Optical ‘Allusions’: Avoiding Maris Ayin

Making a Good Impression

The kohen tasked with removing funds from the treasury of the Bais Hamikdash needed to go to great lengths to avoid any suspicion of stealing: he could not wear hemmed clothing, or even tefillin, lest he hide a coin in them. He was required to speak the entire time so that he could not hide any coins in his mouth. When he exited the treasury, his hair was combed to ensure that he did not squirrel away any money in his curls! The Mishnah explains that these measures were necessary, as there is a Torah obligation to avoid suspicion: “…v’hiyisem neki’im meHashem u’meYisroel, … and you shall be innocent before Hashem and before Israel.”[1]

Activities that give an impression of transgressing Halacha must be avoided, even if they are intrinsically permitted. This area of Halacha is known as maris ayin and chashad, the appearance of transgressing an issur.[2] Interestingly, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, writes that this only extends to things that are truly forbidden. Things which people mistakenly assume are forbidden, but are in fact permitted, are not included in the prohibition of maris ayin, despite the poor optics.[3]

Miseducation

There is another, almost opposite, aspect to maris ayin. Consider this: Although the blood of animals and birds may not be eaten, fish blood is permitted. Nevertheless, a significant amount may not be consumed unless there are fish scales mixed into it.[4] Rashi explains that an undiscerning observer might otherwise mistake it for the blood of animals or birds and conclude that those bloods are permitted.[5] In other words, it is forbidden to give people the impression that something is permitted when it is truly forbidden.

Changing Fashions

Since maris ayin is all about the eye of the beholder, this area of Halacha is uniquely subject to cultural assumptions. Another case: The Torah prohibits shatnez, wearing clothing that is a mixture of wool and linen. The Mishnah prohibits mixing wool with silk as well, since silk is similar enough to linen that there is a concern of maris ayin.[6] Nevertheless, the Shulchan Aruch permits mixing silk with wool, as silk garments had become common by that point.[7] The poskim point out that although it is unheard of to deviate from the rulings of Chazal, since the reason given for this prohibition was due to maris ayin, the prohibition only applies for as long as that concern applies.[8]

I Can’t Believe It’s Nut Milk

Plant-based milk products have gained tremendous traction over the past several years. Almond, rice, soy, and coconut milks are all widely available and are a first choice for many consumers. Can they be used freely with meat, or is doing so a problem of maris ayin?

This contemporary question is actually centuries old. In the 1500s, Rav Moshe Isserles, the Rama wrote, “The custom is to make milk from almonds and to place fowl meat in it, since it [i.e., the prohibition of milk and fowl] is only Rabbinic. However, when serving this dish with animal meat

[which carries a Torah prohibition when prepared with milk]

, almonds should be placed next to the ‘milk’ to avoid maris ayin.”[9] The Shach argues that there is a concern of maris ayin even for Rabbinic prohibitions and requires that almonds be displayed even with fowl meat.[10] The custom is to follow the Shach’s opinion, and to display the container of non-dairy milk if it is being cooked or served with any type of meat.[11]

Other contemporary applications of this Halacha include margarine, coffee creamer, and pareve ice cream. All of these are replacements for their dairy equivalent and should therefore require a display of their containers when used at a meat meal. However, since it is well known that these items are commonly pareve, this is not necessary (similar to the case of silk ‘shatnez’ above.)[12]

McKosher

In the opposite case, where the “meat” is plant-based, it is questionable whether the same leniency would apply. Although soy hotdogs and hamburger meat have been available for many years, these products have never gained the same popularity as plant-based milk. Additionally, contemporary varieties, such as Beyond Meat or Impossible Burger, go to great lengths to simulate the full carnivorous experience, even adding beet juice so that the meat will “bleed.” Therefore, it is appropriate to display the container or packaging when serving these items with dairy. Similarly, STAR-K restaurants which serve meat dishes with pareve cheese must state clearly on the menu that the cheese is pareve.  

