Why is it that one needs to bury the dishes to make them kosher again?

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I recently visited my grandmother (who’s nearly 90 and not in the greatest health), and she told me many things about the family I never knew before. One thing she told me had me very confused and I was hoping you could shed some light on it for me. My grandmother shocked me by telling me that her and my Grandpa kept kosher the first years of their marriage until the kids were young. Then, one day when they were away on vacation, upon returning they realized that the maid had mixed up the meat and milk dishes. My grandmother wasn’t about to dig a hole in the back yard to bury the dishes to make them kosher again, so she decided on the spot that they were done with kosher. Our family, although proudly Jewish, has had nothing to do with kosher, or nearly any other observance for that matter, ever since. That decision obviously had a major impact on the future of her family for generations to come, and it was all based on the need to bury the dishes. Why is it that one needs to bury the dishes to make them kosher again? Dishes don’t die to need to come back to life or something…the whole thing has been upsetting to me and I need some explanation.

Margie

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Dear Margie ,

Sadly, I’ve heard many similar stories from Jewish families of that generation. It seems to have been common knowledge in that time that the way to re-kosher dishes was by burying them. 

The whole “burial of dishes” story is a complete myth, there is no source for it whatsoever in Jewish law. The Torah clearly outlines how one renders vessels kosher if they have been used for non-kosher food: Whatever was used directly on an open fire must be passed through fire to remove the absorption, whatever was used with boiling water should be immersed in boiling water, etc. Entire chapters in the “Code of Jewish Law” are dedicated to the intricacies of various types of vessels and how to “kasher” them; render them kosher. Nowhere does it mention burial!

My best guess at the source of this myth is a paragraph in the above “Code” which states that if one cut fatty non-kosher meat with a knife which has crevices, in order to scrape away the fat of that meat to perform the koshering process one should push the blade of the knife into hard ground a number of times to clean it and make it possible to kasher. Perhaps that law somehow got misconstrued into the myth of the burial of dishes in the ground. 

What is so tragic is that due to a complete myth, so many families who did not want to conform to that myth ended up dropping the observance of kosher. This resulted in Jewishly dire consequences for the future generations of those families and for the Jewish people at large who have moved so far away from observance, as happened to your own family. 

So, Margie, here’s my challenge for you to consider: Your grandmother ceased the family’s observance of kosher due to a mistake; without that mistake, your family would very likely still be kosher-observant today!  So, my challenge is for you to consider, perhaps, to rectify this mistake and return things back to what they could – and should – have been. It’s not too late for you to rectify that mistake and try out the observance of kosher. You can contact Dallas Kosher and they’ll be more than happy to walk you through what needs to be done. (I promise they won’t make you bury anything!)

Historically, families that have kept kosher have stayed more connected to Jewish community and observance. Kosher has, throughout the generations, been one of the most powerful guarantees for Jewish continuity and pride. It rightfully belongs to you and you can make it your own!  

Sincerely,

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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