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Is Treyf The New Kosher?

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.

  • Hector

    If you had done some more research, you would have found a restaurant celebrating all things treyf, just a few blocks away from Fatty Cue, in heavily Hasidic Williamsburg. it’s called TRAIF, check out the menu
    And its run by a jew!
    And it’s tasty.

  • Marian

    Shoot, somebody else hijacked my dream of starting a French restaurant specializing in pork and seafood, to be called, of course, La Treyferie.

  • Shlomo Sax

    “Treyf” is Yiddish, not Hebrew, denoting unkosher. It is derived from the Hebrew “Treyfe” which denotes an animal torn by wild beasts.

  • delldell

    I don’t know guys….a clam is just not kosher. OK, I’m not strict kosher but “kosher style.” I guess in my book, shellfish and pork, just is a no, no. It is not and never will be, “the new Kosher.”

  • anne hoffman


  • Rabbi Brad

    Well Anne,
    There’s good news and bad news. Until the mid-second century c.e. the law was on your side, and that of chicken parmigiana i.e. Jews ate chicken and dairy together. But by the mid-third century, the law was resolved against that practice — chicken looked like meat and lead to confusion about what was okay and what was not.
    So, the Rabbis share your logic, but the needs of clarity won out over logic. I can only tell you the story, and I leave it’s wisdom to you. I will admit that poultry and dairy together are not on my menu.
    And Shlomo, you are more wrong than not. The “e” you added has no linguistic significance and I can assure you that while correct about the original usage of treyf in the Hebrew Bible, it is also a perfectly good Hebrew usage for that which is not kosher. I do however appreciate your trying to make a distinction in order to save a bit of Yiddish.

  • Aviel

    I think I just threw up in my mouth

  • Emily with the Kippah

    Goodness, Rabbi, this is a bold step even for you. What an intriguing way to look at that menu. I wish more rabbis had that chutzpah to take a look at issues and express them the way you do. (I don’t mean I wish they thought the exact same way as you – that might be impossible among Jews, no matter WHAT the issue or opinion!)

  • Goldiemae Jones

    If the truth were known, most Jews, except the ultra-observant, have eaten Treyf, at least once in their lives. The theory that a kid, (meaning a baby goat) shall not be cooked in its mother’s milk, was more a rabbinical law rather than God’s law, and doesn’t appear as weighty as, say, the Ten Commandments, which I regard as truly God’s laws. To put it simply, I can’t imagine the world we live in today without cheeseburgers!

  • Hector

    Their menu sounds a lot like the famous Treyfe Banquet of 1883.

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