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They’re Kashering My Kitchen

I was not raised kosher, in fact I wasn’t even raised Jewish. I grew up eating everything. I chose to become a Jew out of love, and I have never stopped loving this people that I chose. But sometimes they drive me crazy.

I love food, and I love to cook. I could not, cannot, and will not limit myself to those food groups permissible in Leviticus. As a friend of mine says, “Halacha is not my thing.”

My kitchen is clean and organized, like my mother’s. I have attachments to many implements and cooking utensils, e.g. my grandmother’s spatula, my father’s cherry cutting board, the patina on a vintage 8-inch cast iron frying pan. I could go on.

So, now my kitchen on Fire Island is being kashered for a weekend. The trouble is, everyone’s rules are different. The latest rules are pretty strict. What got me the most was my grill. It seems that the group can’t use my grill. The “essence” of the treif meat cannot be gotten rid of without painstaking brillo-pad scouring and then heating to 1000 degrees F, which everyone agrees would be dangerous.

Why should I care? Barbecued food isn’t even healthy, especially the blackened part. They’re not eating any meat. But grilled vegetables can be so delectable, with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt. My grill is a charcoal kettle grill. So you really cook on fire. It is an amazing experience. Lately I’ve been cooking paella on a real paella pan from Spain. It fits perfectly onto our grill. You can make paella without shellfish, even without meat. I’m sure it would be incredibly delicious.

Oh well. The Hazon group will not know this taste. They will not know the feeling of their hands cooking outside over a live, hot fire. Why should I care? Somehow it just gets to me. What about the people who don’t keep such strict kashrut? Why does it seem like the most frum rules always trump?

One more thing. Women are usually doing all this work. They are even the most strict enforcers. But isn’t it the male orthodox rabbis who interpret the rules? My dishwasher on Fire Island is plastic-lined. I have a feeling that means every dish for the entire weekend must be hand washed.

On a more spiritual note, I could imagine taking the dishes, pans and silverware to the ocean afterwards, carting them in the wagon for immersion in the ultimate mikvah, the ocean. And getting pretty-well doused in the process. That would be a rather amazing thing to do. And solidifying for the group. A bonding experience.

We decided to go to a family reunion the weekend of the cleanse, so we won’t be at the house. In analyzing this, I probably felt safer being away. It has always seemed to me that the rules of kashrut serve mostly to divide and separate people. This time, I’m the one who ends up excluded, by my own choice. Perhaps I can learn, with time, to let go of this frustration I seem to harbor regarding all the laws and issues surrounding kashrut. That would be a good thing.

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20 Responses to “They’re Kashering My Kitchen”

  1. Rachel Says:

    I’m really glad to read this. Both because there’s a lot here that resonates for me, in one way or another, and also because I think it’s both important and cool that on a blog like the Jew and the Carrot there are voices coming from outside the boundaries of kashrut. Thanks for posting.

  2. Alix Wall Says:

    Me too. I think one of the reasons I’ve never cared about kashrut is that I consider it too divisive for a Jew like me who has friends in the (mostly) gentile world. I certainly do not bring this up in more observant circles, so I’m pleasantly surprised to read your post here as well. Go Phyllis, for honoring what feels right for you.

  3. Richard Dale Says:

    Phyllis
    What a powerful post, and a reminder of how the same thing (kashrut) can be held in so many ways. I have always liked the notion that Kashrut is a wonderful and millenia old example of mindfulness regarding food. All food disciplines are sources of mindfulness and sources of division. Any discipline (kashrut, veganism, local-ism) brings benefits with their boundaries. But, if we cannot break bread together, or grill together, what are we losing from our human connections? Can we find ways for these disciplines to unite rather than divide? Certainly you remind us that this is an unanswered question.

  4. SteveK, Edina, MN Says:

    My wife and I kept kosher for the first 23 years of our marriage. I also converted to Judaism. My wife was raised Reform. She did not come from a kosher home either. In the end, we quit keeping kosher because it bothered her so much.

    By the way, though she did more cooking than I, this wasn’t a traditional division of home responsibilities. I cooked for our kids, for myself, and for our family and guests.

    I don’t consider kashrut to be divisive, at least not any more than Havdalah or the Yom Kippur fast or any other ritual observance. The laws of kashrut force us to think about how we sustain ourselves. It’s really no different than choosing to be organic or vegetarian or any other optional diet.

