Are we really kosher?

Noa Kattler Kupetz

Staff Writer

From just peeking into our lunchboxes, it’s clear that we have different opinions concerning kashrut. As I eat a slice of pizza, a friend next to me gnaws on a warm chicken and cheese panini. Next to her sits another friend, eating a turkey sandwich picked up from kosher Subway that morning. Together, we represent the notorious and controversial kosher debate on campus.

“I keep kosher at home, that’s it,”  chicken n’ cheese Panini eater said.

The average Milken student spends 35 hours a week on campus, and that’s not even counting lishma, sports practice, or those who show up on Sundays. During the school year, Milken becomes our second home. At times, it can feel that we spend the majority of our lives on campus, seeing our teachers more than we see our parents.

For some, the value of keeping kosher only in the home stems from families’ desires to keep the home a pure, holy place. So Panini Girl, why aren’t you respecting your second home as you would your first?

“Wait, did you heat that up in the microwave?” my Kosher Subway eating friend asked.

“Yeah, but don’t worry, it was in the meat one,” chicken and cheese said.

Here is the dilemma: are Milken’s kosher microwaves really as kosher as the handwritten signs plastered to their faces claim to be? I watch as Kosher Subway’s cheeks turn red, her hands already crumpling up her sandwich and reaching towards the trashcan.

“It’s not fair. How can I keep kosher on campus if I can’t even rely on the microwaves?” she asks. Kosher for her means the “full commitment”: waiting for a period of time between eating meat and milk, having two sets of silverware, two sections of the fridge, etc. Milken makes an effort to cater to followers of this practice, banning bake sales of dairy products on days when Vicki’s lunches contain meat, and providing dairy and meat microwaves.

“It’s crazy. I’m going to heat up my kosher brisket, and the girl in front of me pulls a cheese enchilada out of the meat microwave. Not to mention the microwaves are in the Milken Mart, surrounded by yogurt and ice cream bars,” kosher subway friend said. Obviously, monitoring the food that goes into the microwaves is a tricky job, but it would be incorrect to claim that Milken doesn’t care about individual kosher needs.

Milken students are advised to not bring shellfish, mixed meat and milk, and pork to school, foods that are tref. But shouldn’t Milken respect those who choose the spiritual path of not keeping kosher as they respect those who choose to?

Completely changing school policy to allow students to bring tref foods to school would go against many kosherkeeping students’ values, but the kosher policy definitely needs to be tweaked. Milken must face it: many of us are bringing mixed dairy and meat products to school, along with unkosher meats, resulting in the deterioration of the “kosher-ness” of the microwaves and our campus.

“Why don’t we have a non-kosher meat microwave? We’re a pluralistic school- doesn’t it say that in the mission statement? I respect that people who want to keep kosher have a microwave, but shouldn’t those who don’t keep kosher have a separate one, too?” Adam Almany ’14 said.

Shouldn’t Milken respect those who choose not to keep kosher as they respect those who choose to do so?

One solution is to install an additional microwave in the student store. Another microwave would ensure comfort for those who no longer want cheese in the meat microwave and creating an option for those who want to heat up their cheeseburgers and other mixed dairy and meat products.

Ideas of how to improve Milken’s kosher policy are beginning to circle around school, and are worth being listened to by the Judaic department. It’s about time we acknowledge and change the current kosher situation on campus.

46 COMMENTS

  1. Wonderful article Noa; these are really pertinent issues that need to be addressed. I think it is important to note that even among some Orthodox Jews, the use of a non kosher microwave to heat kosher food is permissible; the rabbi whose rulings I and many religious Sephardi Jews follow, Rabbi Aaron Abadi, states that you can heat kosher food in a non-kosher microwave as long as it is covered, for it is the steam that makes it non kosher. It is only due to that ruling that I am allowed to use the Milken “kosher” microwaves. I use them assuming they are not kosher, and follow the rule of covering my food. It is a shame that at a Jewish school I have to assume the “kosher” microwave is treif.
    We need to address this issue thoughtfully, with the values of pluralism firmly in mind to make people who keep kosher 100% comfortable, and so those who do not do not feel infringed upon.

