Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Kashrut
To dedicate this lesson
The laws of Marit Ayim

What Will the Neighbors Think?

Marit Ayin - What will people think - What is it all about? What am I obliged to do to avoid it and how is this related to Kashrut, Shabbat and more?


Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Thursday, 27 Cheshvan 5768
Question 1:
My boss asked me to attend a lunch meeting with a new client in a non-kosher restaurant. May I attend the meeting, or do I violate maris ayin if I am seen in a treif restaurant? If it is permissible to attend the meeting, may I order a cup of coffee or a fruit plate?

Question 2:
When I serve coffee after a fleishig meal, I like to put non-dairy creamer on the table in a small pitcher because the original container is unsightly. Recently, someone told me that I may not place the creamer on the fleishig table unless I mark it pareve. Is this true?

Question 3:
Hyman Goldman would like to retire and sell his business, Hymie Goldman’s Bake Shop to a non-Jew who will keep the business open on Shabbos. Must he require the non-Jew to change the name of the shop?

Question 4:
My not-yet-observant cousin is making a bar mitzvah in a reform temple. We have a good relationship, and he is very curious about exploring authentic Judaism. May I attend the bar mitzvah?

Most of us are familiar with the prohibition of maris ayin, avoiding doing something that may raise suspicion that one violated halacha, or that someone may misinterpret, thus causing him to violate halacha. However, most of us are uncertain when this rule applies and when it does not.

Here are some examples mentioned by the Mishnah and Gemara:

A. One may not hang wet clothes on Shabbos because neighbors might think that he washed them on Shabbos (Mishnah and Gemara Shabbos 146b). This is true even when all the neighbors realize that he is a meticulously observant individual.
B. Officials who entered the Beis HaMikdash treasury did so barefoot and wearing garments that contained no hemmed parts or wide sleeves, and certainly no pockets or cuffs, so that it would be impossible for them to hide any coins (Shekalim 3:2). The Mishnah states that this practice is derived from the pasuk vihiyisem nekiyim meiHashem umiyisroel (Bamidbar 32:22), --- Do things in a way that is as obviously clean in the eyes of people as it is viewed by Hashem. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:82) contends that this type of maris ayin is prohibited min haTorah!
C. Tzedakah collectors should get other people to convert their currency for them and not convert it themselves, because people might think that they gave themselves a more favorable exchange rate (Gemara Bava Basra 8b; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 257:2).

The concept mitzvah of maris ayin is a fascinating curiosity because it contradicts an important Torah mitzvah - to judge people favorably. This mitzvah requires us to judge a Torah Jew favorably when we see him act in a questionable way. (For further information on the mitzvah of judging people favorably, see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rabbeinu Yonah, 3:218.) If everyone always judged others favorably, there would never be a reason for maris ayin. Yet we see that the Torah is concerned that someone might judge you unfavorably and suspect you for violating a mitzvah.
Indeed, a person’s actions must be above suspicion, while people watching him act in a suspicious way are required to judge him favorably.

May I enter a non-kosher restaurant to use the bathroom, to eat a permitted item, or to attend a professional meeting?
A prominent Rav once gleaned insight on this shaylah from early poskim who discussed the kashrus issues of Jewish travelers. In the sixteenth century, there was a dispute between the Rama and the Maharashal (Yam Shel Shelomoh, Chullin 8: 44) whether a Jewish traveler may eat herring and pickles prepared and served in non-kosher inns (quoted in Taz, Yoreh Deah 91:2). The Rama ruled that, under the circumstances, a traveler could eat these items on the inn’s non-kosher plates, whereas the Maharashal prohibited using the inn’s plates. However, neither sage prohibited eating nor entering the inn because of maris ayin; from which this Rav inferred that entering a non-kosher eating establishment does not violate maris ayin.
However, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that entering a non-kosher eatery is a violation of maris ayin (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:40). Why does he not compare this law to the inn of the earlier poskim?
The answer is that in the sixteenth century, the inn functioned as a place of shelter and lodging, in addition to providing food. Therefore, someone seeing you enter the inn would assume that you were looking for a place to sleep, and that you have no intention to eat non-kosher food there. Thus, the sixteenth-century inn is more comparable to a twentieth-first century hotel that contains non-kosher restaurants. There is certainly no maris ayin prohibition to visit a hotel since a passerby would assume that you are entering the hotel for reasons other than eating non-kosher. However, the primary reason people enter a non-kosher restaurant is to eat treif food. Therefore, Rav Moshe ruled that it is prohibited to enter a treif restaurant because of maris ayin.