  5. judi Says:

    We kashered our kitchen several years ago, so I can relate totally to this post. Before we did so, we fielded advice from a couple of different orthodox rabbis and read a lot, so we went into it with our eyes pretty open. It was a big step for us; we’d been living “kosher style”- two sets of dishes, no flagrantly non-kosher food in the house- for a while and we’d gotten the hang of it.

    We ended up with a kitchen fit for Moshiach- and several pieces of cookware that had been transformed into modern art by a blowtorch (and I didn’t even get to be the one to do it!!). And oh, yeah- we also got a little visit from the fire chief and several volunteers when the steam blast from dropping white-hot cast iron into a pot of boiling water set off our kitchen smoke sensors. They’re probably still talking about us.

    Ultimately, we learned that no matter how kosher (as if there really are “degrees” of kosher that make one kitchen better then another… if you follow the rules, it’s kosher, and the wife’s not wearing of a sheitel (a wig) cannot change this fact), no matter how meticulous you are, some people will not eat at your house. Some people will not eat at anybody else’s house. Not their parents’, not friends… Crazy. As if that was actually the point of the exercise. So we have a policy: we will not eat at the homes of people who will not eat at ours. And then we enjoy eating together with our friends who interpret the law similarly.

    Now we no longer feel pressured to have two sinks, two ovens, two dishwashers, separate counters (we eat meat- rarely and from sources we’ve researched thoroughly). Our vegetarian friends have relatively little to be concerned with- cheese is the biggest issue.

  6. Nigel Savage Says:

    Phyllis,

    Hi, this is Nige.
    Thanks for posting this… it’s intense. I think I didn’t really have a sense that you guys might have been there this weekend, that the thought that we’d be stricly kosher might, even subliminally, cause you to think you’d be more comfortable not being there. Sometimes I get a little frustrated too; as you know, I’m someone who keeps a fairly strictly kosher kitchen at home, so that any of my friends can eat there, but in general I love food, and I certainly eat in non-kosher restaurants, and in friends’ houses – both Jewish and non-Jewish – that are not kosher.

    But at the same time, inclusive community is a high value, both for Hazon and for me personally. I’m willing to go the extra mile to make sure that something like this is accessible for everyone there. If we really wanted to, we _could_ kasher the grill, and have the pleasure of barbecuing on it. But the aesthetic pleasure of doing so is not one that I find impossible to forego.

    I think that the heart of this conversation is about being willing to accept people on their own terms. In my experience, friends who _are_ strictly kosher are still, nevertheless, completely accepting and respectful of those who are not; I had lunch with Steve and Steve yesterday, and in their European vacation this summer they’re going via Basel, simply in order to be able to get kosher food – yet, as you know, they’re immensely accepting of friends who are not kosher. And I think that the willingness to accept people on their own terms – and do one’s best, and think creatively, to make occasions work for everyone – I think that’s what I aspire to.

    And if we do this again in FI, I hope we’ll be able to persuade you guys to be there….

    :-)

    N x

  7. Phyllis Bieri Says:

    Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. I have continued to soul-search over this issue.

    Nigel, I agree that the heart of this conversation is about being willing to accept people on their own terms. When someone does not eat my home-baked challah because it was cooked in my oven, I do not feel accepted. When Hazon tells me that, “to be safe,” they cannot use my separate set of milchig pans that I stored apart for my strictly kosher guests, I do not feel accepted.

    I entertain a lot, and I am very accustomed to dietary restrictions. I have no problem accomodating vegans, vegetarians, gluten intolerants, people who only eat kosher meat, and people who won’t mix meat and milk. That’s easy. What I cannot do is, as Richard put it, break bread with people who will not eat on my plates, or from my pans and ovens. In that sense, I disagree with SteveK in Minnesota, because very strict kashrut observance outside one’s own home does not feel like any other dietary preferance. Our friends Steve and Steve cannot come over to my home for dinner, unless it is kosher take-out on paper and plastic. That does not feel like acceptance to me, Nige.

    I could try to profoundly alter who I am, and attempt to keep a kosher kitchen, or a partially kosher kithen with separate silverware, pans, etc., but what fraction of people will that accomodate? And where is the holiness in that action, if I cannot find it within myself? Believe me, I question that too, and figure perhaps this is just how I’m less of a Jew, or even worse it’s because I’m too self-centered.

