Don’t Miss the Boat: Halachic Guidelines of Kosher Cruises

The task of food preparation aboard a modern cruise ship is enormous. Activity begins even before the first passenger comes aboard. Needless to say, food is central to a cruise. “Kosher Cruise” may simply imply that the food is kosher; other halachic issues may not have been addressed by the kosher certification agency. In this article, we will examine kashrus, as well as other topics including Shabbos, davening and tznius.

Kashrus

Providing kosher supervision on a cruise ship is not an easy task. “Mega-ships” can carry over 4,000 guests.1 Food preparation occurs around-the-clock in multiple locations. Most often, a ‘kosher cruise’ means that an entrepreneur has booked a number of cabins aboard a large ship. In such an arrangement, kosher and non-kosher food will be prepared and served simultaneously.

The traveler must have confidence in the kashrus agency that is certifying the cruise. In order to instill confidence, a reliable kashrus organization must address many issues.

What arrangements have been made to accommodate kosher food preparation? Is a kitchen dedicated to kosher food, or has only a portion of a non-kosher kitchen been designated for kosher cooking? In most cases, only a small percentage of the passengers eat kosher food, making a shared kosher and non-kosher situation more likely; this could be potentially problematic. In some cases, kosher and non-kosher food are prepared on the same table with a makeshift barrier in-between. In such a situation, chefs may be preparing pork on one side and kosher meat on the other, a scenario which easily compromises kashrus.

The kashrus agency must hire enough mashgichim to cover all areas of food preparation and dining, both of which may be spread throughout the ship. For example, the kitchen may be on one level, the bakery on another level, and the dining room on yet a third level. The meat, fish and general storage areas may also be in separate areas, necessitating mashgiach supervision wherever and whenever needed.

Since the ship’s kitchen is extremely busy, the kosher preparation area must be tightly monitored. Waiters run back and forth, some with kosher food or utensils and some with non-kosher food or utensils. At the same time, chefs may require more ingredients from the storerooms.

Mashgichim must constantly be vigilant to ensure that waiters don’t take non-kosher food to the kosher passengers, and that kosher utensils are returned to the kosher kitchen. Mix-ups or deliberate violations of kosher rules can and do occur.

The difficulty in kosher food preparation is compounded by the fact that there is no way to replenish depleted supplies while out at sea.  This problem puts pressure on the ship’s staff, which can result in the possible use of non-kosher food or non-kosher utensils.

Kosher and non-kosher kitchens may use a common steam boiler to heat large soup kettles. While the steam does not enter the soup, it surrounds the kettle and transfers heat into the soup. The steam is often recycled to the boiler and then recirculated. Since some of the soup is non-kosher, this could lead to a transfer of non-kosher taam (flavor) into the kosher food and could render the food non-kosher. In factory settings, kashrus agencies have methods of alleviating this issue; on board a ship, it may be a challenge.

The short turnaround time for a cruise ship presents a problem. A ship that docks in port in the morning will often embark on another cruise by afternoon, giving the kosher agency insufficient time for the necessary kashering of utensils.

This problem can be resolved if the mashgiach meets the ship at its last stop prior to returning to home port, thereby allowing him to kasher while enroute. There is a report of a conscientious mashgiach who missed the boat (literally). In order to reach the ship, he was taken out to sea by pilot boat, and climbed on board using a rope ladder, beginning his work.

Shabbos food presents its own set of challenges and everything must be prepared prior to Shabbos. On Shabbos, the mashgichim must ensure that the staff follows the intricacies of Shabbos laws regarding food preparation.

Sealed Meals

An available option on board almost any ship, whether kosher or non-kosher, is pre-packaged kosher meals similar to those served on airplanes.2 These meals may be heated in any oven but must be served with the double wrapped seals intact and may not be heated on Shabbos. Simply defrosting them may not render them edible, so they should be heated on Friday, stored on ice or in a refrigerator and then opened according to halachic guidelines. It is not likely that grape juice, wine and challah will be included with the meals so these items should be brought along (as well as Havdalah supplies).