This leads us to a practical question. May one do something that could be interpreted in different ways, one of which involves violating the Torah and the other not? Is this activity prohibited because of maris ayin? For example, someone hanging up wet clothes on Shabbos may have just washed them, or he may have just accidentally dropped them into a basin of water or used them to mop up a spill. Yet the halacha is that this is prohibited because of maris ayin. This implies that since the most common reason for hanging out clothes is that they were recently washed, the activity is prohibited because of maris ayin.
Similarly, there are many reasons why one might enter a treif restaurant: to attend a meeting, to use the facilities, or to drink a cup of water. On the other hand, the most common reason people enter a non-kosher restaurant is to eat non-kosher food. This is why Rav Moshe prohibited entering a treif restaurant to eat something kosher.

Many workplaces provide a cafeteria where one can purchase (non-kosher) food or bring in one’s own food. Alternatively, some cafeterias have packaged kosher food available. In either of these situations, there is no maris ayin concern since people enter the cafeteria to eat kosher food also.
However, Rav Moshe ruled that under highly extenuating circumstances one may enter a treif restaurant, such as when one is famished and there is nowhere else to eat. This is based on another principle created by Chazal that when one suffers a great deal one may override a rabbinic prohibition to alleviate the suffering (see Gemara Kesubos 60a). For this reason, Rav Moshe permits someone who is famished to eat kosher food in a non-kosher restaurant. Based on his ruling, one could presumably permit entering a treif restaurant to use the restroom if it is the only one readily available.

Different Rabbonim rule differently on this issue, and one should ask a shaylah. Personally, I believe that it depends on how secure one is at one’s employment. If you feel that not attending the meeting might jeopardize your employment, then you may attend, since losing your job entails a great amount of suffering. However, if you feel that it will not jeopardize your employment, you may not attend.

If a situation exists that could be a case of maris ayin, but is not mentioned by Chazal, is it prohibited because of maris ayin? There is actually an early dispute about this question, between the Rashba and the Pri Chodosh. A little explanation is necessary before we present this case: Chazal prohibited placing fish blood, which is perfectly kosher, in a serving bowl since someone might confuse it with animal blood (Gemara Kereisos 21b). Based on this Gemara, the Rashba (Shu’t 3:257) prohibited cooking meat in human milk, even though human milk is halachically pareve. Similarly, the Rama prohibits cooking meat in "almond milk" -- a white, milk-like liquid made from almonds that probably looked similar to our non-dairy creamer or soy milk -- because of its similar appearance to cow’s milk. One may only cook meat in almond milk and serve it if one leaves pieces of almond in the "milk" to call attention to its non-dairy origin (Rama, Yoreh Deah 87:3). The Pri Chodosh (Yoreh Deah 87:6) disagrees with the Rama, contending that we should not create our own cases of maris ayin and only prohibit those items that were prohibited by Chazal. The consensus of poskim is to prohibit these new maris ayin cases, following the position of Rashba and Rama.
Based on this ruling, some contemporary poskim contend that one should not serve pareve non-dairy creamer after a fleishig meal since someone might think that you are serving milchig after a fleishig meal. They permit serving the "creamer" in its original container that clearly identifies it as a pareve product, similar to serving the meat cooked with almond milk provided there are some almonds in the "milk."
However, other poskim contend that today no maris ayin issue exists germane to these products since the average person knows about the ready availability of pareve creamers, cheeses, ice creams, margarines, soy and rice milk, and the like (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 3:59).
This leads us to a new discussion --

If something was prohibited as maris ayin in earlier generations, does it become permitted if there is no longer a maris ayin issue? Can we prove whether the prohibition against maris ayin disappears if the issue is no longer a concern? Is it correct that although at one time one could not cook meat in almond milk, today one may cook meat in soy milk since pareve milk substitutes are readily available? Similarly, may one serve margarine at a fleishig meal?
We can gather proof for this shaylah from the following cases that require a small introduction.
One may not hire a gentile to perform work on Shabbos that a Jew may not do. However, a non-Jew may operate his own business on Shabbos, even if he rents his facility from a Jew.
However, the Gemara rules that a Jew may rent his field to a non-Jewish sharecropper, since the gentile is not my employee. However, a Jew may not rent his bathhouse to a gentile since the non-Jew may operate the bathhouse on Shabbos (Mishnah Avodah Zarah 21a).

