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Kashrut: The Great Barrier

From the Iron Chef to Alice Waters, there is nothing more universal than food. Everyone eats. Everyone needs nourishment. If there is one thing that brings us all together it is the most basic instinct of all, hunger. Hey, what’s more beautiful than imagining everyone breaking bread together?

And yet, Judaism says No, stop right there, you can’t break bread with everyone and anyone you so choose.

Kashrut teaches people that we all have different tastes. Some people like their hot dogs with ketchup, others go for the mustard. OK. maybe its not exactly like that, but the point of kashrut is to let people know that while we all share a great deal in common, it’s critical to remember that it is through difference that identity emerges.


To be sure, kashrut comes with a cost. It can become a magic wand for those who wish to further ghettoize Jews (like those rabbis who have nothing better to do than create more kashrut restrictions).

Does kashrut create a barrier between people and cultures? Sure it does.

Has it created too impenetrable a barrier? Maybe, but at its core, kashrut teaches just how important community is for identity.

Comments read comments(13)
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Rachel (Velveteen Rabbi)

posted March 15, 2006 at 11:25 pm

Thanks for this post. I have some concern about the barriers kashrut can erect; I wonder whether they continue to serve us well. Breaking bread together is a fundamental way of creating and reinforcing community, and I worry that restrictions which keep us from eating with other people may create damaging emotional distance. I’m also deeply interested in what some folks are calling “ecokashrut” — the drive to ensure that our food is sustainably-grown, as well as ethically-slaughtered. By this way of thinking, eggs from free-range chickens packaged in recycled-cardboard containers might be more kosher than those from penned-in chickens packaged in styrofoam. I think it’s a valuable way of approaching the earthly sources of our sustenance, which can remind us to be mindful of, and thankful toward, the ultimate Source from which our sustenance flows.

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Sunny Mehler

posted March 16, 2006 at 4:54 pm

I agree with the last posting that the spirit of Kosher is also the consciousness of how this animal/creature was raised. I think one can maintain the consciousness of the Kashrut laws without creating discomfort to those who are ignorant of all of the details involved when they make a mistake in serving or preparation. The law is not more important than the person.

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Kurt Neumaier

posted March 17, 2006 at 8:45 pm

Please people. The laws of kashrit are not in anyway a wedge between Jews and the rest of the world. It is part of being a Jew. Of course it might define the degree of Jewishness by how closely you choose to follow the laws. But to think following the laws will ghetoize Jews is ridiculous. Let’s not raise peripheral discussions on benefits of the dietary laws to heights that overshadow the simplicity of the laws of kashrut. It gets down to whether you are an observent Jew or a Jew of convienience. Simple.

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Kim Lizotte

posted March 17, 2006 at 9:44 pm

I feel that the term “ghettoize” is a negative term and since when can’t someone of Jewish roots and culture eat with someone who doesn’t practice kashrut? I do all the time, but I stick with my kosher habits of eating and no one seems to care or at best gets curious about “what is kosher?’ and that gives me an opportunity to share something about me and my ancestors. I hope that I’m not coming across being disrespectful and ignorant and please accept my apologies if I am. I choose to eat kosher and I have even torn out the kitchen in my latest home so that the new one will be kosher, if someone doesn’t undertand, well that’s not near as important to me as having that kosher kitchen and I take their opinion in stride! Kim

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posted March 18, 2006 at 12:36 am

Kosher is not a cultural thing, it is a Commandment from G-D..If one cannot follow the simple laws of not to eat Pork or ocean bottom dwellars, how much more difficult it is to follow the ” higher” moral and spiritual laws”..Has anyone read or tryed the ” Makers Diet”. Bob.. PS, And since chickens have no milk, I don’t think eating creamed chicken to be against G-D’s comandments. But again these are just my opinions. Shabat Shalom, bob

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posted March 19, 2006 at 12:10 am

Yes, Kashrut does ghettoize Jews. Not the Kashrut of the Bible, but the Kashrut of the Rabbis. They has heaped restriction upon restriction to the point that a Jew who chooses to observe Orthodox Kashrut Laws is cut off from the rest of the world, especially if he/she lives in a non-Jewish area – forget about going out to eat or eating with “friends” or even your non-observant family. You are exiled from the world of fine food and wine, and all those family members and friends who live in that world.

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Meir Stone

posted March 19, 2006 at 1:35 pm

“Does Keeping Kosher Ghettoize Jews?” Does not being able to cheat on your wife Ghettoize a faithful Husband? If he is committed in his heart to be faithful he will not go to the strip clubs with his co workers Did being against slavery Ghettoize Quakers in the South in the 1850’s?

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jeri fremont

posted March 20, 2006 at 7:14 am

Does ‘kashrut’ create ghettos for Jews any more than ‘hallal’ creates ghettos for Muslims? Jews mostly choose to intergrate into their societies while keeping to their religious practices. I’ve yet to see pork served at Interfaith meeetings, which are communal activities.

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jeri fremont

posted March 20, 2006 at 7:17 am

p.s. With impending bird flu possibly coming from migrating birds, should all the cage free chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, be kept indoors?

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posted March 20, 2006 at 4:57 pm

Neusner says that talmudic kashrut was devised with the specific purpose, not of separating Jews from non-Jews, but of separating Jews from other Jews. It does a heckuva good job at it.