Some sealed foods with reliable certifications on the labels, such as cereal, peanut butter, jelly, non-Cholov Yisroel milk,3 butter and ice cream, as well as fresh uncut fruit and vegetables, may be available on a cruise. Cooked eggs, even in their shells (hard/medium/soft boiled), are forbidden due to Bishul Akum.4 Some cruise lines offer “kosher style” meals and claim to source kosher chicken, meat and other foods. For many reasons, this is not acceptable for kosher consumers.5

Tznius

It cannot be emphasized enough that cruises present very serious tznius issues.6  Lack of modesty can be widespread, particularly when sailing to sunny destinations.

Furthermore, separate swimming arrangements for men and women would be required. Women would require a discrete, secluded pool in which to swim.7

Davening

A cruise will generally include at least one day – Monday, Thursday or Shabbos – when the Torah is read. Therefore, it is advisable to have a Sefer Torah on board; an honorable, secure place would be required in which to house it.8

On Friday night, the tefilah of Magen Avos is not said when davening in a room which does not normally function as a shul, such as a temporary minyan in one’s home. On board a ship, a room may be designated for davening but may serve other purposes, as well. Therefore, Magen Avos would not be recited. However, if a specific room is dedicated as a shul for the duration of the cruise, and the Sefer Torah is kept in that room, then Magen Avos would be recited.9

After an ocean cruise has concluded, Birchas Hagomel must be recited. This bracha is customarily recited in shul after receiving an aliyah, preferably within three days upon disembarking.10

Shabbos

Setting Sail Before Shabbos11

Chazal decreed that it is forbidden to undertake a journey by sea within three days of Shabbos.12  Although the rishonim, early commentators, do not agree on the reasoning behind the decree, the primary concern is that a person may get seasick and be unable to enjoy Shabbos. Sailing three days before Shabbos allows time for a person to adjust to the motion of the sea.13

This concern may seem negligible today, but once  Chazal have established a decree we have no right to abolish it. Moreover, some travelers do get seasick on board cruise ships. Although ships may not toss in the sea, the waves and constant motion often wreak havoc on one’s equilibrium.14

It should be noted that restrictions which apply to Shabbos are also applicable to Yom Tov. For example, if Yom Tov is on Wednesday the three-day prohibition would apply to the beginning of the week as well, restricting one’s voyages for that week.

However, there are two lenient factors to keep in mind. First, according to the Vilna Gaon,15 the ‘three days’ are Thursday, Friday and Shabbos. Wednesday was not included in the decree, permitting one to embark on a journey on Wednesday.16 Second, according to all opinions one is permitted to embark any weekday if the ship docks before Shabbos and remains in port during that Shabbos.17

Electronics

Electronic cabin door locks and electric eye automatic door opening mechanisms are used on cruise ships. Guests may leave keys at the front desk before Shabbos and ask non-Jewish staff members to open their door during Shabbos.18

When walking about the ship, it is preferable to use manual doors. If this is not possible, one could wait until a non-Jew opens the door with his movement and then walk with him through the doorway. However, due to the difficulty in coordinating one’s movements with that of another person one should be cautious not to unwittingly activate the door.

Ships may be equipped with sinks and toilets controlled by an electric eye, particularly in the common areas. The bathroom may have automated lights that are activated when the door is opened or one walks into the room.  We suggest that one avoid travel on a ship that cannot offer a different system.

Techum

Chazal forbade a person from traveling more than 2,000 amos (approx. 7/10 mile) on Shabbos.19  However, at sea this restriction does not apply.20 Nevertheless, if one is aboard a ship sailing at sunset on Friday and subsequently docks at a port on Shabbos, the 2,000 amos begin at the port. It is difficult for most people to measure this distance precisely; they risk violating the techum if they get off the ship. Moreover, consider the challenge a passenger faces when a world-renowned tourist attraction is outside the techum in a vacation spot he may never again visit! Because of the potential Shabbos violations, it would not be wise for a kosher cruise to dock on Shabbos itself.

