Guest Author - Lisa Pinkus
When we attempt to teach our children the world’s vast lessons, we provide reasons to help them understand why the “rules” exist. We don’t run into the street, for example, because a car could be coming and we could get hurt. We pick up our toys when we are done using them because it makes it easier to find then the next time we want to play, and our house doesn’t get too messy. We brush our teeth to keep our teeth clean and our gums healthy. If we don’t take care of our teeth, they may fall out and we wouldn’t be able to eat the things that we like. We don’t eat cheeseburgers because we keep kosher and G-d said, “Don’t bathe a kid in its mother’s milk.” What?!?!?!?!
The laws of Kashrut (keeping kosher) are a bit more vague and mysterious than other laws in the Jewish faith. They fall into a category called Chukkim whereby the orders G-d gives to us are beyond our comprehension. Nonetheless, we do them anyway, and – not only that - we “build a fence around them” or evoke additional rules on our own to ensure we adhere to the original mandate correctly.
It is really difficult to adhere to rules that come without proper explanation. As children, we constantly asked “why” in search of answers or reasons behind the actions our parents were requiring of us. As children of G-d, we continue to ask “why” and we seek our answers from books, Rabbis, and some of the ancient sages who attempted to postulate reasons for keeping kosher.
Perhaps, G-d wanted the Jews to maintain healthier standards when it came to eating. Jews who keep kosher are not permitted to eat sickly or diseased animals. There are certain parts of animals that are prohibited from being consumed. The ritual slaughter involves draining the blood from animals and this can prevent certain bacteria from growing. Shellfish are scavengers and pick up whatever dirt or garbage is in the water they live in. One can only imagine what the scavengers eat in small villages that lack sewage treatment plants. But, if health were G-d’s intention, it sure isn’t working. With kugels and brisket, chopped liver, and the amount of artificial mocha mix used in recipes to create non-dairy versions – traditional Jewish eating is not necessarily healthy eating.
Perhaps, it was G-d’s wish that his people treat animals in a humane manner. The ritualistic slaughter of animals is done in a manner that is allegedly the most compassionate way. The life of the animal is taken into consideration. There are very specific laws about how to prepare the animal, how to ensure the animal is ok to be killed, what parts of the animal can be used, and how to actually kill the animal. But, animal activists would argue otherwise, and
G-d’s ultimate wish was that we would be vegetarians.
So, maybe G-d’s plan involved unifying the Jewish people and decreasing assimilation. How would this work? Much of what the Jewish people are asked to do involves creating a separation from “us” and “them”. If you have to prepare your foods a certain way and avoid eating other foods, that would easily work to separate you from other people. If the intent was to decrease assimilation by separating us - well, we can see that that hasn’t been very successful either. We are, not only assimilated, but we experience great divides amongst Jews who practice and observe their religion in different ways.
Truly, the only reason Jewish people adhere to the laws of Kashrut is because G-d told us to. Throughout the Torah, in bits and pieces, are the mitzvot governing Kashrut. Rabbinial decrees built fences around these laws to ensure they would be understood and that they would not be violated.
Some of the basic tenets of keeping kosher are as follows:
We are permitted to eat certain animals and are restricted from eating others. Animals that chew their cud and have cloven hooves are acceptable. It is permissible to consume fowl, but birds of prey are not permitted. Fish must have had fins and scales. Shellfish are not permitted.
All blood must be removed from an animal prior to eating it. Milk and meat cannot be combined or eaten together. This is a rabbinical decree that comes from the verse, stated three times in the Torah, “do not bathe a kid in its mother’s milk” (Deuteronomy 14:21).
Food is not made kosher from the blessing of a Rabbi. Rather, food with a heksher (symbol of Kashrut) indicates that the process whereby the food was prepared followed proper kosher guidelines.
While we may experience many benefits from keeping kosher, the true reason we do it is because G-d said so, and we – the Jewish people – entered into a covenant with G-d. Keeping Kosher is part of that covenant.