a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Is Keeping Kosher Relevant?

Posted on: September 6, 2011

It is clear by this post heading that I am not currently keeping kosher.  It is something that I’ve struggled with for over a year and something I do not yet have reconciliation for.  Relevant is a difficult term for me to wrestle with because the meaning isn’t, unfortunately as cut and dry as it may seem.  Relevance is in the eye of the beholder.  For many born, observant Jews who have not known anything other than a kosher existence it may not have anything to do with relevance, but rather with tradition based in Torah.  For me, a new Jew relevance is not just a matter of Torah but a matter of my conscience.

In some instances-tradition, culture, history-the laws of kashrut make sense.  In other instances-inconvenience, love of treif, and inconsistency-the laws of kashrut do  not make sense.  There is also the issue of what works best for my life and in my home.  There is something special, almost sacred about food laws between Jews and dare I say Muslims as well that set us apart from any other people. 

So here’s my two-cents, keeping in mind that I’m not scholar on laws of kashrut.  The ever so effective Pros and Cons.

Pro-History and Tradition of the culture of the Jewish people. Outside of Torah, keeping kosher is something that identifies people as Jewish.  Even if you’re a Jew who doesn’t keep kosher, even if you’re secular, even if you only go to shul on Yom Kippur you probably have some idea of what kosher is.  It’s probably the wrong idea, but it’s an idea.  Keeping kosher is part of the history and tradition of our people. 

Con-If I’m not completely Torah-observant, why pick out this one part? I’ve posted on several occasions how it bothers me that zealots, religious right-wings, or plain idiotic people tease out portions of Torah for their benefit.  They tease out specific parts, take them out of context, and use them to judge others.  Most famously, “bible-loving” homophobes like the pick out verses condemning gays while ignoring the other chapters in the same book that gives us rules on what we can and cannot eat.  I often doubt that those idiots who hold up hateful signs skip on cheeseburgers, or go to kosher butchers to get their sirloin.  So why would I, a person who reads Torah not as the word of G-d, but as a guide from G-d, tease out the kosher part just to call myself a “traditional” Jew?

Pro-Humane slaugher of animals.  Last night I had a conversation with a college friend about her decision to become vegetarian.  We talked back and forth about how she’d come to her decision and the discussion turned to humane animal slaughter.  Both Jews and Muslims slaughter animals in nearly the same fashion.  It is my understanding, again keeping in mind that I am no scholar, that the animal is killed with one knife cut that is “painless” and quick.  In both instances, the person in charge of the ritual slaughter thanks the animal for it’s life.  Make no mistake about it, your meat comes from a furry, feathered, or finned living creature.  It’s not just those perfectly portioned pieces of meat sitting in the grocery store.  It was a living, breathing thing.  In my opinion, they way that kosher meat is slaughtered is a huge pro. 

Con-Why Kosher and not Organic/Sustainable/Local?  Why not Halal? There is an eco-kosher movement happening now that I really must look into further, though I am still more inclined to eat local food than food that happens to have a kosher label, no matter how eco-friendly it is.  As far as I am aware there is only one eco kosher food operator in my area.  This fact is amazing and I’ve had their delicious chicken, but it’s just one farm.  On the contrary, there are at least a dozen farmers at a New York City farmer’s market every day of the week selling their foods.  The beauty of a farmer’s market is that you can talk to the farmer.  You can talk about their pastures, you can ask about the animals, you can talk about the eggs, the milk, the cheese, the beef, the chicken to people who most likely know exactly what happened when and how it happened.  You won’t here, “There were lots of dandelions on pasture this summer” or “Not a lot of rain” or “These are the first fruits” from a worker at the super market.  I talked to a farmer one Saturday morning who actually went to the hen house early that morning to bring me eggs.  I paid him $8 for a dozen eggs-which is insane.  But the yolks were orange and the taste was out of this world.  For me, it was worth it.  I am not inclined to shop at Trader Joes or Whole Foods in their kosher section when I’m not sure where that meat came from, how far it traveled.  I’d rather shop for meat at the farmer’s market where the workers are more than happy to suggest that you come visit their farms to lend a hand or just to see where your food is coming from.

A Muslim can eat kosher food but a Jew who keeps kosher cannot eat Halal?  WHY?  It’s true that Muslims do not have the same restrictions on the types of meat that we can consume but the way in which Halal meat is slaughtered is almost exactly the same. 

Pro-Do I need a reason?  That answer is not as obvious as it may seem.  I’m sitting here writing pros and cons and have struggled with this decision for some times.  Sometimes it doesn’t really make since.  Sometimes I just want to try to keep kosher. 

