Thursday, January 2, 2020

A Kosher Buffet

While it seems a bit counterintuitive to have a day celebrating abundant eating the day after a national holiday, nevertheless, January 2nd is celebrated as “Buffet Day.”

The concept of a “buffet,” a French word describing a piece of furniture on which varied foods were displayed, was adopted because the Swedish term “smorgasbord,” introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, seemed too difficult to pronounce.

Las Vegas, Nevada, features quite a few over-the-top buffets, such as the Carnival World Buffet, which offers more than 300 dishes, including 70 pastries, to anyone who will pay $24 for an all-day pass. There are similar buffets in “Sin City” that focus on seafood, Asian cuisine, poultry and pasta. 

Kosher buffets can be found, as well, at celebrations such as weddings and bar/bat mitzvah celebrations, at organizational dinners and even Shabbat “kiddushes” at synagogue. Despite their popularity, there are some halachic (Jewish legal) issues that must be kept in mind when attending a buffet.

First, the human body becomes satiated after eating a certain amount. At a buffet, people’s eyes may be larger than their stomachs. People may take more food than they need, because, consciously, or perhaps subconsciously, they tell themselves that since they already paid for the food, they may as well eat all of it. They may go back to the buffet even after they are full because it has already been paid for. Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of De’ot 4:15) writes that “ravenous eating (achilah gassah in Hebrew) is as deadly to the body of every man as poison, and is the base of all sickness.” According to halacha (Jewish law), one who eats so much that it is difficult to continue eating, is not considered to be eating.

A second halachic consideration at a buffet is to remember to recite the order of the blessings properly. The general rule is that if one eats bread, no other blessings prior to eating need to be recited, save for the blessing on wine. If one does not eat bread, they should recite the blessings, based on a Biblical verse (Deuteronomy 8:8), in the following order: mezonot (recited over items made from wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt), ha’etz (recited over fruit), ha’adama (vegetables) and she’ha’kohl (the blessing recited over non-organic food, such as meat, eggs and everything else).

While a kosher caterer will not include both meat and dairy on a buffet, you may find meat and fish on the buffet table. The Talmud (Pesachim 76b) prohibits cooking meat and fish together, claiming that doing so could yield a dangerous combination. The Code of Jewish Law (Yoreh Deah 116:2-3) proscribes eating fish and meat back-to-back without chewing and drinking non-meat or fish in between. Since we avoid eating fish and meat together, we also serve them on different dishes, so the mixture will be avoided.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

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