TORONTO, Nov. 7, 2009 In his Shabbat morning sermon to the more than 3,500 attendees at the Union for Reform Judaism's 70th Biennial Convention in Toronto, URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie called on members of North America's largest Jewish movement to recognize the hazards of the "gobble, gulp, and go" culture and to take time to reevaluate how the food they eat can advance Reform Jewish values.
Yoffie reminded attendees that in the past, Reform Jews were at the forefront of refusing to use grapes or lettuce produced by exploited workers, and that such ethical and spiritual standards can come into play today. For Jews, he said, eating is "a gateway to holiness," and "surely it follows that we do not bless or consume food produced by acts of injustice, by mistreating animals, or by despoiling the environment," he said.
Traditional religious sources teach Jews to eat mindfully and thoughtfully, lingering over meals and inviting God in. Rabbi Yoffie pointed to the traditional Shabbat meal as an example of this special time and urged Reform congregations to see communal meals as a "fundamental value--an occasion to unite our congregations, rise above our self-absorption, and turn our members in the direction of mitzvah-doing and God." Though he said he expects no Movement-wide consensus upon what should or should not appear on synagogue menus and in synagogue kitchens as a result of reevaluated food guidelines, he asked synagogue leaders to formulate "carefully, thoughtfully, Jewishly" ethical eating guidelines for their shared communal spaces. He suggested that areas of consideration may include healthy ingredients, sustainable agriculture, economic fairness for farm workers and a decrease in consumption of red meat.
Under Rabbi Yoffie's direction, the URJ has prepared an extensive set of materials to assist congregations and individuals in exploring an array of food-related concerns.
The URJ has partnered with Hazon to create a three-part educational course for congregations. The course combines lessons from Hazon's "Food for Thought" sourcebook with new material developed by the URJ.
A guide for congregations developing new food policies
"How to" information on creating a Congregational Garden, and on working with local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs
A section on environmental and health reasons to eat less red meat
A model program for youth groups exploring these issues
Information about the variety of Jewish blessings for food
The website even includes some of Rabbi Yoffie's favorite recipes!
Rabbi Yoffie said he firmly believes the leadership the Reform Jewish Movement has shown on other social justice issues will inform their views on the issues surrounding ethical eating, and that Reform Jews will approach this new initiative with enthusiasm.
"Reform Jews are ethically aware, ecologically responsible, and sensitive to matters of physical and spiritual health," he said. "We know that our Jewish tradition speaks to these issues, and that our young people care about them. At such times, Reform Judaism does not remain silent."
The full text of Rabbi Yoffie's sermon can be found at urj.org/yoffie.