By Henry Ehrlich
In our book, Dr. Ehrlich tells the story of a small Hasidic Jewish boy who suffered an anaphylactic reaction to a can of tuna that contained a trace amount of the milk protein casein as a preservative. “I questioned his family closely and had them bring in the can. Sure enough, it said parve, which means it is neither meat nor dairy, and it has not come in contact with either during preparation. This is something the parents, and indeed the markets that cater to their community, look for…So I consulted a higher authority, the family rabbi. He informed me that parve only meant there was less than one-sixtieth by weight of milk. Well, that may be little enough for the rabbis, but it’s still too much for a true food allergy.” As we point out in the book, the “higher authority” refers to an old ad for Hebrew National hotdogs, which are made according to Kosher rules, not the more permissive government regulations.
I thought of this when my own esteemed rabbi asked me to look at the tags they distribute at the synagogue for potluck dinners so that contributors can check the ingredients in the dishes they bring from home. As Dr. Ehrlich has pointed out here, making distinctions about food is a part of the Jewish tradition, although not as much for my own Reform congregation as for the Hasidim who comprise much of Paul’s practice in Williamsburg. I was pleased to suddenly weigh in on this information, and indeed it was a bit deficient from a food allergy standpoint, although it reflected concerns about arthritic inflammation by singling out the “nightshade” family—things like potatoes and tomatoes—as well as gluten, which may be related to celiac disease as well as the allergies we work on here. Live and learn. From where we sit, it is not enough for a dish to be labeled Kosher when someone is allergic to fish, although except for shellfish, fish are Kosher. As a practical matter, the numbers of people attending these Friday night events are manageable—too manageable for the rabbi’s taste in fact–and few of them are small children. Anyone who might be affected is probably well aware of his own limitations. So the challenge is not the same as for, say, the preschool that is run on the floor above where the dinners take place. Still, it’s nice to be part of a community where people care enough to take these things into account as a matter of course.