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Office Parties - the expanded version (also covering entering Non Kosher Venues)

By Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

Part 1:

Introduction:

There is a prohibition (Avodah Zara 8a, YD 152:1) to attend the wedding of the child of a non Jewish acquaintance. The prohibition is to attend the ‘mishteh’ the eating and drinking part, even if you bring your own food and attendants.

There is a dispute as to the reason and source of this prohibition. The Taz writes that it is a Torah prohibition, and the reason is so as not to become overly close and intimate with non-Jews, much like Bishul Akum and Pas Akum, which are forbidden because ‘one may end up marrying their daughter’s. It’ll lead to intermarriage – and this reality is not so farfetched.

The Shach (in Nekudas Hakesef) writes that it is only Rabbinic in nature, and the reason is because the host may thank his god for the Jews attendance, hence causing him to serve Avodah Zara.

There is a tremendous practical difference which they argue over. We sometimes permit interactions with non Jews on the premises of eivah – that our actions will cause enmity from the non Jews. However this is only applicable to rabbinic prohibitions that are enacted for an unrelated reason. However prohibitions enacted to minimize fraternity cannot be permitted so as not to cause enmity, that’s exactly the reason for the prohibition!

Another difference would be where you know the non Jew is agnostic and wouldn’t thank any gods, according to the Shach you could go, and according to the Taz you cannot.

Now let’s take a look at contemporary office parties. If there is cause for offense, and there are no religious overtones, then according to the Shach one can definitely go.

If one is expected to be there and will suffer business repercussions (and it’s therefore not a social event) one can be lenient as well perhaps even according to the Taz. (See the Daily Halacha p. 86)

It does behoove us to remember that the mode of dress, language and atmosphere of these events is usually not one that reflects Jewish values, and one should try to spend as little time as possible st the event. There are poskim (R’ Hershel Shachter and others) who say that one may not be in the same room that mixed dancing is taking place in. Utmost care must be taken to limit our social interaction to what is necessary for professional purposes.

Part 2

All this does not take into account the venue and food of the party. Lets take a look at that.

Introduction

There are two distinct issues in Halacha; Maaris Ayin and Cheshad.

Someone had criticized Rav Moshe Feinstein (IM OC 1:96)for getting into a car to go to shul after candle lighting because people would think that one may enter a car on Shabbos.

Rav Moshe thanked him for the chastisement, and actually said he would no longer enter cars after candle lighting, but he explained that Maaris Ayin is when I do something that appears to be forbidden, that will lead people to think that the forbidden thing is permitted. It does not include doing something permitted that some people think is forbidden, such as (a male) getting into a car after candle lighting before sunset.

There is a second category known as Cheshad(See IM OC 2:40)- where one causes others to suspect him of doing something improper even though he didn’t actually do anything wrong, such as entering a house of idol worship, no one will think its permitted to serve Avodah Zara, but will think that you are doing something wrong, which is forbidden from the posuk of והייתם נקיים מה’ ומישראל . (Bamidbar 32:22). Therefore in a situation where it is known or obvious to all that you are doing something permissible there is no cheshad.

Application

Therefore one may walk into a supermarket that sells both kosher and non kosher items; the observer will not assume it is permissible to buy non kosher, so there’s no maaris ayin, nor will he suspect you of buying non kosher since it is common to walk into a supermarket exclusively for kosher items.

Rav Moshe therefore says that one may not walk into a non kosher restaurant; even to buy something permissible is forbidden because of both of these reasons. People may think its kosher (“frum people eat there”) and people will think he’s eating treif.

Therefore:

If the event is held at a non kosher restaurant or an exclusively non kosher venue such as a country club then it would seem to be forbidden to attend.

If the venue is one that is serviced by both kosher and non kosher caterers, such as some hotels, then one is permitted to attend the affair, they may however not eat even if some of their food happens to be kosher. (Unless of course the event is catered by the kosher caterer). This would apply to an event held at the office itself as well; one may attend, but not eat at all, even his own kosher food because of cheshad - it may appear as if he’s eating treif.

When it comes to not entering non kosher restaurants there are those who rule exclusively like Rav Moshe, and there are those who say that in a locale where it’s obvious that the religious Jew is in the restaurant for business reasons (such as Manhattan’s business district) it’s permitted. The same would apply at a highway rest stop, where it’s obvious one is going to use the bathroom or buy coffee because that’s the only store there.

I would like to suggest that perhaps Rav Moshe would agree in some situations. In the restaurant scenario he writes that if the person is very hungry, and is in pain from the hunger he may enter the restaurant and eat from the permitted items, as long as

a)It’s done privately (b’tzina)

b)No one outside the restaurant can recognize him, if they do he must explain to them that he was in significant pain and was only eating permitted items.

c)Its clear to those inside the restaurant he is only eating permitted items

This heter is based on the dictum that Chazal do not enact their edicts in a situation of pain or loss. (Kesubos 60).

It would seem to me that we could extrapolate to a business situation where one’s livelihood is threatened, that would be a place of loss. If however it’s a matter of missing out on profits it would not be permitted, similar to Chol Hamoed. (I have recently found this extrapolation made by Rabbi Frankel of the Star K).

There is one more issue that should be included in this discussion, and that is that Chazal prohibited buying or partaking in beer and other alchoholic beverages (there is a dispute among the poskim exactly which beverages) in the ‘place’ of a non Jew. Rav Moshe Feinstein (IM YD 2:117) explains that the purpose of this takana was to ensure that we don’t partake in non Jewish parties, and therefore the prohibition applies even if there are no problematic beverages served, but the party is taking place in the home of a non- Jew. Here however there is a leniency in a situation of eivah; if one cannot get out of going to the party without causing enmity and animosity then they would be permitted to attend.
Many thanks to R’ Gil Student and Hirhurim for his excellent article on the subject. which I probably plagiarized somewhat

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