As an OK Rabbinic Coordinator, I spend considerable time traversing the world. The OK's goal is to have a home office Rabbinic Coordinator visit each plant under our supervision at least once before we commence supervision and after that a minimum of once a year. This means that my colleagues and I frequently spend anywhere from several hours to several weeks on the road. Our journeys take us across the Hudson River and across the Pacific Ocean – in fact, to six continents (we do not yet supervise any establishments in Antarctica).
Some of our field mashgichim spend the better part of every week traveling. This may sound exciting to the novice, but it is far from a glamorous life. Professionals in every field of endeavor report that a life on the road can become tedious and taxing. It is true that after awhile the hotels all do look the same. Jetlag is a constant companion. And there is always the danger that one may begin to feel that he lacks a home base. <
Not so long ago, a Jew traveling to an exotic locale often had to subsist in a canned tuna and matzoh environment. Things have changed somewhat, and today several more palatable options exist. For example, you can take along ready-made vacuum-packed meals. These meals, available from any number of kosher establishments, don't require refrigeration and come with a variety of entrees. An alternative is to have a remote caterer (such as Royal Palate Foods) send meals to your hotel. Yet another option is to bring vacuum-packed meats, such as cold cuts. When choosing the food you will take on your trip, remember to pack only items that do not need refrigeration.
There are several ways to heat your food. Depending on the length of the trip, you may elect to bring along a portable cooker. If you do this, make sure that it is a dual-voltage cooker. Don't forget to bring eating utensils, unless you can buy plastic silverware locally. Remember to label the plastic dishware as meat, dairy, or parve, or bring along enough so that you can dispose of the silverware after every meal.
If your hotel has a microwave and you know how to properly kasher it, you can use the microwave to heat your food. Please refer questions on kashering and other halachic matters to your Orthodox rabbi.
If you are embarking on a lengthy trip, you may desire the opportunity to cook. Bringing a pot from home is the easiest solution. If this is not possible, you can buy cookware locally, but you will need to tovel it — to immerse it ritually — before using it. You can immerse it in a lake or spring without question, but the halachic status of a river is murkier. There is a halachic problem with using a flowing body of water for tevilah if it receives intake from rainwater or snowmelt.
When traveling in the United States, keep in mind that today many products with a reliable hechsher are available nationally. As recently as twenty years ago, it would have been difficult to find a variety of kosher packaged foods in many cities. (Note that products under national certification in the U.S. are not necessarily supervised in other countries.)
In addition, there are hotels in some U.S. cities that offer frozen kosher meals. When buying such a meal and having the hotel heat it in its non-kosher kitchen, explain that the package must remain closed in its double wrapping while it is being reheated.
You may purchase fresh fruits and vegetables anywhere in the world. However, if these originate in Israel, you must be familiar with the laws of terumah and ma'aser; and during those times when Sabbatical produce abounds, you must know the rules of Shemittah.
Bugs and insects proliferate in certain vegetables and fruits; learn the methods for checking these. Please consider that the infestation in other countries may be worse than it is in the U.S. In addition, wash produce before eating it. This is sound advice at home, and much more so on the road, since each country has its own diseases and bacteria. There are certain countries where it may be desirable to eat vegetables only from the hotel's room service.
It is good to know that some items are kosher no matter where on earth you find yourself. The following is a non-exhaustive list of items that may be bought anywhere in the world without kosher certification: bottled water; unflavored seltzer; beer; beer on tap in a business bar; peanuts roasted in a shell; dried beans, split peas, and all other dried legumes and canned fruits produced in the U.S. with no additives other than sugar. Please note that canned cherries may contain carmine, an insect extract used for coloring. Do not buy canned cherries (these may also be found in fruit cocktail) without reliable supervision. In addition, canned plums may contain a coloring derived from grape skin..
Also, most dried fruits may be consumed; exceptions include prunes with added oil, pineapples, pears, raisins, and apples. You may buy any canned pineapples made in Thailand or the Philippines. You may also purchase any frozen vegetables containing no oils or other additives.
It is important to bear in mind that production processes change. The above list should not be taken as a permanent one, but rather as the fruit of current information that we have and current manufacturing methods. You may purchase and consume any whole kosher fish. However, if the fish store employee cuts the fish with a non-kosher knife, the cut area may become not kosher. To avoid this problem, bring your own knife with you to the store.
