Keeping “Kosher” in today’s world: a commanded observance or obsolete tradition?
Becky Gimbel / Jewish Living / May 22, 2005
May 22, 2005
13 Iyar 5765
Keeping Kosher in todays world: a commanded observance or obsolete tradition? By Becky Gimbel
Exploration of Topic
Kashrut (or keeping kosher) refers to the system of laws that outline what Jewish people can and cannot eat. The laws of kashrut evolved out of the Torah. The line, You shall not boil a kid in its mothers milk, is repeated three times (Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21) and initiates the tradition of separating milk and meat.
Other foods that can or cannot be eaten are described in Leviticus 11:1-23 and Deuteronomy 14:3-20. My favorite way to think of kashrut is with the Kosher Meat Song:
Every animal that we eat Must chew its cud and have split feet Kosher meat just cant be beat So throw away your pork chops
Throw away your ham and bacon Im a Jew and Im not fakin Kosher meat is really neat Its better than that treif -ish stuff
As described in the Kosher Meat Song, kosher animals chew their cud and have split feet. Birds are kosher, as long as they are not birds of prey. Any kosher animals must also be slaughtered in a kosher way, which is an ancient slaughtering process that is believed to be less painful for the animal. Fish are kosher as long as they have fins or scales.
So, what relevance do these ancient laws have today? Maimonides said that we should keep kosher for hygiene purposes. Others taught that keeping kosher is an exercise in controlling our passions. Today, some choose to not eat pork simply because of tradition. Some choose to keep kosher because it reminds them of their ethical obligations. There are some Jews who choose to eat kosher style, which usually means not eating milk and meat together and not eating meat from non-kosher animals, but not going so far as to have two separate sets of dishes or to only eat meat from a kosher butcher.
There are other Jews who do not keep kosher at all. For some, it just doesnt make sense to them. For others, it might simply be geographically undesirable because local grocery stores dont carry kosher meat and a kosher butcher may not be nearby.
Early Reform Judaism abandoned Kashrut, along with other ritual practices. It is said that shrimp was served at the reception following the first ordination of Reform Rabbis, often referred to as the Treif Banquet.
Today, on the other hand, more and more Reform Jews are finding meaning in traditional observances, as the younger generations increasingly look to and embrace Jewish history and traditions. One practice that many Reform Jews have returned to is the tradition of keeping Kosher.
What authority do we have to actively choose to NOT keep Kosher? As Reform Jews, we have the power to make individual choices in matters of ritual law. That being said, we are supposed to make these choices based on knowledge. This authority comes with the responsibility to learn and to make an informed decisionnot just a decision based on what we feel like doing.
Many Reform Jews have made the decision to not keep the laws of kashrut for a variety of reasons: because they do not find it meaningful in todays age; because parts of the kashrut industry have been corrupt; because some organizations who determine kashrut do not consider Reform Judaism to be legitimate; because there are now methods of slaughtering animals that are believed to be less painful than kosher slaughter or because they have found an alternative way to make their food choices Jewish choices.
What responsibility do we have to provide kosher food options for our peers who DO keep kosher? Many Jews, even if they themselves do not keep kosher, follow the tradition when inviting other Jews who might keep kosher into their homes or at public Jewish programs. This way, any Jew can feel at home and can comfortably eat a meal in a Jewish setting. Out of respect for all Jewsand for the sake of klal Yisrael (the community of Israel)Jewish organizations often do not serve non-kosher food.
Try It for a While Try keeping Kosher if you dont already. If youre not a vegetarian, it could be a tough transition! But it might be worthwhile.
Help Others Choose Create educational programming about Kashrut. If Reform Judaism is all about choice through knowledge, you can help other NFTYites acquire the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. That way they can decide for themselves.
iTorah Lishmah Join in the discussion of this weeks topic on our online discussion forum! Can kashrut be meaningful for modern Jews? What are some alternatives to traditional kashrut that youve heard of? Should NFTY events and URJ summer camps continue to be Kosher-Style? What obligation does NFTY have to provide fully Kosher meals (not just Kosher-Style) for those who choose to keep Kosher?
Becky Gimbe l's involvement in the Jewish community began as a young student at Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego, California. She was heavily involved in Show BIS, the synagogue's theater company, and quickly became a leader in her synagogue's youth group. She attended Camp Swig and Camp Newman for many years, where she became a song leader and discovered NFTY. Her involvement led her to go to Israel for a semester of high school on EIE. Becky served as NFTY Southern California's Regional Programming Vice President and as NFTY's Programming Vice President. In college Becky became involved with Kesher, serving on Keshers first Kesher Council. Additionally, Becky has been involved at Berkeley Hillel and in the UC Berkeley Jewish Student Union. Becky graduates this May with a degree in Business Administration and City & Regional Planning, and begins work this summer with Friedkin Investment Company analyzing and managing real estate investments.
CARMEL: A Progressive Beit Midrash and Israel Study Program
Carmel is a yearlong Reform Jewish learning and living experience in Israel, combining academic and informal learning opportunities. It is designed for students who have recently graduated from high school and is appropriate for students whether or not they have been on other Union for Reform Judaism programs in Israel. Participants will study at the University of Haifa and at the Reform Movement's Lokey International Academy of Jewish Studies at the Leo Baeck Education Center. They will return with a year of Academic study and credit. Participants will form a living Reform Jewish community of learning, celebration, participation in Tikkun Olam projects in the community and extensive field trips in Israel.