Conversations on Kashrut: A Jewish Perspective

imagesImagine the following conversation:

A: “Did you see the prices at Sobey’s this year for Kosher for Passover food.”
B: “Tell me exactly what makes water kosher.  How come coke is kosher but not diet coke, but if you are Sephardic it’s kosher.
C. “And what’s with the quinoe.  Last year it was kosher for Ashkenazim, this year its not, what will it be next year?”
A: “I’d rather save my money from this gonev, and purchase foods that are kosher even if some jewish kashrut organization doesn’t stamp it with a label and charge exorbitant prices – its like a cartel.”
D: “I’d rather purchase free range chicken that is treated properly in life and raised by someone earning a living wage, then purchase a kosher slaughtered chicken that spent its life in a painful coop, and killed by an illegal immigrant worker exploited by some Jewish butchering conglomerate.”
B: “Didn’t God just say eat unleavened bread, what happened to getting to the original intent, not find new ways to make matzoh meal cake taste as good as regular chametz cake.”
C: “Oh its my turn at the deli counter, quick I’ve got to get my order in before I miss my turn and they close for the holidays.”

images-1As Rabbi Dalia Marx, professor of liturgy and midrash at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem writes, these type of casual conversations about kashrut, especially during the Passover season, shows us how the modern Jew considers so many complex and sometimes contradictory values in deciding what and how we should eat.  That ideological, economical, aesthetic, health-related, and many other issues have to be taken into account. This is what we Jews call kashrut.

 From Leviticus Chapter 11, we find the first full formulation of the laws of kashrut. It begins with a list of all the animals we are permitted and restricted from eating.  First are the laws regarding “land animals”, we may eat those that chew the cud and have split hooves like a cow or goat, but cannot eat any animal that does not have both characteristics including the horse or pig.   We then have laws governing “all that are in the waters”, and thus we are allowed to eat only the sea animals that have fins and scales.  Salmon and Bass are fine, shrimp and lobster are not.  Regarding poultry, the Torah then provides a list of non-kosher birds and prohibits the consumption of “every swarming thing.”

In later verses the eating laws expand.  We hear about the proper and improper way to slaughter any of these animals for consumption.  They must be in perfect health, be found alive and slaughtered causing the least amount of pain – following the laws of “tzarei baal chayim” the suffering of living animals.

Finally we are given the somewhat puzzling and obtuse law “though shall not boil a kid in its mothers milk” which later gets interpreted as avoiding eating milk and meat together.

These laws of kashrut have remained more or less the same today, though they have expanded greatly through the ages.

Continued Next Week


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