No, I’m not kidding. Exaggerating a little perhaps, but not kidding. Yes, I know that Treyf (Hebrew for that which is not Kosher) is not a new kind of biblically or rabbinically endorsed way of keeping the traditional laws of kashrut. I also know that the idea of a “new way” of keeping kosher is an oxymoron to many people. But a New York Times restaurant review by Sam Sifton is further evidence of the trend that treyf is a new form of keeping kosher.
Reviewing the restaurant Fatty’Cue, Sifton goes out of his way on two separate occasions to refer to how treyf the menu is. First, he describes a dish of mixed animal fats as “schmatltz for the deeply Reform”, and later describes a dish of clams with bacon as being “in keeping with the restaurant’s interpretation of kashrut”.
Far from mocking Jewish tradition, Sifton taps into the Jewish language which is clearly a part of his life to describe both the ways in which Kashrut uses eating to heighten a sense of one’ identity and how it expresses a commitment to something larger than the food on the plate. By proclaiming the treyf-ness (treyfiocoity?) of the food he was eating, and using traditional language to do so, Sifton placed the meal squarely within those traditions. In effect, treyf became a new kind of kashrut.
I want to be clear about the fact that while I might one day sit at Fatty ‘Cue, I cannot imagine ever eating there. That doesn’t mean that it cannot be a place in which a new kind of kosher is born. And why not?
In the early books of the Hebrew Bible, it’s pretty clear that all meat eaten needed to be sacrificial meat i.e. we don’t eat if God doesn’t “eat” first. By the book of Deuteronomy, it becomes clear that with the establishment of a single Temple, meat could be considered kosher if it followed all of the attendant laws, even if it was not slaughtered in a sacrificial context. I could go on, but you get the point: what counts as kosher does shift over time.
Without suggesting that it’s time for a shift, and that the shift should take us to places like Fatty ‘Cue, it may be that the conscious consumption of treyf is a new kind of kosher, if not the new kosher. And since there have always been different ways to interpret what it means to eat in ways that build our sense of who we are while connecting us to some being or idea larger than ourselves, that’s a good thing to think about.