Posts Tagged 'Kosher'

Disgust for Hypocrisy

At the start of the Torah portion Behar, Rashi asks the oft quoted question, ” What is the issue of Shmitah doing juxtaposed Har Sinai?” Or as we say now, what does that got to do with the price of tea in China? Similarly in  Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion we see an interesting juxtaposition. We read that a false prophet, or one who entices others to worship idols, should be put to death. It seems logical to go from that topic to an adjacent discussions of how an idolatrous city must be destroyed and the idolatrous practice of tattooing. Then we take a big jump to identifying signs for kosher animals and fish, and the list of non-kosher birds ( which was already discussed in  Leviticus 11). There we read:

You are the children of the Lord your God: you shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead. For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord had chosen you to be God’s own treasure out of all peoples that are upon the face of the earth. You shall not eat any abominable thing. ( Deuteronomy 14:1-3)

While the laws of staying away from idolatry and keeping kosher have nothing to do with each other by keeping them we are keeping a holiness code. On a simple level they are both ways we have to live as a chosen people.

Another approach would be to claim that they are some how the same. It is surely possible that eating other forbidden animals had been part of ancient idolatrous practices. In this reading these laws of Kashrut are just a continuation of this holiness code instructing to not do idolatrous practices.

Today I would like to explore yet a third approach. Is it possible that while these law are completely separate, but their juxtaposition is there to teach us something else? To do this I want to start off with the case of the false prophet. While it seems bad to entices others to worship idols, it does seem barbaric to kill them for it. The person simply arrives on the scene with all of his/her signs and wonders. We need to remove them from the community with “extreme prejudice“.

Now I want to jump to the end, what does it mean to eat something? In the context of the holiness code there is a sense that we are integrating the kosher animal into our bodies. We are rejecting the non-kosher animals from our bodies. The worst of the case are animals that similar to the false prophet which arrive on the scene with all of their signs. The Midrash draws a comparison between the Roman empire and the pig:

Just as the pig sticks out its hooves when it is resting, as if to say “I am kosher,” so did the Romans put on a show of justice to mask their avarice and corruption. ( Bereishit Rabbah 65:1)

The juxtaposition of these two areas of law surface an addition lesson as for our disgust for hypocrisy.



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.


Keeping Kosher

In Shmini, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the dietary laws. Being mindful of what you eat is challenging but it seems that there are many ways that we could and should be mindful of what we eat beyond the parameters of kashrut.  Is there any inherent value in keeping kosher?

As we read:

For I am the Lord your God; you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy; nor shall you defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. For I am the Lord that brings you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God, you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. This is the Torah of the beasts, and of the bird, and of every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps upon the earth. To differentiate between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten.  (Leviticus 11: 44- 47)

From the text, it seems that the purpose of keeping kosher is to make us holy like God. In separating the clean from the unclean we can become divine.

In the modern practice of kashrut the only thing that gets separated is Jews from non-Jews. While keeping kosher might seem noble because it demands a lot of discipline, it is very socially awkward. In many ways I experience it as a fundamental challenge to joining the world. Eating is one of the best means of social joining.

Emunah, our 7-month-old,  knows that if she cries we will respond by some combination of holding her, feeding her, and/or changing her. Already I see in Yadid and Yishama, the 6 and 3-year-old, that they are able to control their basic needs to ask me if something is Kosher before they eat it. And they will not cry if I tell them that they cannot eat something because it is not kosher.  In the very moment of my most basic desires for food I am able to add Kedusha, holiness.  In keeping kosher I realize that I am very mindful of being Jewish.

On the heels of being liberated on and from Passover, I cannot help but realize how much I need to rethink how I think about food. So like so many others I have started my New Years resolution to lose weight, but for me  Nisan is the New Year.  Somehow, you are what you eat, and in showing restraint, you become like God. I would like to become a little more Godly and a little less Avi.

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