  2. The problem is that student who don’t keep kosher are more concerned with eating as fast as possible, and less concerned where they heat their food. The solution isn’t to add kosher microwaves – They will be used improperly. The solution is to add several non-kosher microwaves, and then separate the kosher ones so that they are never needed by those who are simply in a rush or disregard other peoples values.

    If it is less convenient to use a kosher microwave, they will be kept tref-free.

  3. Julian- I 100% agree, additional microwaves would be just as improperly used as the old ones. Actually separating the kosher microwaves is a great idea, but is making them less convenient to use fair to those who are kosher and in as much of a rush as their nonkosher classmates?

  4. Great article Noa! As someone who doesn’t worry about keeping kosher, the separate microwaves is a great idea. Unfortunately, this will not be a perfect system since you can’t regulate kids’ luches whether they are kosher or not.

  5. Noa,
    This was a great article. I think that there should be a microwave for mixed cheese and meat. It is really bad if someone heats up cheese and meat in the kosher microwave, because it really makes it hard to keep kosher.

  6. Great Article Noah! I myself do not keep kosher and bring a mixture of milk and meat to school. I think a great part of this school is that we are able to bring foods that do not follow all the Kashrut laws if we choose to. It makes this school very pluralistic, as Adam said, and allows people to keep the laws of Kashrut they choose to. However, I know how strict many people are with Kashrut and if they feel unsure about being able to warm up food in a microwave that is supposedly kosher I think it is a situation that must be changed.

  7. Hi Noa, Great article! After reading this I thought deeply about how our school can conform to everyones needs. For example, going off of your idea and Julian’s, in the student store we can have non kosher microwaves out in the front and kosher ones behind the cashier desk. The reason for this is to make sure that the kosher ones are not used inappropriately and the non kosher ones are used at ease. Great Article! I deeply agree with your article.

    – Adam Almany

  8. I think this is really interesting. But, wouldn’t having a non-kosher metal microwave set up a bad example to the school? I mean, if a family comes to see the school and suddenly sees that microwave, they would surely think bad of this school, and if the family is very religous they won’t even put the kid in the school. I think that is a very important thing the Judaic department should think about instead of just putting the microwave right away.

  9. Noa- to resolve this problem I think the school should install a non-kosher microwave. It is not fair to the students who keep kosher to trust that those signs on the microwaves actually are followed. The standard that “high traif” (shellfish or pork) food should not be brought to school should still be followed. Students who do not keep kosher should be able to continue warming up unkosher food this and not disturb the kosher students. Great article!

  10. Noa, I completely agree that we should have a separate microwave for the students that bring unkosher foods to school. This way the students who keep kosher won’t have to worry about breaking their kashrut by using a microwave that has also been used for unkosher foods. Great article!

  11. As we all know Milken is a pluralistic school, it is written in the mission statement. Due to this I feel that it is only sensible that we have microwaves that cater to the needs of every student. The solution is simple, there should be an option for those that keep kosher, semi-kosher, another form of kosher, or those that keep no form of kashrut at all. Also, another part of Kashrut is the aspect of self control. Although not everyone keeps kosher shouldn’t we all exhibit self control in the way we use the microwaves provided for us. After all one of the most important values we are taught is to respect others. Therefore, not respecting their choices regarding kashrut would be against what we are taught on a daily basis.

  12. Great article Noa! I think you did an amazing job addressing the conflict between Kosher and non-kosher microwaves and food and bringing forth a solution to the problems that arise from it. I love how you wrote about a solution that satisfies everyone and makes everyone feel comfortable with the school that they go to.

  13. Great article Noa. I agree with you Noa, and I aslo believe that we should add a few extra microwaves in our Milken Mart. I dont just believe that we should add a few non-kosher microwaves, yet I also believe that we should also add more kosher microwaves as well. One major issue that I have noticed is that many students at are school tend to just throw their non-kosher food in the first microwave available because they do not want to wait for the proper microwave to be available for their specific type of food. By adding a few more microwaves student will be able to place their food in the correct microwave without a wait.

