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Answers supplied by the OU Kashrut Department.
Mar’it Ayin: Believe It or Not
Q. The office is ordering non-kosher pizza for a party. May I order a few slices of kosher pizza and eat them together with everyone else at the party?
A. If you leave the box from the kosher store near your seat or make it obvious that your pizza is different from everyone else’s, you can eat the kosher pizza at the party. However, if an observer cannot tell that you are eating kosher pizza, you should not eat with everyone else.
The Torah directs us to act in a manner that places us above suspicion of acting improperly (see Bamidbar 32:22, as interpreted by Yerushalmi Shekalim 3:2). There are two elements to mar’it ayin: 1. It may lead other Jews to think they can be lax about mitzvah observance, and 2. It ruins one’s reputation and makes one look like a hypocrite, which is a violation of veheyitem neki’im (“And you shall be innocent in the eyes of your fellow man”). The first concern only applies if there are Jews watching, but the second concern applies in all public situations (see Iggerot Moshe [Orach Chaim 2:40]).
Q. The company cafeteria sells all types of items, including a few that happen to be certified kosher. Is there anything wrong with going to the cafeteria and buying something kosher? Can I sit down at a table and eat my kosher lunch at one of the tables in the cafeteria?
A. It is permitted to buy food from the cafeteria and eat at the tables, provided that it is well known that the cafeteria sells both kosher and non-kosher items.
Q. Is it permissible to enter a non-kosher restaurant with co-workers and just sit at the table or eat fruit or something else that is obviously kosher?
A. It is permissible to enter a non-kosher restaurant to meet with clients as it is well known that Jewish people eat certain kosher foods in non-kosher restaurants. Therefore, doing so won’t mislead anyone or make people think that you are a hypocrite.
Q. Some kosher restaurants package full meals on china dishes with real silverware, then seal them up and send them to non-kosher restaurants. When the kosher customer comes in, the restaurant staff heats up the food in a microwave and then breaks the seal away from the table but in front of the kosher customer. The customer eats his meal on real dishes at the table together with the non-kosher guests. Does this pose a problem of mar’it ayin?
A. Yes, this is a classic case of mar’it ayin. However, if the meal is opened at the table, and the wrapper is left on the table, it is permissible.