Why may I rent the non-Jew my field, but not my bathhouse? What is the difference between the two?
At the time of the Gemara, it was common to rent fields, and thus someone seeing a gentile work a Jewish-owned field on Shabbos would assume that the gentile rented it. He would not think that the Jew hired the gentile to work for him, which violates the laws of Shabbos.
However, it was uncommon in antiquity to rent out a bathhouse. The person who owned the bathhouse hired employees to operate the business for him. Therefore, someone seeing a gentile operate a Jewish-owned bathhouse on Shabbos might assume that the Jew hired gentiles to operate his bathhouse on Shabbos, which violates halacha. Because of this, Chazal prohibited renting a bathhouse to a gentile because it would result in maris ayin when people see the gentile operating the Jew’s bathhouse on Shabbos (Gemara Avodah Zarah 21b).
Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 243:2) rules that if it is common in a certain city for people to rent out their bathhouses, one may rent one’s bathhouse to a gentile, despite the Gemara’s ruling. There is no maris ayin since people in this city will assume that the gentile rented the bathhouse from its owner. Thus, the maris ayin prohibition of the Gemara is rescinded in places and times when the concern no longer exists. Similarly, we can conclude that nowadays someone seeing non-dairy creamer served at a fleishig meal will assume that it is a pareve milk substitute and there is no issue of maris ayin.

Question 3: Hyman Goldman would like to retire and sell his business, Hymie Goldman’s Bake Shop to a non-Jew who will keep the business open on Shabbos. Must he require the non-Jew to change the name of the shop?
First, some background to this shaylah.
Rama (243:2) permits renting a business to a gentile that people do not associate with a Jewish owner. Thus, a Jew may buy the regional franchise of a non-Jewish company and rent or franchise out the individual stores to gentiles. Acharonim dispute whether he may do this even where the Jew is sometimes involved in the management of the stores (see Mishnah Berurah 243:14). Similarly, a Jew who owns a shopping mall may rent the stores to gentiles since people assume that each business is owned individually. However, if the rent includes a percentage of sales, he might thereby be receiving schar Shabbos, profits from work performed on Shabbos. One should ask a shaylah since the halacha in this case depends on circumstances.
However, although a Jew may rent his facility to a gentile tenant, it is unclear whether he may sell the business to a gentile who will keep the Jew’s name on the business and have it open on Shabbos. Even if passersby realize that there are now exclusively non-Jews staffing Hymie’s, they may think that Hyman still owns the shop and is hiring gentiles to operate the business for him. I discussed this shaylah with several different Rabbonim and received different answers.
Here is another interesting maris ayin shaylah:
"I will be working in a town with very few observant people. There is an observant woman in town who lives alone, who will be away the entire time I am there. She is very willing to let me use her house while she is away. Is there a problem that people may not realize that she is away and they might think that we are violating the prohibition of yichud - being secluded with someone of the other gender to whom one is not closely related?"
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 3:19) discusses almost this identical shaylah. Someone wants to sleep and eat at a widow’s house when she is out of town. Is there a concern of maris ayin because people will think that he is staying at her house when she is home and that they are violating the prohibition of yichud. Rav Moshe rules that it is permitted, reasoning that since there are many ways to avoid yichud, we need not assume that people will think that he is violating the halacha.

Rav Moshe Feinstein notes that maris ayin does not include doing something permitted that people might mistakenly think is forbidden. Maris ayin means that someone thinks I violated something - He thinks that I inappropriately used someone else’s money, washed clothes on Shabbos, ate something non-kosher, etc. However, it does not include doing something permitted that people might mistakenly think is forbidden.
Thus, Rav Moshe discusses whether there is any prohibition in traveling a short distance by car on Friday evening after candle lighting time when you will certainly not come to desecrate Shabbos. He rules that one may do this since there is no prohibition to do work after candle lighting time, even if ignorant people think that there is.

Question 4: My not-yet-observant cousin is making a bar mitzvah in a reform temple. We have a good relationship, and he is very curious about exploring authentic Judaism. May I attend the bar mitzvah?
Rav Moshe rules that one may not enter a reform temple at the time people are praying there because someone might think one prayed there, which is prohibited according to halacha, or alternatively someone might learn from this person’s example that one may pray with them. Someone faced with the above predicament should discuss with his Rav how to develop the relationship with his cousin without entangling himself in any halachic issues.
By examining the parameters of maris ayin, we become aware of the importance of the impression that our actions make. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that it does not matter what others think of us. Our behavior must not only be correct, but also appear correct. In general, our lives should be a model of appropriate behavior and a kiddush Hashem. Let others look at us and say, "He is a frum Jew - he lives his life on a higher plane of honesty, of dignity, and of caring for others." -- As Chazal say in Pirkei Avos: "Kol she’ruach habrios nocha heimenu ruach hamakom nocha heimenu," One who is pleasing to his fellowman is pleasing to his Creator.
This article was originally published in Yated Neeman

This Shiur is published also at Rabbi Kaganof's site
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