May 29, 2024
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May 29, 2024
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Keeping kosher means keeping away from a whole host of items including pork, shellfish and anything that mixes milk with meat. As a result, today’s kosher culinary wizards have created fake versions of banned items including fake bacon, fake crab and fake cheese, just to name a few. (Of course, fake mashgiachs are not permitted.)

Some would argue that fake versions of kosher food should not be consumed because there are plenty of other items in the world that can be consumed in accordance with Jewish law. Support for this notion can possibly be found in the Talmud, which notes that “for everything that the Divine Law has forbidden us it has permitted us an equivalent:… it has forbidden us swine’s flesh but it has permitted us the brain of the shibbuta (a type of fish)….” (Shabbat 64b). Thus, some would argue that instead of eating a fake BLT, try a shibbuta BLT (brains, lettuce and tomato).

With respect to fake food, another issue is the Talmudic concept of Maras Ayin which means “what appears to the eye.” Under this general rule, a person is prohibited from performing an act that to an observer would appear to be forbidden, even if the act actually is permissible or is being done in a permissible way. The classic example of Maras Ayin is a kosher-keeping Jew entering a non-kosher restaurant solely to use the restroom and attendant the risk that another kosher-keeping Jew might see the first Jew enter the establishment and incorrectly assume that it serves kosher food. The chances of such a mix-up might be relatively slim but the mere possibility is sufficient to trigger a Maras Ayin alert. (By the way, a Maras Ayin alert, through an app on your phone, is a potential Shark Tank idea. A la Mr. Wonderful, I’ll accept a royalty on every unit sold.)

Technically, Maras Ayin applies only to forbidden acts. It typically does not apply to activity that is permissible but might cause others to suspect that it is being conducted in a forbidden way. For example, if you build a sukkah with only three and a half walls instead of four (which technically is permissible), you do not have to worry that others will question whether your sukkah is compliant. That said, you probably will have to worry that others will question the sanity of building half of a wall.

Generally speaking, a person should not fake a mitzvah; it should be performed sincerely, wholeheartedly, correctly and with maximum effort. A person also should be mindful that, technically speaking and under most circumstances, a mitzvah cannot be 100% fulfilled when using fake or false substitutions. For example:

the mitzvah of eating in a Sukkah cannot be fulfilled by eating in a phone booth;

the mitzvah of blowing the Shofar cannot be fulfilled by blowing a kazoo;

the mitzvah of reading the Torah cannot be fulfilled by reading the newspaper;

the mitzvah of keeping Shomer Shabbat cannot be accomplished on a Tuesday;

the mitzvah of giving tzedakah (charity) cannot be fulfilled with Monopoly money;

the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanukah cannot be fulfilled by lighting the candles on your birthday cake (even if your birthday overlaps with the Festival Lights);

the mitzvah of eating matzah on Passover cannot be fulfilled by eating cardboard, regardless of how similar their taste and texture;

the mitzvah of fasting on Yom Kippur cannot be fulfilled by skipping breakfast and having a lighter lunch than usual;

the mitzvah of honoring your parent cannot be fulfilled by your subsidiary honoring its corporate parent;

the mitzvah of visiting the ill cannot be fulfilled by hanging out with the ill-informed;

the mitzvah of welcoming guests into your home cannot be fulfilled by welcoming guests into someone else’s home;

the mitzvah of putting on tefillin cannot be fulfilled by wearing a jacket with leather sleeves;

the mitzvah of hearing the Megillah reading on Purim cannot be fulfilled by listening to others talking about the Megillah reading after-the-fact;

the mitzvah of putting up a mezuzah on the doorpost cannot be fulfilled by gluing a fortune cookie to the doorpost;

the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit cannot be fulfilled by wearing flag-football flags; and

the mitzvah of counting the Omer cannot be fulfilled by counting sheep or by counting your eggs before they’ve hatched.

Bottom-line: Some say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and thus is a good thing, except if you are imitating an insult comic.

By Jon Kranz

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