    Ironically, I think I am in a similar situation as Judy’s. Rather quickly we end up not eating at other people’s homes if they cannot eat in ours. Otherwise it
    feels too unbalanced. As a result, several potential friendships have never taken root.

    It’s very interesting, this issue of breaking bread with others, and in whose homes we allow ourselves to eat.

    I spent a long time cleaning the Fire Island kitchen this weekend, throwing out old pans and silverware (you inherit practically everything when you buy a house on Fire Island due to lack of cars. When you don’t want something anymore, you simply leave it in front of your house, and people walk by and pick from the stuff all weekend. It’s a throwback to earlier recycling methods).

    I couldn’t shake the feeling that my non-kosher kitchen will be perceived as unfit. Unclean. Even the word treyf packs quite a punch. So I left the fridge as clean and organized as possible, ditto the countertops. As much as I have anguished, I have been deeply grateful to Hazon for this experience. My newly organized kitchen is the present you gave me.

    Meanwhile, I am grateful to be able to contribute to inclusiveness. I hope you have beautiful walks on the spectacular barrier island beach, perhaps even catching the sunrise over the Atlantic. Sunrises are something we can all share.

  8. Nathaniel Says:

    This is an incredibly important exchange. In the pluralist Jewish world in which many of us live, there is a lot of guilt, disingenuousness, and hypocrisy around such issues and this exchange cuts through much of that. Much of it boils down to what we mean by “acceptance” and “inclusiveness.” We have to be careful about adopting asymmetrical notions of acceptance – i.e., where it’s the ‘purer’ who do the accepting and the impure who need acceptance. I don’t think anyone wants to be ‘accepted’ on those terms. Can we have a community in which acceptance is truly a two-way street – the non-halakhic and the halakhic, the machmirim (strict) and the meikilim (lenient)? What would that look like?
    On ‘inclusiveness’: think of the example of a mechitza. You could say that “inclusiveness” in a pluralist community requires a mechitza in shul, since that would not exclude the Orthodox. But we can all recognize that this is not a solution, since those who don’t believe in a mechitza actually believe affirmatively in NOT having a mechitza – i.e., that a mechitza has historically been part of a system of subordinating women (of course, I recognize that you can have a mechitza and a fully egalitarian service, but I’m just using an analogy here…at any rate, no Orthodox services are fully egalitarian, not even at Darkhei Noam). Now, people who keep kosher might think that inclusiveness means making sure everything’s kosher le-mehadrin min ha-mehadrin since, unlike the issue of mechitza, no one affirmatively believes in eating non-kosher food as a matter of principle. But Phyllis’ posts show that there is a different issue here: the principle is not that of eating shrimp, but of eating in others’ homes, crucial to having a community. Of course, we know that halakhot like bishul akum, pot yisrael, chalav yisrael, and stam yeinam are precisely designed to define the limits of community. Chazal knew that: the limits of whose cooking you eat, whose bread you eat, whose wine you drink define what community you belong to. They were profoundly right about that – were they right about how they defined the limits of community? Can we learn a deep lesson from Chazal about how community is created, while not accepting the limitations they placed on that community?
    These aren’t simple issues: no one is suggesting that people who keep kosher should eat shrimp and pork when they go visiting! But should halakha in a pluralist world be molded somewhat to fit the needs of community in our world – just as the strictures of bishul akum, stam yeinam, etc. was an effort by the rabbis to mold halakha to the needs of community in theirs? Or, should we all eat take-out?

  9. Nigel Savage Says:

    Take-out, Nathaniel, take-out…
    (Just kidding).

    Indeed. When Elie Kaunfer and I were co-chair of Shabbat at the first Limmud NY, one of the decisions that we were involved in shepherding was to have a movie on the Friday night – the one key difference with Limmud in the UK. We do something similar at the Shabbat Retreat at Hazon’s New York Jewish Environmental Bike Ride: the food is glatt kosher, there’s an eruv, and there are services of multiple flavors, including an orthodox one; but there is also “drinks by the pool” with a CD player playing music. It’s a way of engaging the issue of asymmetry – of not defining “inclusive” to mean “most religious common factor.”

    But – and here’s the key but – it’s extremely hard to do anything parallel in the sphere of kashrut. We could conceivably, at Limmud NY, have had a section in the dining room that specifically served treif food. (It’s unclear whether the mashgiach would ever have approved this, but let’s put that to one side, for now.) But the key issue is that eating treif is not a positive Jewish value. It may well be the case that people _enjoy_ eating treif food, but I don’t think that they’d argue that it’s an active and positive value. That’s of course _not_ Phyllis’s point: her value (which I agree with) is the value of having one’s friends eat at one’s table.