Con-How?  Exactly.  How?  I watched a video from a fellow Jew by Choice and blogger.  She brought her camera to the mikveh-for her new kitchen ware.  That’s right, dunking Ball jars and glasses at the mikveh in Teaneck, NJ.  I thought it could be as easy as not mixing dairy and meat and only buying kosher products.  But nope, it’s not.  Separate utensils, pots, pans, Tupperware, glasses, plates, bowls and they all have to be dunked?! 

Conclusion-Erika Kosher (which isn’t really kosher in the eyes of many).  I tried this once before quite unsuccessfully. It is a work in progress.  It’s not something that I think will happen over night, it’s not even something that will happen in a year.  It’s just something that’s on my mind.  Finding a type of kosher observance that works with me, in my life.  The beauty of liberal Judaism is making these informed decisions.  My rabbis always told us that we should try to learn as much as we can about everything and then, afterwards make informed decisions about what works and does not work.  Keeping kosher because the Bible tells me so isn’t a reason to keep kosher. Keeping kosher because it makes me feel more Jewish isn’t a reason to keep kosher.  For me, keeping a form of kosher is just something that I want to do-I can’t really explain it.

So I’ve dusted off the Erika Kosher requirements that I made in April and going to give it another go.  Do you currently keep kosher?  Why/Why not?

11 Responses to "Is Keeping Kosher Relevant?"

$8 for a dozen eggs? What in the world? I thought the Farmer’s Market was supposed to be CHEAP?

I eat halal meat though, to me, there’s not much of a difference.

They were good eggs. The Farmer’s Market isn’t necessarily “cheap” all of the time. I’d say that they are pretty similar to prices at Whole Foods.

I eat Halal all of the time 🙂

I try to keep kosher. I do have separate sinks, I don’t put meat in the dishwasher and I bought two new sets of plates (30 pieces for like $13 at a thrift store). I separated out silverware and labeled their space and some of my cookware. But there are still things I need like more saucepans, a small baking dish, a few bowls, another strainer. I also haven’t taken my things to the mikveh because my dishwasher can’t be kashered. What is the point? Not sure my current Rabbi would help me with that either.

I started keeping kosher 1. because it helps with identity and 2. because it’s Jewish law. It’s where I started. You have to start somewhere and that’s what I chose because it’s something I can do and it doesn’t totally turn the husbands world upside down (like refusing to get in a car on shabbat would do). Now, I really can’t imagine not keeping kosher. It’s just second nature.

I think that some day I will get to that point. I can get completely behind Jewish Identity but not yet the Jewish Law side. It will take me digging and spiritual searching for me to get there.

Thanks for linking me!

Have you read Kosher Nation by Sue Fishkoff? She talks about SO MUCH of what you are asking about here — eco kosher and the hows and whys. It’s a great book that traces the history of kashrut as an “industry” and what it means today.

(Reviewed it here: http://www.kvetchingeditor.com/2010/09/its-kosher-kosher-nation.html)

I will definitely look into that.

Second the recommendation. She spoke at my synagogue last year–amazing! She also has a great book on Chabad.

I live in a country where keeping kasher, (it’s called this way in sephardic+israeli tradition), is impossible, not just difficult unless you’re comitted to live under severe hardship. Still if one accepts that he/she follows his own path to Judaism then one form of kasher is neccessary for we marry not just a theology but an identity. You may find this less true now but more miles you walk you’ll see that you acquire a collective jewish identity alongside your personal one, (this said with the humility of admitting not to know you and quite possibly being wrong).

For me the kasher means fasting on Yom Kippur and Tisha beAv, keeping the unleavened rules of Pessach and trying to stay off pork chops whenever a non-pork alternative is available though I always make sure to get the quite porky prosciutto crudo at the super market. Is this kasher? To tell the truth I don’t even feel the slightest guilt on consuming non-kasher but I do feel the need to make a “sacrifice” to this identity I was given and chosen to maintain. I imagine the same must be true for you.

Out of curiosity, what country do you live in, Abravanel?

I definitely agree that there is a melding of identities when one becomes Jewish-I’ve created an entire website dedicated to that idea. I think that how one keeps kosher is really up to the individual. Unfortunately, I find that someone always has an opinion or likes to point out halacha, but for me personally I have to do what works best for me, what’s best for the environment, and what’s best for my lifestyle.

[…] I could rattle off a list of ways that I want to be a better Jewish person in 5772; observing Erika Kosher, giving more tzedakah, creating positive change in my community, working towards creating a diverse […]

[…] I’ve finally figured out Erika Kosher.  You can read about the process I went through here and here.  The way that I keep “Erika Kosher” isn’t halachically kosher and […]

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