in private usually by praying on the women’s side if there are no women in the Shul
Read More
content top