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Esther Nash

posted March 23, 2006 at 6:22 pm

Kasruth CAN ghettoize Jews…but, right now, (at the beginning of the 21st century), ONLY if we let it! The idea that “keeping kosher is ONLY for Jews” indeed can ghettoize, by its very nature–but kosher food has gained a much wider acceptance, in the population at large. Kevin Trudeau, (not far as I know) author of “Natural Cures THEY Don’t Want You To Know About”, advises eating ONLY kosher, organic meat, if you eat meat at all. He describes the agony of animals slaughtered non-kosherly, and the relative humaneness of kosher slaughtering. The “agony” hormones in the frightened, non-kosherly slaughtered animals remain with them after death…and so make people who eat them sicker and sicker. After a diet of only kosher, organic meat, in fact, Mr. Trudeau himself felt ill after trying the non-kosher again. Kashruth is a greeat gift of the Jewish Law and People, to the entire world! Kosher food is NOT for Jews only! If one insists that it is, one is only furthering myths that Jews are “clannish and snobbish”, (ad nauseum). Sharing the laws of Kashruth with non-Jews can only gain respect for Judaism…and make for a healthier, wider world, (as well as less expensive Kosher meat…because there will be more people buying it!)

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posted March 24, 2006 at 8:38 pm

Dear Sirs: If kosher food ghettoizes Jews,then I’ll have the kosher hotdog,and leave the unclean ones,with junk in them,alone.Most Kosher hotdogs taste better,anyhow,and lots of gentiles eat them.That is a result of kosher law,so,who’s to say we should not ghettoize the whole food world,by making all the processed food a lot cleaner and better tasting? And as far as dairy,goes,I’m also Swiss,I can survive very nicely on dairy for a long long time,without any bacon spoiling my day.You have to look at it this way;what do you want to get out of kosher eating?It’s a discipline that is there for a reason.Discipline is one thing that it teaches us,and helps us with. That is what was told to me,by someone who understands kosher eating,and what it helps us to accomplish. Most of us,or many,anyhow,cannot eat exactly,totally what we want all the time,anyhow.I have to stay on a diet,to lose weight,as I have a weight problem,and my family has a tendency towards bad cholesterol and heart attacks. I have to limit my portions,not always eat what I want,and avoid delightful sweets I would rather have. I do that,cause I know I have to.–and I’d rather do that,then wreck my health,and stay fat,and not be able to wear my clothing. So,it’s not like most of us do not have to develop discipline in eating,one way or another. Kosher eating is also a discipline,which helps you to train yourself and gives you some willpower.Not eating pork is something which I promised to do,and I’ll try to keep to that promise.Even if it did not make me fat. Face it,none of us in life can just have exactly what we want,even to eat,all the time,without any control,anyhow. Who wants to totally indulge himself all the time?Lose all control?It gets boring,and you don’t appreciate the good food that you CAN eat. Probably kosher helps you to appreciate good food,and good cooking,and appreciate all the things you ARE able to eat,anyhow. It’s like life;you make the best out of what you have,and learn to enjoy it.

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posted November 24, 2007 at 10:23 pm

In answer to your question I would like to offer my humble opinion:
Obersving Kosher laws in closed Jewish communities in a wonderful thing. Except for loading meat with a lot of sult (which might cause a bit of problem for some individuals) I don’t see any drawbacks.
In the contrary it helps the individual by creating a very interesting sense of community as well of letting him/her feel the presense of God every time he/she eats.
I must add keeping kosher is almost effortless in such communities.
In gentile dominated areas Keeping kosher surves many other purposes:
– It creates a smaller and closes community of Jews (you might want to call it a ghetto, but no matter what you call it, it is what it is. A rather closed Jewish comunity. and depending on where you stand this is a good or a bad thing).
– It teaches the Jews to resist every aspect of the surrounding non-Jewish culture (as mentioned food is the most basic of needs, if you have the descipline not to break bread with non-Jews, you can easily resist say not marrying a non-Jew).
– The Kosher Tax pays for the lives of those ultra religious (Rabbi’s) who provide the Kosher certificates to Kosher stores on behalf of the community.
(Other commenters here are correct, a Rabbi who qualifies to issue Keshurot certificates is virtually unimployable by the Gentile community as are most observant Jews. That might entice some such Rabbi’s to come up with unrealistic and unnecessary Kosher laws. I have a frined who purchases only a certain brand of bottled water even if he is very thirsty).
In short, in a Gentyle dominated area, Keeping Kosher is meant to seperate and keep the Jewish community together while helping raise some money for its religious authorities. It also teaches the community members (specially the youngsters) the descipline necessary to resist the dominant culture. Otherwise the Jews will be assimilated before long. The Kosher laws have passed the test of time.
If you are not very religious and an active member of your local Jewish community though, the Kosher laws will mess-up your life as they were meant to do so. My more religious “Jewish” community members didn’t really accept me even though I kept Kosher and my Gentyle coworkers got offended and thought that I am a crazy religious type (which I am even to this date from their point of view).
After many months of pain trying to make the “right coice” and in pure desperation (I had tuna sandwiches for and entire week for lunch) I stopped observing most Kosher laws. After I had the first Chicken sandwith I realized the real implications of Keeping kosher. I can say my quality of life immidiately improved by 10%. But this is not a story with a happy ending as I LOST MY WILL POWER at the same moment.
I can no longer force myself to do anything, not even the simplest tasks (as if my subcontious knows that all the self restrictions and “desciplin” is fake and unnecessary). This lack of self descipline is so bad that I think I am going to need therapy to overcome it.
I am sure many others have lost their will power after giving up Kosher and might be looking for help. If you share the same story or stroggling with religion like I do, I would like to chat with you.

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