Security

Security is another important Shabbos concern. Similar to airports, cruise ships have metal detectors for boarding passengers. One who returns to his ship after a Shabbos stroll might set off alarms or lights at the metal detector. Since one must show his cruise card upon returning to the ship, it must be carried and would result in a Shabbos violation. Even if the city were to have an eruv, it is unlikely to include the port. Finally, the cruise card may be mukzta and forbidden to be carried.

Dateline

The International Date Line is, by convention, 180° from Greenwich, England. At noon on Monday on the Eastern side of the dateline, it is noon on Tuesday on the Western side. While halacha also recognizes the need for a dateline, the majority of poskim do not accept the International Dateline as the halachic dateline.21  Issues related to the International Dateline are extremely complex. It may be prudent to avoid these issues by foregoing cruises that cross the dateline.

As an illustration, let us look at Alaska, a popular cruise destination.22 According to Rav Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky, author of the Gesher Hachaim, the dateline is 144.8°W, exactly 180° from Jerusalem. A cruise to Juneau would not present a problem. However, according to Rav Tucazinsky’s opinion, if the cruise sails westward towards Valdez, Anchorage, Kodiak  or the Aleutian Islands, the dateline has been crossed (at a line that corresponds approximately to Valdez).23 For example, the Norwegian Cruise Line M.S. Jewel on the Denali/Valdez Explorer cruise crosses this dateline.

Generally, around-the-world cruises also present dateline concerns. For instance, one such cruise travels westward from the U.S. to China. On this cruise, all the possible halachic datelines are crossed. One would have to track the ship carefully in order to determine what he is permitted to do in each part of the world. What locals may call Friday or Sunday, in some places may actually be Shabbos.

Dateline determination also affects issues such as Yom Tov, ta’anis, tefilah, tefillin, and sefiras ha’omer.

Candlelighting and Kabbolas Shabbos

Since candles are not permitted on board cruise ships, one should light an electric incandescent nightlight or an incandescent flashlight in his room before Shabbos with a brocha. (One should not schedule a trip on Chanukah, unless special arrangements can be made to light the menorah.24)

Although Shabbos can be accepted early on Friday, it cannot be more than 1¼ hours before sunset, plag hamincha. (These hours are halachic hours, which depend upon the length of the day.) When on land, one can simply verify the time on a Jewish calendar or make a calculation based on latitude and longitude. However, when at sea this is not simple, and one should consult with a rav before leaving on the cruise. A GPS device and an app to calculate davening times may be useful while on board.

Eruv Chatzeiros

An Eruv Chatzeiros might be needed to permit ship passengers to carry on Shabbos. One should check with his rav before embarking.25

Extreme Destinations

There is a kosher cruise planned for the winter of 2018 to Antarctica. The sun sets and rises in the area where the ship will be, but does not dip enough below the horizon to get fully dark. This has various implications, for example Shabbos will be over extremely late. Since the cruise encompasses a fast day, the fast will be 24 hours. The evening Krias Shma should be recited right before chatzos halayla, which is the darkest period of the night. Certainly, one should discuss these issues with a competent halachic authority.26

Since a cruise ship is essentially a floating hotel, please also see STAR-K’s “Traveler’s Halachic Guide To Hotels” for a review of other concerns, including sensors for lights and A/C, security cameras, elevators, escalators and refrigerators.27

Ocean travel clearly has evolved from a necessity to a luxury. One who desires such a vacation must verify that every aspect of the trip will conform to the standards of halacha and yiras shamayim.

 