Eating Out for Fun and Profit

Another frequent question of maris ayin is patronizing non-kosher establishments. People who consider themselves careful about kosher shop at non-kosher establishments all the time. Supermarkets, big-box stores and drugstores all sell non-kosher products. Nevertheless, there is no concern of maris ayin since it is common knowledge that kosher products are also available in these establishments and people are careful to only buy the kosher products. For the same reason, one may buy and eat kosher food and drinks in cafeterias, coffeeshops, and food courts at airports and rest stops.[13]

This reasoning does not extend to non-kosher restaurants. Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one may not eat at a non-kosher restaurant because of maris ayin[14], even if there is food on the menu that is technically kosher. In fact, he writes that one may not even enter the restaurant, although this does not apply if one is painfully hungry and has no other food to eat. In such a case, one may enter the non-kosher restaurant and order kosher food. If he see someone who recognizes him, he must explain why he is there, and that he is only ordering kosher items.[15] This reasoning can be extended to another desperate situation: someone who needs a restroom and the only one available is in a non-kosher restaurant may go inside for that purpose.[16]

Often, major business deals are not decided in boardrooms and offices. The social lubrication of food and drink help people come to terms with each other.[17] This creates an uncomfortable situation for people needing to do business with non-Jews in a non-kosher restaurant. Is it allowed or is it maris ayin? Rav Moshe Heinemann, shlit”a, has said that since one is meeting others in the restaurant, and it appears to be for business purposes, there is no maris ayin. He may not order non-kosher food, even if he does not eat it. Kosher food may be ordered if it is easily recognizable as such.[18]

Public Perception

The Gemara[19] asks, “What is an example of chillul Hashem? Rav said, ‘If I were to purchase meat on credit.’” Rashi explains that were he to delay payment for his purchase, it would be seen as stealing, and others would come to take the prohibition against stealing lightly. “Rebbi Yochanan said, ‘If I were to walk four amos without Torah and tefillin.’” Again, Rashi explains: although Rebbi Yochanan was weak and tired from the immense effort he put into his learning, if others were to see him relax for even a short time, they would take Torah learning that much less seriously.

These great men were very cautious to avoid activities that were permissible and even justified. Their awareness that they could lead others to excuse and rationalize forbidden behavior held them back.

Although such behavior may seem far beyond us, in truth, each one of us has a responsibility to uphold not only the letter of Halacha, but its seriousness as well. These halachos of maris ayin should serve as guides to help us shape our lives in a way that is mekadesh shem Shamayim.


[1] Shekalim 3:2 and Yerushalmi ad. loc., Vayikra 32:22

[2] There is considerable discussion among the Acharonim about the similarities and differences between maris ayin and chashad, andtheir technical limitations. See, for example, Sdei Chemed Ma’areches Mem Klal 80, Igros Moshe O.C. 4:82, Minchas Asher 1:65-67. For the purposes of this article, which deals with the practical applications, we will use the term maris ayin even for matters which may technically be classified as chashad.

[3] Igros Moshe (O.C. 1:94) regarding his personal practice to be driven to shul on Friday after candle lighting.

[4] Apparently, this is not a popular taste. Although oxblood, pig blood and fowl blood soups are common in European and Asian cooking, this author was unable to find any recipes containing fish blood.

[5] Kerisos 21b, Rashi s.v. Shekonsu

[6] Kilayim 9:2

[7] Rosh Hilchos Kilayim, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 298:1

[8] Pischei Teshuva Y.D. 298:1

[9] Y.D. 87:4. See also §5 regarding human milk.

[10] Ad loc. §6

[11] Many popular brands of non-dairy milk carry a “Dairy” designation on their kosher symbol. This may be due either to dairy additives or to being processed on dairy equipment. Such products should not be used with meat. It is also important to note according to FDA regulations products labeled as “non-dairy” may still contain milk derivatives, such as caseinate.

[12] Cheishev Ha’efod 1:20, Daas Torah Y.D. 87:3 as well as many contemporary authorities. See also Plesi 87:8, who arrives at the same conclusion based on other sources. If these items are served after the meat course is cleared, as is usual with ice cream and coffee, there is additional reason to be lenient, as the casual observer cannot tell how long has passed since meat was eaten (Rav Moshe Heinemann, shlita).

[13] In these circumstances one need not be concerned if cups have branding of non-kosher companies on them.

[14] Additionally, an observer may mistakenly conclude that the restaurant is kosher.

[15] Igros Moshe O.C. 2:40

[16] Insights from the Institute – Kashrus Kurrents, Summer 2009.

[17] Sanhedrin 103b

[18] See Igros Moshe ad loc, who writes that this maris ayin does not apply in case of loss, and Minchas Asher 1:67, who permits a similar question assuming that the prevailing assumption is that the Jew’s presence is for business purposes only.

[19] Yoma 86a