    To me the closer analogy is having over a friend who’s struggled with alcholism, and who has now given up alchohol – but finds it incredibly hard being around it. No-one who knows me would be under any misapprehension that I don’t enjoy wine with a meal and,indeed, good wine. But if the price of having my friends over to eat with me was not to serve wine or alcohol, in order to make it easier for her to eat with me – or perhaps to feel able to come, at all – then, for that meal, it’s a price that I think I’d pay. It would be a real price – a fine meal without wine is unusual – but in that circumstance I don’t think I’d struggle too much with it.

    But I’d still miss my glass of wine…

    :-)

  10. Nathaniel Says:

    But Nigel, the whole point under discussion here is the desire NOT to have separate minyanim, separate sections of dining rooms, and so on … the point here is precisely unity, achdus – which is a positive Jewish value. There is a questioning of those aspects of halakha which precisely make it impossible to share a dining room, to share a minyan … and the question under discussion concerns not institutional settings like Limmud, where the issues are quite different, but rather that of sharing a meal with someone in their home, the key locus of community and intimacy … and, for me, to question the ideas underlying the halakhot of bishul akum and stam yeinam … (and, as you know, many authorities extend some of the rules of stam yeinam even to Jews who aren’t shomer shabbos … but even for those who don’t, the underlying rationale of such rules show that Chazal were deeply aware how dining and wining together, and not in separate dining rooms or houses, is crucial for defining the community …. ). Again, the point is of course not to suggest that shomrei kashrut eat shrimp and pork when invited to others’ homes, but whether the chumras of halakha which make it impossible for them to eat at all in others’ houses, except in a plastic bubble, no matter what accomodations are made, need to be rethought in our evolving communities. I don’t think these questions have easy answers, but I think in our pluralistic zone of the Jewish world, they need to be asked …

  11. Rabbi Avi Finegold Says:

    At some point, (and this is something that many philosophers will echo) one needs to accept the difference between diversity and tolerance. Diversity implies that we are a group with varying opinions which all have an equal validity. I’m a walker and you are a bike rider and we can co-exist without either of us having any negative feelings towards the others’ practice. It’s the “I’m OK, You’re OK” phenomenon and there are many examples of that in Judaism. Tolerance tends to be misperceived in many settings. Most people see it as an analogue to the above, but in truth there is a crucial differnece that is often missed. Tolerance implies that while I disapprove of your actions I am willing to tolerate them and not kill ou over our differences (ok, I am exaggerating a tiny bit on that one). For the purposes of this argument I will use kashrut as my example. Being tolerant of the kashrut practices of another does not mean that you have to abide by them when you are with them for the sake of unity. In fact for many people that would be the antithesis of what kashrut means to them. We have discussed at Hazon the possibility that Kashrut exists partally to separate individuals. One keeps Kosher and as a result would refer not to affiliate with those who do not, seeing them in some way as having a differnet set of ethics that they would prefer not to associate with. I think this is a perfectly acceptable position, insofar as not eating with someone who is not Kosher does not impinge on your ability to view them as an equal human being who has made different choices. This is the essence of tolerance. I don’t practice what you do, in fact I reject it as a valid option. Yet, I continue our relationship based on the many other ideas that we share and i respect the gpas that separate us without feeling the need to bridge them. Ideally, for people who keep kosher strictly (and consciously), there is a moral respinsibility to go towards the other without adopting their practice.
    I hope this helps clarify some of the moral underpinnings of what we do and ethical beings.

