My friend Tori Avey at the Shiksa blog wrote a wonderful piece titled How the Shiksa keeps Kosher. In the post she discusses her path to Kashrut and her personal “style” of kosher. She asked for people to comment with their own feelings about Kashrut and their own personal observance of these laws. So here is my attempt to write down my path to keeping Kosher and how I feel about it today
When I was kid, my family kept a Kosher home. According to my mother this was mainly because my father told her that if they did not have a Kosher home, his mother would never eat in the house (an interesting side is that today we often see the opposite, children who have become observant not eating in their parents’ homes). My father may have believed that, but we did find that later in life my grandmother did eat in other relatives’ non-Kosher homes. I also think that since my mother came from a Kosher home, it was something that she was comfortable with. Whatever the reason, growing up we had a Kosher home. Out of the house, on the other hand, was a total different story. Anything was available for us to eat, and this was a common practice (and still is) among less observant families keeping Kosher homes. We would eat at any fast food restaurant, any Chinese restaurant, or any restaurant for that matter. To this day, I still remember how much I like veal parmesan!
At some point after my grandmother passed away, my mom decided that there was no real reason to keep a Kosher home anymore. The main reason was no longer valid and we were eating treif out of the house anyway (including pork and shellfish!). So she started to buy non-Kosher meats and other treif things. I think this lasted for a few months when she realized that she was still buying Kosher poultry (because it tastes better) and still not mixing milk and meat etc. At this point she realized that we might as well have a Kosher home. Perhaps this was all a way to get new sets of dishes and pots and pans, but we went back to the way things were: keeping a kosher home and eating treif out.
All this time, I was going to a Solomon Schechter Day School, which are Jewish school affiliated with the Conservative Movement. I did fine there until I got to the 6th and 7th grades. I had a lot of issues during those years, and ultimately, my parents took me out of Schechter and I started to go to public school. Now I was able to eat whatever they served in the cafeteria, which I did, but I still refrained from mixing milk and meat. We also were synagogue people, so despite the loss of the Jewish school, I was getting some Jewish experiences from Synagogue and from the observance of the holidays like Passover and Sukkot.
Along came USY. United Synagogue Youth is the youth group of the Conservative movement and many Conservative Synagogues have local chapters. I started going to USY at my Synagogue in Union, NJ and during my Sophomore year in High School, someone convinced me to go to a Regional Kinnus. I attended mid-winter Kinnus which was in Highland Park, NJ that year (coincidentally where I live now!) I had a great time and met some great people (some of whom I am still in touch with today). One of the people I met was a Junior named Pam Jay (now Rabbi Pamela Jay Gottfried) who was on the regional religious education committee. She found that I had some knowledge and ability and got me involved in the regional level. At the Spring Convention she was elected to the Regional Executive Board as the Religious Study Vice President, and she had me help with planning services and other religious activities at regional events. This was my junior year in High School, and by the end of it, I was running to take her place as Religious Study Vice President, and during that year, I made the big decision to keep Kosher fully, both in and out of the house.
This certainly put a strain on my parents, as going out for meals was somewhat more difficult. But I was (and still am) ok with eating dairy and fish out, so generally there was not too much hassle. I went to Rutgers University and had no difficulties keeping Kosher there, especially since I had an apartment with friends for my Sophomore through Senior years. After that I went to the graduate school of the Jewish Theological Seminary and again had no major issues.
Fast forward a bunch of years and now I have a family (wife and three kids) and we keep a strict Kosher home. Here are a few areas where I might differ from a standard Orthodox approach.
We only purchase products that have a Kosher supervision symbol on it. Unlike the Orthodox world I do not judge any supervision agency. If a Rabbi is supervising the product, that is good for me. One of the biggest problems in the Orthodox world today is the business of Kashrut supervision. First off, there are so many competing supervising agencies, and often people will follow one and not another (and if you think it is bad in the US, in Israel it is totally out of control!) Second, Kosher supervision should not be only about the letter of the law. As can be seen with the fall of the Rubashkin company just because someone is “very Orthodox” does not mean that they are doing ethical business and as such should not be producing kosher food. On the other hand, just because a Rabbi is not as “frum” as some would like, does not mean that they cannot be relied on to supervise Kosher food production. So if a local Conservative Rabbi is supervising a restaurant and says it is Kosher, I’m going to eat there.
We have separate dishes and pot and pans for meat and dairy. In this way we are very much like our Orthodox friends. We keep these utensils as separate as possible. This law is Rabbinic as opposed to Biblical. Tori, in her blog, talks about Biblical Kashrut which really makes little sense to me because (AND NO QUOTING ME OUT OF CONTEXT HERE!!!!) when it comes to how to live a Jewish life, the Torah is mostly irrelevant. All of our understanding on how to live comes from the Talmud and the codes, not from the Bible.
We generally wait three hours between eating meat and dairy. This is a weird one. The Orthodox world waits six hours (or most often five hours and a few minutes into the sixth). There is no Talmudic source for waiting six hours. It is a custom that became so powerful that it is like law today. Surprisingly enough, there is also no source for waiting three hours. The only custom that has any basis in Jewish literature is waiting one hour which is what the Dutch do. We have adopted three hours which is very common in the Conservative movement.
I hope that my ramblings have helped to teach something to someone. I welcome comments and questions.