Not Always How it Looks and Other Lessons in Observance

Happy President’s Day. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of touring the Truman Library with a group of friends. You may have seen a photo, posted on Facebook by a member of the group, of us seated around a restaurant table, under a caption identifying the venue as a BBQ joint. Yikes! A bit awkward for a Conservative Rabbi who both keeps and promotes keeping Kosher. (Rest assured, I ordered the Grilled Cheese.)

I have to admit, though, that my being there violated another precept: “Mar’at Ayin” — meaning “how it looks to the eye.” Mar’at Ayin prevents strictly Orthodox Jews from entering a non-Kosher restaurant, even to use the restroom facilities. Which leads me to a charming anecdote, from my tenure teaching at the Hebrew Academy.

I’m teaching the concept to my high school class, and one of the students, the daughter of an Orthodox Rabbi, raises her hand and says she has a funny story. Her family, she explains, strictly observes Mar’at Ayin; they eschew going out to eat, lest local Jews see them in non-Kosher restaurants and assume they are consuming trief. Once, though, they were traveling by car in Florida and one of the kids announced he needed a potty stop. So, they pulled up at the next McDonald’s to use the restrooms. They used the opportunity for everyone in the family of six to take care of business, entering en masse to use the facilities. Lo and behold, who’s ordering at the counter, as they enter? You guessed it: a family from the congregation, also in the area on vacation. Now I know how they felt.