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Nourishing Our Connections

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.

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posted March 17, 2006 at 5:03 pm

Always an interesting question; especially when there is an integration of ethnicity and religion. During Lent, the catholics fast or abstain and they used to eschew meat on Fridays. The choices abundant choices left to them obliterated the restrictions. The Kosher restrictions actually isolate as well as bind. If the point of religion is peace and love, then food should not block community.

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Anissa K. Fogel

posted March 17, 2006 at 5:16 pm

As a Reform Jew it is my understanding that keeping kosher is to have an understanding, at a gut level, -pun intended- between acceptable and forbidden. I do not keep kosher because of economical reasons; kosher meat is expensive. I happen to like the taste of all shellfish. Does that make me a bad Jew? Depends on whom you ask. Do I feel any sort of regret or guilt for not having a more strict observance toward kashrut laws? Not really. There is something extra special about a meal shared with friends and family and I believe that God would find that acceptable.

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posted March 17, 2006 at 5:23 pm

Why is it that some Jewish people will claim to consume only Kosher food, yet when they are out in a restaurant or in a guest’s home, they will eat chicken, or other foods normally not eaten at their home? Is this conducive to their religion?

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posted March 18, 2006 at 6:48 pm

My understanding of the kosher laws is that they have to do with giving respect to the lives of the animals that you are taking in order to sustain your own life. I eat “kosher style” – I also cannot afford kosher meat, but I do try to go with more organic, farm raised meats. I am financially and spiritually comfortable with that. A wise rabbi once related that if a particular mitzvah does not enhance your personal relationship with G-d, it is not worth doing. I do think it is important, at least as reform Jews, that we take the time to examine each of the mitzvahs for ourselves and make an educated spiritual choice, rather than let our particular sect or community norms dictate that for us.

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posted March 18, 2006 at 11:53 pm

I think it’s poignant that kosher meat is expensive, because I believe the biblical ideal (as many scholars have said) is vegetarianism. Keeping kashrut is ten times easier if you don’t eat meat! It’s interesting that a lot of people just see kashrut as overly rigid or obsolete; I really see it as pointing in a specific dietary direction that is highly aware of the spiritual consequences of taking a life. Having said that, I don’t believe there is only one way to “keep kosher” and that to some extent, everyone has to figure out what makes sense to them. If you’re doing something that is completely irrational, that you fundamentally disagree with, that’s not a good sign. As long as we’re sincerely wrestling with this issue, I think we’ll be following G*d’s will, which is the place where halakha and personal hashkafa meet.

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Larry Lennhoff

posted March 19, 2006 at 1:36 am

A wise rabbi once related that if a particular mitzvah does not enhance your personal relationship with G-d, it is not worth doing. I agree completely, As I’ve said in another context “I am not a murderer, I’m someone who occassionally kills people. The act does not define me.” Kol Tuv Larry

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posted March 19, 2006 at 7:09 am

While I am Hindu (raised Catholic), I understand the reasonings behind kosher dietary restrictions. Being Hindu, I am not supposed to eat meat but since I was raised eating meat, I do occasionally indulge in a nice hamburger. Does this make me a bad Hindu? I grew up next door to a strictly observant Orthodox family. I ate at thier home many times as a child and even now as an adult, I eat at my bubbie and zeta’s house. They never ate at our house because we were not kosher. I learned about thier culture and it enriched my life to be exposed to people who were not Catholic and believed differently than I did. Bubbie was a registered dietician and explained to me the kosher rules from the time I was little because I was curious. I always asked “why?” She is a dear soul and always explained the best she could to me. To me it did not seperate their family from my family, it just made them different. We are both of German ancestry so many of her reciepes were similar to what my mother made. From my understanding, the kosher laws were never meant to set Jews apart from other peoples. G-d gave His people those laws to help them eat healthy foods. When the laws were handed down, many foods (like pork) were not safe to eat. Because He loved his children SO much, He gave them rules to keep them healthy, much the same way a parent today tells thier child to look both ways before crossing the street.

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posted March 19, 2006 at 7:41 am

G-d’s laws are not merely good ideas, or for purely practical reasons such as health aspects, although they certainly contribute to greater health. He gave His people commandments to set them apart as a peculiar people belonging to Him. Many of the dietary laws have been added onto unnecessarily; I don’t believe much of what is contained in Talmud is His Law, although I don’t have a problem with people who want to be that observant. However, the commands in Tanakh are irrevocable-for perpetuity. Taking a smorgasbord approach to Scripture dishonors the Law and the Lawgiver – He is to be obeyed because He is G-d, and we owe Him that. And the motivation, as for Abraham and Moses, is love for Him, not duty.

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posted March 24, 2006 at 5:25 pm

What has been lacking in the past, and now has been found by scientist studying the energy components of food, is that kosher foods commanded in the Bible all have normal polarities, while unkosher, forbidden foods all contain oscillating energy patterns..research has shown that disease, poisons,and/or emotional stress have one thing in common: they all have n oscillatiing energy pattern. If this information could be disseminated, it would clarify the Biblical mandate and stop the disagreements of why eat kosher.

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posted March 25, 2006 at 8:33 pm

Kosher was meant for our own protection; as a good parent that knows what’s best but is not going to force his children to listen. We eat Kosher for different reasons. Because each person’s relationship with G*d is different, some people take the chance, the same as some children do the opposite of what their parents tell them; they want to learn by their own experiences. Other children have an obedient nature and end up benefitting from their choice. But, all and all, Kosher was healthy then and is still healthier than non-Kosher today. There’s still a lot of things we don’t know. The washing of hands was not really adopted by gentiles until the 1800s when surgical procedures were successfully explored. It makes sense to abstain from scavengers but some day we’ll know the whole truth.

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Henry Ruiz-Morales

posted March 25, 2006 at 8:33 pm

Very Interesting, from the point of view of a Catholic. I would like to know more about Kosher food and the proper form of nutrition through it. Could you please, help me in obtaining further information? Thank You Very Much and God Bless You. Henry Ruiz-Morales.

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posted March 26, 2006 at 4:48 am

If the Kosher laws were handed down by G-d to keep people healthy, then we ought to look at the Kosher food from the perspective of current nutritional and dietary science. Are those people who keep Kosher healthier and perhaps happier than those who do not. Are we applying all that we know about nutrition from science and integrating this new knowledge into the Kosher laws? Shouldn’t we be upgrading the laws with new knowledge? We do this in the areas of medicine. Why not do it in the area of food? Food is our best medicine. Why should we base our dietary laws on the science from more than 2000 years ago or whenever it was when the Kosher Laws were established. Kosher meat should be organic meat; if it is not organic, it may be unhealthy and should not be eaten.

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posted March 27, 2006 at 1:51 am

I don’t believe we know why kosher laws were handed down. Unless there’s some blatant reason why keeping kosher is unhealthy or immoral, which I can’t imagine there being, then we keep kosher because G-d said so, not because of dietary or health considerations.

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