    avi

  12. Ashira Malka Says:

    Phyllis,
    Wow. You’re lucky. You chose this life AND you get to complain about it publicly AND you even are given awards for this!
    My own grandmother won’t eat in my home! She doesn’t know if I keep kosher or not; that’s not the issue. Religion is just a great place to put a lot of our feelings — I mean in her case she’s a nervous person. Actually she grew up in Russia (only ’til six years of age) where they were more into piano than shul, so probably her nervousness now as a widow is still left-over from the days when she married an Orthodox man and had to learn everything pretty quickly, keep the rules forever, and never talk about anything else — I mean pretend as if it had always been this way in her life and she was an expert.
    You, on the other hand, get to both adopt something by your own choice AND criticize it! That’s wonderful.
    Why am I writing this? Seems you only want your friends posting and I’m not expecting to meet you anytime soon but I guess it just got on my nerves.
    Don’t you understand — or didn’t you when undergoing the conversion process, which you seem to have done WILLINGLY — that being Jewish is very much about separation, indeed? We are meant to be separate from all the other nations. We even have a different calendar for that very purpose. To feel and be faced with our own individuality both as a nation AND as a nation of strong individuals, who argue and offend each other, even!
    Again, you’re lucky.
    People came and kashered your kitchen FOR YOU!!!!! AND you get to complain that it’s the women doing it.
    My personal feeling is that in the United States, everyone is at least a bit Christian. It’s the default setting we collectively have here for religion. It can’t be helped. The only thing to do is be aware. If you happen to have come from a Christian (of any type) back-ground, then your default setting is telling you to get over yourself, because that is the Christian way and goal of that religion. By contrast, Judaism is so much about just that — CONTRAST. Definitions. Definitions of time, such as Shabbat. To define, rather than get over, oneself.
    I don’t even know what Halacha is, exactly. To me all the books and rules and everything run together in terms of the names — but at the same time I know they have defined me, taught me to think in a way that no other nation has.
    I know, also, that women have a power with food. So do men. And girls. And boys. Anyone who chooses to cook, or even is forced or commanded to can learn the power of nourishing, and also of poisoning. Why do you want to use your power to poison your guests? That’s just not very nice, is it? Ooh! When I think of the disgusting things all fish are full of, I would just like to wretch! Most people who keep kosher don’t know enough about health because they simply haven’t had the breadth of experience to be exposed to really super-nourishing food. If only you’d use your position to give that to them, how amazing would that be? And yes, you’d have to stop having weird things like shrimp in your home! To a kosher-raised Jew like me, it’s just totally weird! How are you expecting someone raised in this way to EVER be able to see your point of view? It just isn’t realistic!
    Be yourself!
    Be a Jew!
    A Jewess, even!
    Separate yourself from the nations and shine, brightly!
    Now!
    I mean, a New-Jew. You haven’t got the generations behind you, backing you up or holding you back, either. You don’t know the burden of it! You cannot begin to imagine the years of oppression heaped onto those plates — I mean food is a HUGE issue for Jews, because it’s one of the main ways we’ve been forced to convert. Haven’t you yet seen one of those children’s picture-books showing a family choosing to die rather than be forced to eat one bit of pork? You do not and cannot know what it is like to grow up with these images in one’s mind — you’re not even raising these issues! My G-d! It’s all from your — YES!!!!! — selfish perspective. Hey, that’s okay. I’m not saying I don’t admire you for saying these things out loud BUT is acceptance really your main goal in life? I mean — from a psychological perspective might that not be because you are lacking in acceptance of and for your very own self, coming from you? Psychology is a field of study which has after all and to begin with arisen from Judaic thought, traditions of years-long philosophical training. I’m not writing this to criticize you — I don’t know you and you haven’t offended me, but just kinda really BUGGED me pretty bad here this Shabbat morning as I unhalachically write and am using an electrified computer screen, no less — so hey I’m not saying I’m not a hypocrite and all because I clearly AM on some issues (or struggling, you might more acceptingly and lovingly and even Christianly call it!) bu the food thing is huge huge huge and believe me it is not all about taste or even acceptance.
    Have you tried:
    Closing your eyes,
    sitting quietly and all that,
    imagining you are one of the people who will not eat your food in your home on your plates,
    and instead of criticizing them and looking to anyone else for support — have you simply tried to imagine their pain?
    Once?
    I would personally and also perdaughterally suggest that you TRY IT!!!!!
    Give them this gift of kindness, or else at least do NOT call them your friends!
    Ashira
    P.S. If you do try this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart — for Jews everywhere who would rather choose death than converstion by pork!

  13. Rabbi Shmuel Says:

    “In the pluralist Jewish world in which many of us live, there is a lot of guilt, disingenuousness, and hypocrisy around such issues and this exchange cuts through much of that”

    Nathaniel that’s true but let me ask you something who is more disingenuous and hypocritical- a person who has – and honestly lives by – a 3,500 year old belief system which is not necessarily “inclusive” as you’d use the term or someone who runs around yelling “diversity, the rainbow, des colores, multiculturalism” but includes everyone in their spectrum other than those they may not agree with (like religious Jews) – remember, hypocrisy cuts two ways!

