By Andrea Karshan
I recently had an experience with a Jewish “extremist” that made me feel like I was being hunted down by the religious police in Saudi Arabia. But it happened right here in America, in Crown Heights.
It all began with the Shabbat meals I host. I am converting to Judaism. My conversion process will be finished in June. I host Shabbat meals, usually monthly. I do all the cooking. According to the laws of Bishul Akum, a Jew has to light the fire (stove or oven) when Kosher food is cooked. No Jew lights the fire when I cook. I light my fire. I am totally upfront with my Jewish guests about this aspect of the meal. I even sometimes mention that this issue can be a problem for some to remind them that I am lighting the fire. People who come to my meals have their own views on Bishul Akum. It doesn’t bother them that a Jew is not lighting the fire. They are happy enough that I, who is converting and has a Kosher kitchen, is lighting the fire. But I am one hundred percent upfront with people. And I don’t preach to them on the Halakhas of this. I let them make their own decision.
That being said there was someone on Facebook (Julius Dahne), who I was also friends with, who saw my public posts on my Shabbat meals. I also told him about the Shabbat meals when I went to his house for a Shabbat meal. He later learned about an upcoming meal. Frantic the Thursday before the meal he asked me to call him. I did. He told me that I was violating Bishul Akum. He said it was his duty to warn other Jews because he was worried that they didn’t understand that they were transgressing. I explained to him that I am upfront with people, they are all grown adults, and I am sure that they all have their own understanding of halakha. But he insisted. He called me and called me. He messaged me and messaged me. He insisted that a Jew comes light my fire. He then told me that he emailed the Crown Heights Beis Din. He sent me a copy of the email he sent and the email they sent back. In response to his email, the Beis Din said that I was wrong in my opinion of Bishul Akum. He asked them if he should warn others. They didn’t tell him to warn anyone. They didn’t tell him to harass me or anyone else. But that is exactly what he did. Even though I blocked him on Facebook, somehow he started tracking down my Facebook friends, friending them, and messaging them. He would message them and ask them if they were coming to the meal. And if they said they were he would “read them the riot act” on Bishul Akum. Also, he did a Facebook post where he highly exaggerated the situation and warned people not to eat at my home.
Let me say this about my meals. At my meals, people come from various religious backgrounds. Some are religious; some are secular. Some are Orthodox; some are just converting. Some guests wouldn’t have a Shabbat meal if they didn’t come. My Shabbat meals serve a purpose. They give people a meal. They give people an opportunity to celebrate Shabbat.
I get that this guy wants everyone to interpret halakha the way he does. But you know what, it doesn’t work that way. And harassing people and trying to force your rules on others does nothing but turn them off. We live in Crown Heights, not Saudi Arabia. He can’t be the religious police and regulate what goes on in people’s private homes. It is uncalled for. And harassment is not only crazy behavior, but it is illegal. I get that he is worried about his fellow Jew. But this is going too far.
Guess, the time, effort and money I am putting into these Shabbos meals he doesn’t care about. He just wants to harass me over the meals. It just goes to show no good deed goes unpunished.