  1.  Interesting Fact: Symphony of the Seas is currently the world’s largest ship and has a capacity of 6,680 passengers and 2,200 crew.
  2. In the absence of mashgichim, it is not an option to ask the kitchen staff to prepare fresh meals (e.g., salmon and potato, even double wrapped). One reason is that the food would be prohibited due to Bishul Akum. A more detailed explanation is beyond the scope of this article.
  3. Milk is not acceptable from every country, even for those who drink non-Cholov Yisroel milk.
  4. Yoreh Deiah 113:14. Also, the pots used to cook the eggs are non-kosher.
  5. It is interesting to note that the Tzitz Eliezer (10:35) was asked about a ship upon which the only place to keep food was under the beds, which is normally prohibited. In a novel p’sak, he writes that food left under a bed on a ship is permitted.
  6. See Shulchan Aruch Even Ha’ezer 21:1.
  7. Cabin arrangements must also be checked, since beds must be configured according to Jewish Law. On one cruise liner, the beds were bolted down and could not be moved.
  8. In certain cases, a Sefer Torah may not be kept in one’s cabin. See Shulchan Aruch O.C. 240:6.
  9. Mishna Berura M.B. 268:24
  10. Shulchan Aruch O.C. 219 and Beur Halacha (1)
  11. For a full discussion of this issue, see article by this author in The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, published by RJJ School, Volume 38, pg 39.
  12. Shabbos 19a
  13. Our assumption in this section is that the majority of the ship’s passengers are non-Jewish, as is usually the case. However, if the majority of the passengers are Jewish then embarking on such a trip, even at the beginning of the week, may be a problem. (Pri Migadim Mishbetzos Zahav end of 248.)  However, see Shevisas Hayam (pg. 44), by the author of the Tzitz Eliezer.
  14.  “But we still hear plenty of reports from passengers who say they get seasick fairly regularly.” (www.usatoday.com) “A high percentage of passengers may experience some discomfort or disorientation within the first 48 hours at sea while acquiring their ‘sea legs’. ” (www.icruise.com).
  15. In a novel comment, Tzror Hamor (Parshas Noach 7:13) writes that Noach entered his ark on Wednesday due to the halachic concern we are discussing. This is consistent with the Vilna Gaon’s ruling.
  16. If one follows the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, then it follows logically that the first day of Yom Tov is included in the ‘three days’ of a pre-Yom Tov voyage. If Yom Tov is on Wednesday, then one would still be permitted to depart on Sunday.
  17. Another issue is if the ship first departed at the beginning of the week. Would subsequent departures from ports-of-call be considered new departures which would be forbidden (since they are within three days of Shabbos), or would they be a continuation of the original trip which would be permitted? It is the opinion of Rav Heinemann, shlit”a, that they would be considered part of the original trip.
  18. This is a sh’vus d’shvus b’makom mitzvah. (Activating the lock mechanism is an issur d’rabonon. The mitzvah is Oneg Shabbos, to get a siddur, etc. Therefore, one should not ask the non-Jew to open the door for minor reasons).
  19. Generally, people who live in large cities are able to walk much more than 2,000 amos as long as they are still within the halachic boundaries of the city. The 2,000 amos restriction begins at the edge of the city.
  20. There is no prohibition of techum when higher than 10 tefachim off the ground, as it is a different reshus. See Shulchan Aruch O.C. 404.
  21. For a full discussion of the dateline in halacha, see Rabbi Dovid Heber’s Kashrus Kurrents article, “A Traveler’s Guide to the International Dateline“.
  22. According to many opinions, the dateline does not cut through the land mass of Alaska. However, the date line will be crossed while sailing, according to Rav Tucazinsky.
  23. Rav Heinemann, shlit”a, paskens that in deference to Rav Tucazinsky’s opinion one should observe dinei deoraisa (prohibitions of the Torah) on Friday, since Rav Tucazinsky considers it to be Shabbos. Therefore, actions such as writing or turning on lights are prohibited. However, since Rav Tucazinsky’s opinion is in the minority, rabbinic prohibitions such as shopping or handling muktzah are permissible on that day. Furthermore, using a shinui (unusual manner) to perform a Biblically proscribed violation of Shabbos, or asking a non-Jew for help, would be permitted on Friday. Shabbos would be kept as usual on Saturday.
  24. For discussion of this issue, see Maharsham 4:146, Aruch Hashulchan 677:5 and Tzitz Eliezer 15:29.
  25. This question hinges on a dispute between the Igros Moshe (O.C. 1:141), who permits carrying without an eruv chatzeros in a hotel, and the Dvar Avraham (3:30), who takes a strict approach.
  26. See “When To Pray When There Is No Day”, at www.star-k.org.
  27. https://www.star-k.org/articles/kashrus-kurrents/501/the-travelers-halachic-guide-to-hotels/