    “We have to be careful about adopting asymmetrical notions of acceptance – i.e., where it’s the ‘purer’ who do the accepting and the impure who need acceptance.”

    As some of the other writers point out, not everything in life can be neatly packaged in sound bites or theoretical mathematical constructs and paradigms. There’s a world of difference between A not eating in B’s home b/c of B’s standards of kashrus (or lack thereof) and B not eating in A’s home because of the foregoing. One is trying to be internally consistent with his or her life, (“azlinan l’shitasan” as we say in da hood) the other is simply being retaliatory. I see no parity there whatsoever.

    “Can we learn a deep lesson from Chazal about how community is created, while not accepting the limitations they placed on that community?”

    Talk about disingenuous! That’s not profound – that’s lip service.

    “That’s of course _not_ Phyllis’s point: her value (which I agree with) is the value of having one’s friends eat at one’s table.”

    Nigel is correct in his analysis of Phyllis’ underlying dilemma. As my friend Esther says when someone claims that they “love fish”, what they’re really saying is that they love themselves and that eating fish is a means towards that end. If Phyllis truly loved her friends, she’d want to do everything to make THEM feel comfortable at her table (include not even being at the table if necessary).

    I must admit that I was startled when I first experienced “retaliatory relativism” I was introduced to a reform Rabbi whose daughter had become a Chabadnik (perhaps he should have checked his mezuzah). I extended my hand to take his and he refused. I kiddingly asked him “Are you shomer negiah?” and he told me he didn’t shake hands with any man who wouldn’t shake hands with a woman. (halacha mandates that out of respect for my exclusivity with my wife, I have no physical contact with any other woman) Instead of feeling victimized as he had hoped, I only felt pity for this poor man with a point to prove and an axe to grind.

    That being said, there is value to broad community but with limits. It’s certainly challenging to me to participate in the Hazon events but there are values which can be explored together and problems which can be solved together despite our differences. In my experience, much of the “I can’t eat in your house thing” whether from a child to a parent or interfriendial (a new word – don’t look it up) really masks deeper, more insidious differences. Many things which are perceived as “holier than thou” are really just bad manners. But by the same token, much of the counter-movement towards this mythical and unattainable symmetry is motivated by organic intolerance which when exhibited by folks waving the banner of multiculturalism is simply as Nathaniel rightly claims “disingenuous and hypocritical”.

    So you’re certainly welcome to join us for a Shabbos dinner with Rivkie’s freshly-baked maple wholewheat challahs (yes, a taste of the World to Come) and whatever veggies we harvest that erev Shabbos, but if your primary reason for not joining us is because we might not be able to reciprocate, then ask yourself who really loses.

  14. Rabbi Mendy Hecht Says:

    What reason is there for keeping kosher?
    by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

    Eating (and drinking) is a basic human survival requirement, next to air and shelter. If you were to add up all the time that you spent eating in one week, you would wind up with at least eight hours. That’s a lot of time—wouldn’t you agree? Yet we eat throughout the day, every day, without even thinking about it (unless we’re on a diet!).
    Shouldn’t eating be done with intelligence?

    Enter Kosher.

    Contrary to public misconception, keeping kosher has nothing to with nutrition or hygiene, though many kosher products are more nutritious and/or hygienic than their non-kosher equivalents—keeping kosher is the means of finding G-d in your food.

    With Shabbat, we can spiritualize time. With the shul, we can spiritualize place… with kosher, we can spiritualize food… With Shabbat, we can spiritualize time.
    With the Shul, we can spiritualize place.

    With Tefillin, we can spiritualize leather.

    And with kosher, we can spiritualize breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks.

    In his classic book Think Jewish, Rabbi Zalman Posner eloquently elaborates the above point: most secular, Westernized Jews think in secular, Westernized terms. This results in the notion that spirituality is restricted to certain times, or certain places, or certain rituals, and that “real life” exists separately, outside spirituality.

    But according to Judaism, spirituality is all times, and all places. Even when you eat.

    Here’s a quote from another question answered on AskMoses: “…Judaism is not a religion—it’s a way of life. There is no fact of life that Judaism does not have an opinion on. Because eating is a fact of life, Judaism says, “Oh, you’re hungry? Well, here’s how to relate to G-d through the part of you that gets hungry—eat kosher.”

