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Thursday, 24 December 2015

Trusting Someone who Keeps Kosher but not Shabbos

Daf Yomi Gittin 10

King Sancheriv was the Assyrian ruler responsible for exiling the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, that ultimately became lost from our people.  In order to promote Assyrian culture universally, the king’s tactic of conquest was to exile the inhabitants of a country to another region under his rule and to bring in foreigners into the newly-conquered territory.  And so when he removed the Israelites from our homeland, he brought in a hodgepodge of peoples that collectively became known as Cutheans or Samaritans.

The Samaritans felt as bewildered as any immigrants to a new country would.  Not only were they struggling in their attempts to adjust socially, they now found themselves at the physical peril of lions that had surrounded their dwellings, attacking and killing a number of them.   The Judeans informed Assyria that the reason for the attacks was the Samaritans’ idolatrous practices.  And so the Assyrians instructed the Judeans to send priests to teach the new immigrants the ways of G-d.  While they accepted and adopted many Jewish practices, they were never absorbed into the Jewish community, because their ulteriorly-motivated conversion was always viewed with suspicion.

Matzah baked by a Samaritan is permissible and one can fulfill one’s Pesach obligations thereby. 
Rashi explains: We are not concerned that they allowed the dough to rise; and furthermore, they are familiar with the law that the matzah eaten at the seder must be guarded.
Rabbi Elazar forbids it since they are not expert in the details of mitzvos. 
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: Any mitzvah that the Samaritans committed to, they are even more careful to observe than the Jews!
Rashi explains: This commitment extends even to Rabbinic laws that they adopted.

Some people are quick to judge and exclude others who aren’t as ‘frum’ as them.  In their minds, it’s all or nothing.  If you don’t keep Shabbos in its entirety, or kosher to the same level as them, you’re not a good enough Jew.  And so they keep their distance.

But clearly, the Samaritans were trusted in certain areas, even though they might generally have been considered suspect.  We trusted them so much that we were willing to buy Samaritan-brand matzah for Pesach!  It didn’t need to have an OU or an OK on the label; we simply trusted them!

I know many people who are merely traditional when it comes to Shabbos, but meticulously observant with regards to kashrus.  Or mikvah.  Or mezuzah.  The truth is, I’m often amazed at some of the shailos (halachic queries) I get from people, regarding the acceptability of certain hechsherim (kosher symbols) or mix-up issues from their kitchens.  These are people who may be a long way from absolute observance of Torah and mitzvos; but when it comes to the kashrus of their kitchens, there are no ifs, ands, or buts for them! 

People often ask me whether so-and-so keeps kosher or not.  My response is always the same.  I’m not G-d’s policeman.  I’m not going around inspecting anyone’s kitchen.  All I can tell you is whether or not they toivel (immerse) their dishes – since they need to get the key to the mikvah to do so; and whether they ask me shailos about kashrus.  If they do both of those, you’re pretty safe eating in their home.  They might not yet be completely Shabbos-observant, but if their kashrus is meticulous and their kitchen is Shabbos-observant (in terms of cooking/reheating), then that’s a pretty good sign of how they feel about what goes into their mouths.

In Judaism, it’s not all or nothing.   Sure, we must all strive to grow in our level of commitment.  But if you know someone is on the right path and absolutely dedicated to a particular mitzvah, the Talmud says they may be trusted.  May you always embrace people in their commitment to our heritage, rather than discouraging them with automatic distrust!  

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