Jewish concept of marit ayin

Reply Wed 28 Sep, 2016 02:19 pm
I just read a piece in the UK Jewish Chronicle by Rabbi Julian Sinclair, about whether an observant Jew can you eat a veggie burger with melted cheese. He says "Probably yes, though there's reason to think maybe not". As he says, there no prohibition on eating milk with textured-soy protein. He then goes on to say the possible problem comes from the halachic concept of marit ayin, literally "how it looks". This applies to a situation where something would look bad if people don't understand what's really going on. A 16th-century Polish rabbi used this to forbid the local custom of cooking meat in almond milk. Two reasons given for marit ayin are 1. Someone watching may be misled by your example and come to do something forbidden or 2. They might suspect you of wrongdoing and one should try to live above suspicion. Sinclair does allow that these days most people are familiar with veggie burgers.

(I know the aricle was written in a light hearted vein) I have big problems with this kind of thinking. If you know you are doing nothing wrong, are you really responsible (even in a small way) if someone see you and misunderstands enough to do something that is actually wrong? Don't we have individual responsibility? Secondly, if I have to behave so that nobody (nobody) could ever suppose that i was doing something wrong, would I have to live my life in a way that would not offend the most foolish, mean-spirited and uncharitable observer? (Especially when I am being observed continually by God*, who is none of those things.)

*If I believed in God, which I would obviously do if I was an observant Jew.

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Reply Fri 30 Dec, 2016 09:03 pm
Not sure how much sense it makes to apply modern secular law to a question of religious law. If it's in the Rabbi's tradition that one should not just follow the religious law, but must not even appear to be breaking the law even if you aren't, then that's okay.

Even in American law, though, we have a similar principle. A judge must recuse himself from a case if there is even the appearance of impropriety. So the Rabbi might not be far off in his reasoning.
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Reply Fri 30 Dec, 2016 10:16 pm
I just read some info on this and found it interesting.

If for instance you are drinking pareve milk, like almond milk, you should, if others are around, leave the container on the table. Other examples, like eating a pareve cheeseburger in a restaurant are given. In that case the menus must clearly state it was made with pareve cheese.

Are they responsible to let others know in these ways? Personally, I don't see why not. Sure, I guess sometimes there could be instances of another party gossiping "do you know what I saw?" But I see it as being more of an example to others who may be struggling. You are the good example.
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Reply Sat 31 Dec, 2016 04:57 am
This is strange. No answers for three months, then two good ones in around one hour. I must confess I came at this concept as a current atheist with a strong interest in religions, and I was brought up in a rather lukewarm Church of England (Episcopalian) family setting. We went to church for weddings, baptisms and funerals only. Of course, no meatless Fridays or anything dietary. Our nominal "religion" did not penetrate our daily lives. I did get the Protestant notion of an individual's direct relationship with God, not strongly mediated by priests and not dependent on pictures or statues, and pretty free of holy ritual. I was aware of the social aspect - my parents felt our denomination signified what were not (Jewish, Catholic, Baptist, etc).

I recently read an article about a conversation between a (Protestant) Christian priest and an Orthodox rabbi where the latter was asked "Does God really care if you eat bacon?". "Of course not!", he replied. "We do it for ourselves, not for God." I had a Muslim colleague who liked "smoky bacon" flavour potato crisps (chips) which don't have any meat content. He liked bacon sandwiches but that's another story. When he was a kid, his father didn't like him bringing the packs of chips into the house because of "what people might think".

In the Jewish Chronicle recently, a reader wrote to the "Rabbi, I have a problem!" page asking "What do I tell my teenage son who doesn't see why he can't eat cheeseburgers?". The questions are answered by two rabbis, one Orthodox and one Reform. They both said "It's good that he's questioning" and said that unquestioning observance did nobody any good. The Orthodox guy said " If we are to apply rational thinking to the laws of kashrut, none of it makes intrinsic sense.", and the Reform guy said "Reform Judaism insists that we should not follow past rules blindly, but make informed choices. Our synagogues tend to keep kosher so that all Jews entering can feel comfortable eating in them, but we allow domestic practice to vary according to individual conscience."

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