  14. Noa-
    Because I try to keep kosher myself, I always subconsciously monitor what people put in the microwaves, but never get up the nerve to inform them that what they are putting in the “meat microwave” really belongs in the dairy one. Just the other day, I was in the student store with my friend who was heating up her lunch. As we were in line for one of the dairy microwaves, the boy in front of us put a plate full of meat in the dairy microwave when there was obviously a meat one open and waiting for usage. I was appalled, but I kept quiet because I didn’t want to disrespect his own beliefs. But my friend, with her eyes wide open, was disgusted. She found it incredibly disrespectful and could not believe it. It went on to the point that she wanted to take out the person’s food and put it in the meat microwave, but she never did.
    This meat/ dairy microwave issue is an underrated problem that needs to be resolved because at this moment, Milken’s attempts to cater to all different types of beliefs is failing.

  15. Noa, I think this is a great article and it brings up good points on both issues of making sure that kosher kids feel comfortable putting their food in the microwave and giving the people who do not keep kosher the same respect or privileges that we give to the people who keep kosher. I think that having a non-kosher microwave would be a very good solution to both of these issues. And i feel that if more people look closely at these issues then we will be able to come up with changes that make everyone comfortable.

  16. Noa, this was a wonderful article! Here, at Milken, we are such a pluralistic community, that at times, it can be difficult to accommodate everyone’s personal needs. I think that adding in a separate “non kosher” microwave is a great solution, and each person can heat their food in the microwave they feel comfortable using. Maybe we can have somebody announce the new microwave rules at a town meeting, and remind the students of the significance of keeping kashrut.

  17. Noa,
    I agree and completely understand your point of view. I personally feel that Milken has given themselves the name of a “pluralistic” school, however I think they mean in a Jewish perspective. Meaning that all different types of Jews attend our school and all Jewish beliefs and ideas are accepted. Regardless, I feel Milken should consider putting a non-kosher meat microwave for those pluralistic Jews who chose not to keep kosher at school.
    Good article!

  18. Noa, I was intrigued by this article. You brought up a problem that I never thought before! As Julian stated earlier, it is how we deal with non-kosher microwaves. People who keep kosher pay attention to which microwave they use. Many times, non-kosher students disregard the signs or even if they notice it, they don’t respect the rule. There needs to be a change, but my question is, despite being a pluralistic community, would kosher students be offended by having non-kosher microwaves in a Jewish school?

  19. Noa-I think that it is imperative that we need to address this issue. Many people think that it is okay to just put their non-kosher food into the kosher microwave; it’s not like they are eating ruining the “kosher-ness.” But their wrong. I think that we need non-kosher microwaves, because we need to have variety in our school. Even though we are kosher and are a Jewish school, not everyone needs to be similar to everyone else. This issue needs to be dealt with immediately and properly.

  20. Noa- I completely agree. We are a pluralistic school and those who are not kosher should be able to heat up their food in a microwave, just as those who are kosher. Installing new microwaves for tref food is a great solution. This way, kosher students as well as non-kosher students can heat up their food without any worries.

  21. Donna, great point. The microwave situation complicates things socially, too — not just ritually. It’s hard to rebuke another person. But what about Dan N’s point above — would having a “traif” microwave be sending the wrong message about Kashrut? I’m not sure.

  22. It’s an important distinction: who and/or what deserves respect? The Laws of Judaism? The value of pluralism? The importance of not embarrassing anyone? There are many competing values here. Which one should prevail?

  23. As a pluralistic school, it is our duty to cater to the needs of ALL of our students, not just the majority. That being said, is another microwave really necessary? Do we have the budget for it? While I believe a better kashrut system is in need, we must prioritize. As someone who keeps the conservative definition of kosher, and does not need separate microwaves, I would be happy to contribute to the cause. However, other students may not feel as compelled to participate.
    Nice article!

  24. Noa –
    I thought this was a great article. This article really helped me think about how I interpret my own Kashrut. At home I keep super strict kosher. If we do something wrong, like put the meat dishes in the dishwasher when it is dairy, we have to wash both the dish and the dishwasher two times over each. But at school I have found a great sense of freedom to see how I can deal with the opportunity to decide my own practices. I sometimes will have a dairy snack a certain time after I have a meat lunch, sooner than I would ever think to do at home. This article really showed my conflict n writing and I think that you did a great job with this!
    Keep up the good work!