    And so, keeping kosher is sophisticated, not slavish. By keeping kosher, we let G-d into that most basic necessity of life, bringing spiritual awareness into ordinary routine.

    Now, that’s eating with your brain.
    http://www.askmoses.com/articl.....#038;o=157

  15. tdfd17 Says:

    I see this is a very old thread, but I have just a little wisdom to share, as learned from my mom.

    My mom says, when you accept an invitation, it should be for the company, not for the food. If you must have good food, cook it yourself or choose a restaurant. The goal of being together is being together, and the food is altogether ancillary.

    It doesn’t insult me if my friends won’t eat full meals in my home. I am, instead, grateful that they want to be with me, and will sit in my home and drink water from a disposable cup. I am grateful that my friends who do not keep kosher (Jewish or not) still want to have me as part of their lives, give me enough room to be true to myself and thus are not insulted that I simply eat a piece of fruit at their home.

    My mom’s wisdom also addresses the issue of going to someone’s home hungry and finding out that you just don’t like what they serve. That you’re allergic and forgot to tell. That dinner takes a lot longer than you think, and your empty, growling stomach makes you an unpleasant guest. It also reminds us to always have a snack before seder :)

    My mom has taught me that we don’t have to eat the same food in order to care about each other.

  16. Shmuel Says:

    tdfd17 – your mom was a wise woman:)

  17. Kevin Donohue Says:

    Now it is an even older thread! But one I find very interesting and relevant, as I am in the middle of converting myself.

    Here are my thoughts, such as they are. Ashira points out the importance of food in Jewish history and culture, and how this is absorbed through your family when you are born Jewish. There is another aspect of this history, though – the Shoah. Starvation was one of the weapons used by the Nazis to torture Jewish prisoners. I have even read of huge feasts of treif being served on Yom Kippur, purely out of malevolent spite. I grew up with many close Jewish friends, who were like family to me. One of these friends had watched her mother starve to death at Belsen. The only time I remember her ever being angry with me was when I stuck my finger in a stick of butter. This was 40 years ago and I can never forget it. Maybe it is possible, even if you are not born Jewish, to absorb Jewish history in a very physical and emotional way?

    I am currently reading Rabbi Forst’s book The Laws of Kashrus. I must say it is very overwhelming, but I do feel Kashrut is important, as it elevates eating into a spiritual act. And, like many things in Judaism, it is about separation – this is permitted, this is not. Kashrut also served, historically, to create a cohesive culture which helped the Jewish people survive as a people – and to prevent excessive interaction with non-Jews. I guess this is where I have a bit of a problem – exclusionary practices may prevent assimilation, but that works both ways – it was exactly because I felt so welcome in the homes of my Jewish friends that I developed a life-long interest in Judaism which has ultimately led me to conversion. A shut door can keep people in, but it can also keep people out. How can amo Yisrael be a light unto the nations if the nations never have the opportunity to see the light?

    The question if further complicated as different Jewish communities observe Kashrut differently – and some not at all. It seems facile, though, to ignore Kashrut simply because the Jewish community you are joining ignores it; to me, that is not a valid justification. On the other hand, as I am not undergoing an Orthodox conversion, I fully realize the Orthodox community will never accept me as a Jew and I can boil and blowtorch every millimeter of my kitchen until the Kosher cows come home and it will never meet their Halachic standards. I also realize that, when I pass someone wine for Kiddush in shul, the fact that I have touched it has rendered it stam yeinam. In all my reading I have never found a Halachic discussion of the status of potential gerim – I’d be very interested to hear an opinion on this from someone who is a Halachic authority.

    I guess I hope to achieve a balance – I don’t want Kashrut to become an exclusionary practice for me, something that prevents me from visiting family (and I’m sorry, telling my 80 year old mother I won’t eat her cooking is not, for me, an option – something about honoring your parents, no?). I also want to be able to bake or cook things for members of my community and know that I have prepared them to the highest standard of Kashrut observed in that community (which is tricky as I belong to an independent minyan so observance is all over the spectrum). In the end, though, to me, this is all fine and well, but the real reason to keep kosher is that we do and then we hear – I will do it as part of my spiritual observance, as my way of seeking Torah, not to please any one else.

    I don’t expect that finding a balance will be easy, and certainly don’t have any answers, but I find discussions such as this very helpful in thinking about these issues, and I am thankful to everyone who has contributed to this thread.

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