Walking down the supermarket aisle, we often find interesting things on the shelf. Years ago, the thought of pareve cream cheese, pareve chicken soup, vegetarian chicken nuggets, pareve ice cream, or meatless meatballs would have sounded like a frivolous joke. However, today these products and the like are in high demand and sold at kosher stores around the U.S. and abroad. The pareve market, for example, has become increasingly popular in recent years and food companies have actively pursued innovative ways to create pareve versions of products traditionally assumed to be milichig or fleishig. Nevertheless, a product might be perfectly 100% kosher and still be subject to scrutiny vis-à-vis the Shulchan Aruch. Let us briefly examine the issue of maris ayin, the way that it affects modern day kashrus supervision, and the food we bring into our homes.
Maris ayin may be loosely defined as actions that strictly speaking are permitted according to halacha, but nevertheless give onlookers the impression that one is doing or has done something that is prohibited. In these instances, there is a rabbinic prohibition to engage in these sort of activities and there are many examples of maris ayin found in Chazal and halachic literature. One classic example is the prohibition of hanging wet clothes outside on Shabbos, since it gives the impression that laundry was done on Shabbos .
Issues of mariyas ayin, as it pertains to food, are discussed in gemara and Shulchan Aruch. For example, according to the letter of the law, blood from fish is permitted. Nevertheless, its consumption is prohibited since its appearance is identical to that of drinking blood from an animal. Nevertheless, if fish scales are present and noticeable at the time of consumption, it is permitted . The reason for this distinction is that the presence of fish scales removes any suspicion that the consumer is drinking animal blood. An onlooker would simply notice the scales and assume that the individual is drinking blood from a fish. Likewise, blood from a human being is permitted, unless it noticeable as a separate entity. Therefore, although it is permissible to swallow blood in one’s mouth from bleeding gums, it is however, prohibited to consume that blood if it were noticed on one’s food while eating . In that event, the blood must be scraped from the food. This requirement is also because of maris ayin, since any blood on the food could have possibly originated from anywhere, including an animal.
The Rema discusses and permits a practice of mixing chicken with nut milk, despite its appearance as basar becholov . The Rema explains that since mixing chicken with cow’s milk is a rabbinic prohibition, maris ayin does not apply. Nevertheless, if one would mix nut milk with beef, maris ayin would apply and that practice would be prohibited. This is because mixing beef and cow’s milk constitutes basar becholov violates a Torah prohibition . When mixing beef and nut milk, nuts should be present lest onlookers suspect that one is violating the prohibition of basar becholov me’doraisa. According to the Rema, maris ayin does not apply to prohibitions that are rabbinic in nature. Nonetheless, there is a dispute amongst various authorities whether to accept the Rema’s approach. The Taz accepted the Rema in principle, but ruled that it is proper to place nuts when mixing nut milk with chicken. The Shach disagreed with Rema’s ruling and did not accept the distinction between issurei derabbanan and deoraisa. According to the Shach, maris ayin applies equally to Torah and rabbinic prohibitions.
Nowadays, with the advent of a booming pareve market, many traditionally dairy products are now actually in pareve form. As a result, the usage of these products while, or after, eating meat comes in to question. Specifically, is it permissible to use margarine at a fleishig meal, or is it’s appearance too similar to butter? Moreover, may one serve pareve ice cream or coffee creamer afterward?
Rav Ovadia Yosef wrote a teshuva addressing this very issue .In this teshuva, he points out that according to the Rema there is certainly no concern of maryis ayin, unless there is a possible perception that a Torah prohibition is being violated. Therefore, since eating dairy after a meat meal is a rabbinic prohibition, according to the Rema there should be no issue consuming these products after eating meat. However, as many authorities disagreed with the Rema’s position , is there any basis to permit the common practice of using these products as dairy substitutes when consuming dairy is not allowed? Moreover, what about a situation where the use of a pareve product has the appearance of violating an issur deoraisa?
To answer this question, Rav Ovadia quotes an opinion of the Rosh who maintains that Chazal’s disallowance of mixing wool and silk, or linen and silk, because of maris ayin was only applicable during a time when silk was uncommon. However, since maris ayin essentially depends on whether an activity lends itself to suspicion of violating an issur, at a time when silk is common there shouldn’t be a problem mixing this material with wool or linen. According to the Rosh, once silk became a common material, there is no reason to suspect that a clothing of mixed fibers of wool and silk, or linen and silk, contains shatnez. This position of the Rosh is quoted in Shulchan Aruch , and is accepted by Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike. The Rosh’s opinion provides a fundamental idea within the prohibition of maris ayin. When an activity is commonly done in a permitted fashion, concerns of suspicion and the prohibition of maris ayin should not apply.
It appears that the widespread popularity of these products helps addresses concerns of maris ayin. Since maris ayin is a question of perception and whether onlookers would suspect that one’s behavior is in violation of halacha, the common, everyday usage of these products should remove any possible suspicion. Since these pareve substitutes for dairy or meat are used regularly by many, there is no reason to suspect someone of not acting in accordance with halacha, but rather using a pareve imitation.
As with any issue of halacha, one should consult with one’s Halachik authority for practical guidance.