  25. Noa,
    I think this was a great article that brings up a lot of ideas about the way that Kashrut is handled at this school. Just as Rabbi Shawn said, neither cause is greater, the school is pluralistic so must honor all different rituals of keeping kosher. Meaning, as you said in the article that we cannot force kids to bring kosher food, however for the kids that do keep kosher they should have the right to heat up their food without worrying about breaking their tradition. New microwaves would be a great installment however no one can know if people will actually abide by the rules.

  26. I think that it would be a good idea to have a non kosher microwave too. Although i don’t keep kosher but, if i did would i would appreciate it if people around me would respect the way i chose, food wise. But since i am not kosher and if i have to heat up food that was non kosher i would like to heat it up without offending or doing something wrong that would affect someone else’s food choices. I also believe that by having an extra microwave we are silently supporting all those who do keep kosher by helping them. Thus by addressing the issue of kashrut within the school and finding solutions to the problems is exactly what we need.

  27. Hey Noa, it was a great article and definitely something that has to be addressed at school. First of all, I love your writing style and you are an amazing journalist. It definitely isn’t fair that someone who keeps kosher should have to feel uncomfortable microwaving at school, when someone who doesn’t keep kosher doesn’t really have to worry about anything at all. Personally, I do keep kosher. But I’ve never really faced the problem because I’ve never actually used a microwave at school. Being able to use microwaves at school is a privilege that should either be available to all, or available to none. We are a pluralistic school, and we should acknowledge that there are many ways of keeping Kashrut and not keeping Kashrut. There is no judgement of whether or not you keep it. I think the Kosher Microwaves is a great idea, but it should be physically separated from the nonkosher mircrowaves (maybe on opposite sides of the Student Store?) Thank you for raising such an important situation!!

  28. Rabbi Shawn,

    To me, I think that respect is the key to the sucsess of a school. Respect for our teachers allows them to teach, respect for one another leads to appriciation of other’s point of view. Therefore, I belive that each person should be respected to come closer to achieving a pluralistic environement. If respect for one’s traditions and beliefs is stressed from when we celebrate holidays and when we sudy tanach, I think that the same ethic should be implemented into our school’s microwaves as well.

  29. Noa, great article. What I really took away from it was the part when you talked about the people who keep kosher “only at home”, however, this basically is their home. That’s a really important point to make, that Milken, during the school year, is our home, and the question is, is keeping kosher in your “home” important to people because they want to keep their literal “home” a holy and pure place, or should keeping kosher in your “home” mean keeping kosher in the place at which you spend the most time?
    Your article brought up a lot of good points and I really enjoyed reading it! 🙂

  30. Noa- I agree. A traif microwave would be a great idea. Milken is supposed to promote all different aspects of Jewish living and life and in 9th grade we all learn about keeping Kosher and we are using these values in practice. On the other hand, a regular meat and milk microwave with no distinctions is pluralistic enough. People are always complaining about the lines for both meat and milk and making the lines go faster with just 4 with no distinctions with waiting for the other one.

  31. I believe that as a pluralistic community that is accepting of all kinds of jews on any side of the religious spectrum, we need to be aware of what goes in and out of our microwaves and pay attention. It is disrespectful to completely disregard the more religious kids who find it really important to separate the dairy and meat microwaves, but this just means that all the community needs to start being more respectful, not buy another microwave. Who says that kids who’ve been ignoring the difference between the microwave will start using the tref microwave rather than the dairy and meat ones? This is a matter of the community being aware, not the amount of different microwaves we have in the student store.

