Columns - 2010

    The Kosher Package

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    It was only a matter of time before automobiles ran head-on into the laws of kashrut, so put your seat backs and treif tables in their upright and lox positions.

    Almost several of you remember how, in 2007, Yaniv Ben-Zaken decided to sell kosher-for-Passover gasoline at his Teaneck, New Jersey, gas station. This made headlines in many major newspapers, and the Bergen County Jewish Times, because it was unprecedented for a Jew to own a gas station.

    In this small near-Manhattan town, deservedly famous for Louie's and Bischoff's on Cedar Lane, Ben-Zaken decided to offer gasoline without ethanol, as it is made from corn which is prohibited on Passover. After all, not only must you not eat anything that's not kosher for Passover, but you can't even possess it any more than you can easily parse a triple-negative.

    The ethanol-free gas came at a premium, though it was regular unleaded, priced near ten dollars per gallon, also known as "almost the cost of a regular gallon in California." The cost was due to being produced in such small quantities, and keeping rabbinic officials in the oil fields 24/7 to watch the fumes rise.

    But Jews are accustomed to such significant markups on specialized Passover products, as the Torah commands, "all through the year thou shalt not buy retail, so that for eight (seven, Central time) days you canst afford to stock up on thine Manischewitz and Streit's, no matter the price."

    Ben-Zaken didn't stop there, he offered more services to support keeping cars kosher for Passover. Going way beyond selling corn-free Coke inside, he would siphon out existing gasoline to replace it with the kosher gasoline.

    But before you think any of this got excessive, he apparently stopped short of the traditional kashering rituals involving a blowtorch. Though it could have explained why there's no word on him continuing the service in 2008 and beyond. And all this could explain if there was an uptick in area Jews becoming practicing Sephardim, since they're allowed to have corn on Passover.

    But 2007 is not the time in question today. That time is today, a day that is different from all other days because of major changes happening in the automotive industry, in design, power sources, and in traffic laws, based on how little they seem to be followed anymore.

    Whose perspective would be more valuable than Ben-Zaken, whom one columnist just called "a de facto Jewish authority on automotive adherence," or a Jewish AAA?

    Contacting Ben-Zaken would have taken research, including but limited to looking up his phone number, so the following is what he might have said, if contacted, about what more we can do today to keep our cars kosher all year.

    Keeping kosher requires separate dishes for meat and dairy, and having separate eating surfaces either through different tables or at least table coverings. What about the ever-increasing number of people who eat in their cars?

    Beverage glasses can typically be used interchangeably with dairy or meat. However, if you're indulgent enough to require Passover gasoline, you probably have separate ones. So, what can you do about the cupholders in your car? Two answers: cupholder liners, or separate cupholders for each.

    What about eating dairy versus meat in the car, do I have to replace the upholstery? Keep two sets of seatcovers and swap them as needed. If you get wool seatcovers, make sure there's no linen in the car or your outfit. And keep separate floormats, in case of spillage.

    If you eat meat while driving, remember to wait three hours before eating dairy during that trip. If your trip is under three hours, you must continue the count during your next car trip. All cars today have trip odometers, so all this requires is a trip clock on the dashboard.

    But does the Torah really tell us to do all this? There weren't even cars yet when it was written! Or were there? In the Torah Service every Saturday, the ancient Aramaic text of "Bei Ana Racheitz" says, "v'tashlim Mishalin d'libi," which is the earliest known reference to Michelin tires.

    To answer that question, the long-lost Mishnah tractate Bava Gump relates this variation on an old Jewish tale:

    "Moses, don't cook a kid in its mother's milk." (Exodus 23:19, 34:26; Deut. 14:21)

    "So we have to wait three hours between driving home the meat groceries and the dairy groceries?"

    "Moses, don't cook a kid in its mother's milk."

    "So we have to keep separate cupholders and upholstery covers for meat and dairy in the car?"

    "Moses, just don't eat while you're driving. And, while I'm at it, don't even think about texting."

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who was driven to drink, but didn't change the upholstery. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, become a fan at


    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.