There are very few things more important to building community than food. Food brings us together in companionship (literally: ‘bread-breaking’), helps us celebrate joyous occasions, and connects us to one another through shared moments.
Some Jews see kashrut–the system of Jewish dietary laws–as a source of separation from non-Jews, and there may be an element of truth to that charge. But kashrut is much more about connection than separation. After all, we can always eat with whomever we please, but when we make conscious choices about what we eat we affirm our connections to the Jewish people.
Kashrut is not only about defining our connections to other people. It is also about establishing our connections to our Jewish heritage and to God.
For those of us who grew up in Jewish kitchens, the sights and smells of Jewish food transport us instantly and effortlessly to memories of childhood, to family, to identity, to home. Strikingly, many of the special holiday foods we eat have their origins in Jewish law and custom as well, whether having gefilte fish to avoid removing bones from fish on Shabbat; or matzoh ball soup as an inventive way of avoiding leaven on Passover; or latkes as a way to celebrate the miracle of oil on Chanukah.
Jewish food has its origins in–and continues to point toward–our people’s relationship with God. How do we take that most basic of human actions–eating–and infuse it with constant awareness of God? When we keep kosher, we join ourselves to thousands of years of the Jewish people seeking to express their covenantal relationship with God through food. This is the community that we can choose to join through mindful eating.
For thousands of years, Jews have sought to bring holiness into their every action. When we choose to keep kosher we affirm our desire to be part of this grand project, incorporating our awareness of God and of our Judaism into every bite. And that’s quite a mouthful.