The International Dateline
The world increasingly is a global community, and observant Jews find themselves flying everywhere. Convention has established the International Dateline as the longitudinal division between one day and the next. The dateline runs through the Pacific Ocean, mostly in a straight line from the North Pole to the South Pole. However, there are places where, for reasons of convenience, the dateline bends. A prominent bend goes around New Zealand. If the dateline were drawn straight, it would cut through New Zealand, creating the odd situation where part of that country would call a day Sunday while the rest called it Monday. Instead, it bends to New Zealand's east. A similar bend goes around easternmost Russia.
When you cross the dateline from east to west (say, from the U.S. to India by way of the Pacific Ocean), you lose a day. Thus, if you cross at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, two minutes hence will be 12:01 Wednesday morning. The reverse happens when you cross from west to east. If you cross at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, you will find yourself repeating Monday!
The International Dateline poses grave questions for the halachic Jew. We do not set the day when Shabbos occurs; this was determined by G-d during the days of creation. The current positioning of the dateline is arbitrary, set by international agreement and convenience. What if the Torah's dateline is elsewhere? What if the day considered "Saturday" in a particular location is actually Friday, or Sunday?
Beyond Shabbos, crossing the dateline impacts Sefirah as well. If you must cross the dateline during Sefirah or if you need to spend Shabbos in a country that falls in the area of doubt, consult your rabbi.
In summation, Judaism has something to say about every aspect of the human condition, and travel is no exception. With the proper preparation, your travel experience will be a rewarding one.
A Shabbos stay in a non-Jewish setting can be physically and spiritually trying. When you are traveling, the ideal is to find an observant Jew to invite you for Shabbos or at least for meals. Jews around the world will be more than happy to have you as a guest when you visit their city. If at all possible, try to locate yourself near a shul, so that you daven with a minyan. Of course, this is the ideal during the week as well.
Some laws concerning prayer are time-sensitive. When traveling, check the earliest and latest local times for saying Shema and Shemoneh Esreh. Be extremely careful to ascertain the proper time for lighting candles Friday night. And remember to bring Shabbos candles with you.
Staying in a hotel for Shabbos raises specific issues. Many hotels have switched from a manual key system to an electronic card system for their room doors. You may not use the card on Shabbos, since it sets off a light. One solution is to leave your door unlocked, by blocking the locking mechanism with a piece of cardboard. But keep in mind that a "helpful" hotel employee may accidentally remove the lock block. (If you do this, make sure to remove all valuables to the hotel safe — good advice in any case.)
It may be halachically permissible to ask a non-Jew to open the door for you with the electronic key, but ask your rabbi. If your rabbi determines that you cannot ask the non-Jew directly, it may be permissible to hint indirectly that you cannot get into your room.
Increasing sophistication has led to other problems. Many hotel rooms have an electronic sensor that monitors movement. When the sensor detects an empty room, it turns off the heat or air-conditioning. When someone enters the room, these switch on. More problematic is a sensor that turns on the lights when you enter. There are even hotel bathrooms where the bidet is activated electronically.
It is your responsibility as a halachically sensitive traveler to determine your hotel's conditions ahead of time. Don't wait until the last minute to find out that your Shabbos may be compromised.
When making your reservation, request a lower floor, so that you will not be forced to walk up and down long flights of stairs. Also, the front door of many hotels opens via an electronic sensor. Ask the hotel if there is a back door that opens manually.
Another issue concerns carrying outside the hotel room. While the consensus opinion is that you are permitted to carry in the hotel's common spaces, such as the lobby, you may prefer to consult your rabbi for specific direction.
When you arrive at the hotel, take a few minutes to "scout" it out, so that you don't receive any Shabbos surprises. If you think that you will be asked to sign for something on Shabbos, arrange on Friday to waive the signature. There are ways to make your trip spiritually rewarding. Bring along a sefer from which you can learn, or a cassette player and Torah tapes. Flying time need not be wasted on the airline's movie.
Rabbi Leizer Teitelbaum is the Senior Rabbinic Coordinator at the OK Labs.
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