  32. Noa, I think that your article is really insightful to the Milken Community. I realize that many students use the school microwaves inappropriately, but I feel like putting in unkosher microwaves would just anger the people who keep kosher. Personally, I do not keep kosher, unless at home. It’s really important to cater to everyone’s different beliefs, and to acknowledge the fact that everyone has different opinions. I believe that we should have a “tref” microwave so that everyone is happy. There should actually be more than one “tref” microwave because if people see a free kosher microwave, they really won’t think too much about sticking their chicken cheese sandwich in there. I think it should be really accessible. I really don’t believe that as a whole everyone will obey the strict rules about the microwaves. 😀

  33. Noa, that was an amazing article! It really made me think. I think the idea of another microwave would be really beneficial to our student body. However, I don’t feel that it needs to be labelled as a “treif” microwave. I keep kosher, however I’m not worried about the kashrut level of the microwave that I warm up my food in. It should just be a microwave for people who, for lack of a better term, don’t care. It would be neutral, I wouldn’t have a problem with using eat, even though I somewhat keep kosher. But I see a problem with no obvious solution: how do we ensure that people will use the microwaves properly?

  34. Noa,
    Here we have a situation that is commonly faced in most democratic and pluralistic societies. This problem being the comfort level of all students, and assuring that that comfort level is maintained. It is obvious that there is a dilema with microwaves at school, and that it is significant to provide materials, this being a treif microwave. But the question is, where does the providing end? Aren’t we also a religious institution that lives under an assumption of certain moral and ethical values? First it’s food, then it’s having events on Saturday, that you don’t have to go to, but are still happening anyway. Secondly, the way of attaining said microwave. If we have to provide multiple supplies and microwaves to students to make people comfortable, that is going to cost funds. These funds end up coming into the tuition or making less room for other things on campus. Is it chicken and cheese’s responsibility to make the kosher subway turkey sub person comfortable? Very good article. Extremely interesting ideas.

  35. Noa- As I read your article I really began to notice how important this issue is. There are several non-kosher students at this school and I think that as a pluralistic community we need to cater everyones needs. Having different microwaves allows kosher students to keep there values and unkosher students to keep their values as well. There should be an option for everyone to choose from, such as to warm their food up in separate microwaves, which would be only fair to the students. Not respecting their eating habits would contradict our morals and values as a pluralistic Jewish community, which is why I think that students who keep kosher and students who eat tref should be provided with their own microwaves to cater their needs. Great Job Noa!

  36. I think this is a pertinent issue that causes discomfort for a lot of people. There is a dilemma besides just kosher and tref. There are many different levels of Kashrut that people follow. I know people who are not Kosher, but would also feel uncomfortable putting there food in a tref microwave. I think the solution is five microwaves, giving people the choice to choose their own confort level and still respect one another.

    Microwaves:
    1) Kosher Meat
    2) Kosher Dairy
    3) Non-Kosher Meat
    4) Non-Kosher Dairy
    5) Tref (ex. Mixed Meat and Milk)

    People should just be mindful of making the appropriate choice of microwave, and that is not something Milken as an institution can control.

  37. Julian,
    I think that you’re very much correct. The problem inherent in a pluralistic society is that we must balance the beliefs of one group with those of another. The reason that people violate the rules is because, as you’ve said, it’s convenient. Perhaps a kosher microwave should be moved from the student store. In that way, students who care about kashrut will take the extra minute and walk to the further microwaves, while those who do not would be easily satiated by access to close microwaves free of nagging. Now, some may complain that this rewards those who violate kashrut, but I don’t believe that there’s another option. If we were to put kosher microwaves in the student store and non-kosher ones further away, people would still move for the most convenient microwave, defeating the purpose of the entire thing. I feel that, unfortunately, we often cater to the highest denominator, and that to give more than lip service to the idea of pluralism, we have to respect those people who choose not to keep kosher. It’s a balancing act, and we can’t reasonably expect perfection; however, we can still move forward and try to make this a better society.

    -Alex

  38. Everyone’s comments are very insightful.

    To Talia Karu — your point about Milken being our “home” is fascinating. To Gabe Kachuk and others — this really encompasses the question about the needs of the individual vs the needs of the community. What does it mean to be an individual within a community? What are the requirements of an individual within a community? What does it mean to honor each individual?

    Also, the act of eating food is particularly interesting and complex because it is both intensely private and very public. I believe that this conversation is ultimately not about halacha or ritual, but rather about the meaning of maintaining a single, respectful, pluralistic community.

