Question: Can I serve kosher and non-kosher food at the same table?
Is it okay to serve kosher and non-kosher food at the same table on Thanksgiving provided the food and dishes are clearly marked? One of our guests is a rabbi, and I don't want to do the wrong thing. Some of the non-observant guests that are coming might bring non-kosher foods even if I request otherwise.
Answer: Thanks for your question. You ask if it's okay to serve kosher and non-kosher foods together at a Thanksgiving dinner where guests will be bringing some of the dishes. You are concerned because one of your guests is a rabbi and you "don't want to do the wrong thing."
First, I must put a caveat on everything else that I'm going to say. I am not an expert on kashrut (Jewish dietary laws). As a Reform Jew, I choose to observe kashrut as I see fit, but I am not the person "in charge" in my community, or any other, for setting standards of kashrut. What follows is not a rabbinic ruling, in the classical sense. Rather, this is just my opinion about how to deal with a social situation in a way that respects your guests and Jewish tradition.
With that out of the way, let me now tell you one of the secrets of the world of traditional Jewish observance -- not everyone observes the same standards. What one observant Jew considers acceptable will be unacceptable to another.
For example: Is it acceptable to drink kosher wine in a non-Jewish home, poured in your glass by a non-Jew? By the standards of traditional Jewish law, many would say that it is not acceptable, or that it depends on what kind of kosher wine is being served. Other observant Jews would say that it is acceptable to them because they would not want to embarrass their hosts by refusing to drink wine clearly labeled as "kosher."
My constant advice in answering questions like yours is that you must ask your guests ahead of time how you can best meet their needs when they eat in your home, and then you must adhere to their requests.
This really is the only way to avoid an awkward situation in which your guests are unable to eat the food you have prepared.
This is the same advice you would expect to hear when you invite a vegetarian or a person with a serious food allergy for a meal in your home. Naturally, you would ask your guest about their needs and do your best to satisfy them. The same should be so concerning kashrut.
Unfortunately, too many people do not ask because they are afraid that they ought to know what the rules are. The truth is, you never know what a particular person's rules are until you ask.
I hope this advice is helpful to you.
Rabbi Jeffrey W. Goldwasser