Posts Tagged 'Kashrut'

Painfully Parve: The Moral Challenge of Adiaphorous

In Mishpatim, this week’s Torah portion we learn about many laws. Some of them deal with kashrut, food taboos. One of the laws states, ” You shall be holy people to Me: you must not eat flesh torn by beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs.” (Exodus 22:30) Clearly eating without thinking about the experience of the animal is to be like an animal. Our holiness is connected to our being conscious consumers.

Another law states, “The choice first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”(Exodus 23:19) At first glance it might seem that this prohibition falls in line with other taboos in Judaism of mixing things, I think that is an over simplification. Just as in the previous case, this is an argument for conscious moral living. Cooking a kid in it’s mother milk is an obvious case of cruelty. Not doing mixing milk and meat is not moral stance, but an occasion to be mindful in life and to strive not to be cruel.

This also creates categories of trief (not kosher), milk, meat, and “parve”. Pronounced PAH-riv or pahr-veh, “parve” is a Yiddish (and by extension, Hebrew) term for something that is neither meat nor dairy. Examples would be water, eggs, fish, and anything that is plant-derived, such as fruit, nuts and veggies. Thus, a cookie labeled as “parve” can be eaten together with cream-laden coffee, or after a steak dinner. Since meat and dairy utensils are also kept separate, dishes that are used for neither meat nor dairy are also known as “parve.” The origin of this word is unknowm. Perhaps it is from Middle High German bar (“bare, naked”), from Proto-Germanic bazaz (“bare, naked”), from Proto-Indo-European bosós, from bos- (“bare, barefoot”), and thus cognate with English bare. Or perhaps from a West Slavic source such as Czech párový (“occurring in pairs”), because it is something that can be paired with either meat or milk.

In a more general context, being “parve” can also mean being neutral, unremarkable, or lacking in distinctive qualities or characteristics. To be “painfully parve” would mean to be frustratingly neutral or unremarkable in a way that causes discomfort or dissatisfaction. This could refer to a person, an experience, or anything that is perceived as being uninteresting or bland. It suggests a sense of disappointment or a desire for more excitement or stimulation.

Similarly I just learned a new vocabular work, adiaphorous. Based on the ancient Greek “ἀδιάφορος” (“adiáphoros”), meaning “indifferent.” The idea of adiaphorous concepts is associated with the ancient Greek Stoic philosophers, who split human life into categories of good, bad, and indifferent. The term for “indifferent” was “adiaphora,” and they used it to describe activities that were neither essentially good nor essentially bad. An early example of something adiaphorous is the pursuit of fame, which is neither bad in nature, nor necessarily a good thing. Stoics believed adiaphorous actions were decided as good or bad by the way one carried them out.

There is something painfully parve about moral indifference. I am interested in Jewish law being an expression of our values. When it come to food there is no problem being parve, but in life we need to pick teams. Being adiaphorous is trief. As Elie Wiesel wisely said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”


Marshmallow Experiment: Nadav, Avihu, Esav, and the Kosher Kids

As an Orthodox Jew living in the modern world I often get asked about my dietary restrictions. I get questions all the time. Why do you keep Kosher? Is this Kashrut code? What are all these little symbols? Do you really think the Creator of the universe cares what you eat? Wait how long do you wait between meat and milk? And so so so many more questions.

I was think about these questions while reading Shmini, this week’s Torah portion. There we read a whole code of dietary restrictions. May they be on land, in the sea, in the air, or even in the land we learn which ones we, Bnai Yisrael, can and cannot eat. Beyond this Kashrut code in this week’s Torah portion we  also learn about the death of Nadav and Avihu. After their deaths God says to Aaron,”‘Drink no wine nor strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, that you die not; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.” ( Leviticus 10:9)Many commentators take this as an explanation for the death of his sons Nadav and Avihu. What is the connection between this and this Kashrut code?

When thinking about this question I thought of the depiction of Esav  and Yaakov in their youth. There we read:

And the boys grew; and Esav was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Yaakov was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Now Yitzhak loved Esav, because [his]trapping was in his mouth; and Revkah loved Yaakov. ( Genesis 25: 27-28)

The simple meaning is that Yitzhak loved Esav because Esav put his trapped game into Yitzhak’s mouth. On another level Esav actually trapped is game with his own mouth. There was no delay between trapping and eating. It was one action with no delay and no delayed gratification. In a way the Torah is depicted Esav as the child who “failed” the Stanford marshmallow experiment. This image is juxtaposed to Yaakov who was in the tent and his people Bnai Yisrael who uphold the Kashrut code. In following these laws I can never just go and eat. I am constantly coaching myself to get the benefits of delayed gratification. We are warned that if we like Esav, Nadav, and Avihu do not think before drinking or eating we will run the risk of giving up our long-term aspirations for short-term rewards. That is why I am one of the Kosher kids.


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