  39. Noa, I think that this is a great article! I completely agree with adding an additional microwave in the student store. I think that it is important to respect the values of people that keep kashrut and people that do not. I feel that by us attending a Jewish day school, there should be an option for the kids who keep kashrut to continue that outside of their home. Personally, I feel like Milken should be the place where people can continue their Jewish traditions without any issues.

    – Tal

  40. there is now one microwave in the store that is for non-kosher items. the problem is that we hope that the students are responsible enough to respect the signs on the microwave and use the kosher ones for kosher items and keep meat and milk items where they belong.

  41. Noa,
    This is a great article, you addressed this important issue really well. I agree with some of what you said: Milken is a pluralistic school, and it is crucial that everyone’s religious are addressed. Although, I do disagree with the idea of adding another microwave in the student store. I don’t think that adding another microwave next to the others will solve the issue. Today, kids who put their food in the wrong microwave do it for convenience and what is quickest for them, not really noticing what they are doing. Nothing will stop them from putting the food in an additional microwave that would be added. I think that a solution is to separate the microwaves, for example putting un-kosher microwaves at one end of the store and kosher microwaves at the other end. That way, the kids will see a distinct difference between the microwaves.

  42. Noa,
    Great article! I think this issue that you brought up is looked upon as so simple, yet we forget that it is so important! I thought it was very interesting what Joel brought up, how for some students they are brought up in either a very strict religious household or the complete opposite, and Milken gives them an opportunity to find their true Jewish identity with giving them options on different levels of observance. Going back to Dan N’s question about will having un kosher and kosher microwaves be a bad influence and example to in coming students, I think it will be actually refreshing to new parents and kids. By having two microwaves, Milken is giving all students a choice that they get to make INDEPENDENTLY! With all of these choices to choose from, we get to try new things, more or even less religious compared to the practices we have grown up with.
    About whether having one or extra non kosher microwaves being a solution to this disregarded subject at school, I think it is COMPLETELY up to us! As students (not as faculty or administration, since we are the ones who mostly use the student store and those microwaves), we need to decide, non kosher and kosher students, whether we will abide by these new rules. Yes, we are a pluralistic community, but I know for me, I have meetings and a limited time to get my books, heat up my food, eat, and then get to class. We are all in a rush at lunch time! It’s practically a zoo! And all of these students, including myself, are the majority who are in a rush. So we would have to make a clear distinction between each microwave, making it easier for all non kosher and kosher students who are all in a rush and who will do anything to just get their lunch hot.

    Amazing article Noa! Thank you so much for bringing up this issue!

  43. Milana,
    I have to disagree with your solution of 5 microwaves.
    People don’t have time to look and read each one, than pick which one their meal belongs to, I’m very sorry to say, but from the looks of things in the student store many students don’t care, they just want to eat their lunch. Yes, it would be nice and respectful to kosher students at Milken, but I think having 5 different categorized microwaves is just setting us up for another mishap.

  44. Noa,
    you addressed this issue superbly. This is a great point you made and it is time that someone said it. I personally am completely kosher and i am unable to heat my food up without koshering the microwaves first. I believe that this will be a problem that can be solved, but we are unable to go by the honors code because who knows if that is kosher meat and what standers are considering it as kosher. Some thing we are able to do it respect the people in our school that do not keep kosher by putting more microwaves because as you sated our school is a school that is secular. We have to respect all the religious paths which the students at our school take.

  45. I think this article arises good ideas and the unceasing issue of Kashrut. Personally, I am not kosher however often times I walk into the student store with friends and find that people don’t even pay attention to the labels on the microwaves. I’ve witnessed several instances where people have placed whole plates of meat into the dairy microwave because it was the microwave that became available first. This personally doesn’t affect me but rather it was disturbing to see that someone would do such an act. I think that it is more than messing with someone’s level of observances but rather it’s like a student is decieving another. When one places their meal into the microwave to heat up, they know what they’re getting. However, when someone mixes it they are being completely mislead. I think this is an issue especially because of the different levels of Kashrut and it’s unrealistic to have a microwave police. I definately thing something needs to be dont about this issue sooner than later.

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