So part one was WHAT – things you can do. Part two is WHY – why keep any level/kind of kosher at all?
Seems tangential, but hear me out. This is a video by Jamie Oliver about what chicken nuggets are made of – “mechanically separated chicken“. If a package of chicken nuggets (non-kosher or kosher) has “mechanically separated chicken” on it’s list of ingredients, this is how it is made. I’ll wait while you watch.
Sad fact of his experiment failing with American children aside, not only is this nasty, it highlights one of the travesties of modern food production: lack of respect for the animal itself. We would never process an animal we respected in such a horrific way.
Chef Thomas Keller, of French Laundry fame, writes the following about the day he learned to butcher rabbits:
“One day, I asked my rabbit purveyor to show me how to kill, skin, and eviscerate a rabbit. I had never done this, and I figured if I was going to cook rabbit, I should know it from its live state through the slaughtering, skinning and butchering, and then the cooking. The guy showed up with twelve live rabbits. He hit one over the head with a club, knocked it out, slit its throat, pinned it to a board, skinned it – the whole bit. Then he left.
I don’t know what else I expected, but there I was out in the grass behind the restaurant, just me and eleven cute bunnies, all of which were on the menu that week and had to find their way into a braising pan. I clutched at the first rabbit. I had a hard time killing it. It screamed. Rabbits scream and this one screamed loudly. Then it broke its leg trying to get away. It was terrible.
The next ten rabbits didn’t scream and I was quick with the kill, but that first screaming rabbit not only gave me a lesson in butchering, it also taught me about waste . . . I would not squander them. I would use all my powers as chef to ensure that those rabbits were beautiful.”
Chef Keller came to respect the animal, and understood his role was to elevate it and not waste its life. After having literally (if unintentionally) tortured the first rabbit, he made quick work of the other 11, having learned his lesson. Living beings, even those we consider food, require our respect and humane treatment – from farm to plate.
Having researched this a bit, and having read a lot of what Temple Grandin has to say about kosher meat production, I’m hopeful that the kosher meat and poultry industry is improving its treatment of animals as they go through the process of shechita, ritual slaughter, which itself is nearly painless (warning: article is graphic – no photos – but VERY informative).
As Jews we are permitted to eat certain animals (and grasshoppers. Who knew?). Animal cruelty is expressly forbidden. We are not allowed to hunt for sport – only sustenance. We are not allowed to eat pieces of animal that have been torn off it while alive, or from an animal that has suffered. We are enjoined to treat animals with respect and deference.
In the Torah, that famous nay-sayer Bilaam was FIRST taken to task for beating his donkey, and only second his plans to sabotage the Israelites – God made a point of chastising him for being cruel to his animal. Even more to the point, there are certain things even the most observant Jew is permitted to do on Shabbat to prevent an animal’s suffering (various sources here)! Here are a few more sources:
When you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering, you must be sure to take it back to
him. If you see the donkey of a man who hates you lying helpless under its load, you must refrain
from deserting him; you must be sure to help him unburden the animal.
Shemot (Exodus) 23: 4-5
It is forbidden to sit down to your own meal before you have fed your pets and barnyard animals. As
it says, ‘and I will give feed to your animals,’ and only after that does the verse say ‘and you shall eat
and be satisfied’ (Deuteronomy 11:15.)
Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 40a
All of these examples are the ethical basis for the laws of kashrut (kosher). Respect for the animal is #1. This was Chef Keller’s lesson, and as Jews, it should be ours.
Filed under Food, Ritual & Customs | Comment (0)
Going through old posts, and I found this one from a couple of years ago. Timely!
Rachel Adler begins her d’var Torah on this week’s parasha with this:
Just now, American society is reexamining the way it eats. Michael Pollan, in his best-selling book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manefesto , advises distinguishing between food and some of the poor imitations for food that we currently ingest (New York: Penguin Group, 2008). He suggests that we not eat too much and that we eat mostly plants. That’s easier said than done. Barbara Kingsolver, in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life , advocates eating only what is local to reduce our carbon imprint on this overburdened earth, to circumscribe the boundaries of our appetites and become locavores (Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp, and Camille Kingsolver [New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008]). It appears that boundaryless eating is not respectful either of our bodies or of animals or of the earth or its products. Parashat Sh’mini , in Leviticus 11:1–23, lays out dietary laws for the people of Israel. We are counseled to restrict ourselves, to practice, one might say, a kind of purity law about diet. Somewhere in eternity, Levitical priests are smiling. “What a novel idea!” they whisper to one another.
This is so timely. The way America eats is scrutiniezed all over the media these days. Food blogs proliferate. “Farm to table” eating is the trend of the decade, and farm shares, or CSAs are popping up all over the place. It is the right time to reexamine our spiritual connection to food and eating.Filed under Being a Jew, Food, Ritual & Customs | Comment (0)
Whenever I meet new people, and they discover my level of observance, I get this comment:
“Wait, you do X? But you’re not Orthodox!”
Which is, of course, true. However, last I checked, Orthodoxy has not co-opted Jewish ritual and observance.
One of the most meaningful mitzvot I observe is kashrut – keeping kosher. Here is a great link to Kashrut 101.
I choose to observe a relatively large amount of kosher rules. I have separate dishes, pots, pans, sponges, etc. I don’t eat pork products, shellfish, milk/meat together, etc.
I keep a stricter kashrut in our home than outside. I keep “nominally kosher” outside the house – I won’t eat meat or poultry that is not kosher, but I will eat fish (traditionally considered neither meat nor dairy) and dairy/vegetarian foods in restaurants and other people’s homes. If someone goes out of their way to serve me kosher meat not mixed with dairy in their home, I happily enjoy it – plates, silverware, pots do not matter to me. If I know, with certainty, that a kosher product was produced unethically in any way, it is trayfe to me – non-kosher – and I will not purchase or eat it.
This is but one example of the many choices I have made to take on a piece of Jewish observance that I have made meaningful to me, in my own, Reform Jewish way. I learned about it all, and decided what worked for me both spiritually and practically in my life.
I have chosen A LOT. So you may be thinking, well I couldn’t do that, or I don’t want to do that. So, ok then. No problem. Perhaps there are other things you choose – plenty of ways to be an active Jew.
If, however, you want to give more meaning to the food you eat and how you eat, because as a country we are sooooooo freaking unhealthy, or because there are just so many instances of animal cruelty that have come to light, or you want to infuse your daily nourishment with moral and/or spiritual nourishment, there are plenty of ways to do this in a Jewish context. There are such things as Ethical Kashrut and Eco-Kashrut. Many people choose to take on these things in addition to the traditional kashrut they already keep. Some people choose to solely observe Ethical and/or Eco -Kashrut. Some people choose any level or combination of these things!
Point being, we have so many options and opportunities to infuse this most basic thing of daily life – eating – with a level of Jewish meaning that will enhance us physically and spiritually, that appeal to our modern sensibilities of food ethics and ecological responsibility.Filed under Am Yisrael, Being a Jew, Ritual & Customs | Comment (0)
Ok, let’s clear the air:
A) “REFORMED” is an adjective. “REFORM” is a verb or a noun.
Definition of REFORMED:
1: amended by the removal of faults or abuses.
as in, “Criminals and drug addicts can be reformed.”
2: (initial capital letter) noting or pertaining to Protestant churches, especially Calvinist as distinguished from Lutheran.
as in, NOT JEWISH.
Definition of REFORM, on the other hand:
Verb: make changes in (something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it.
Noun: the action or process of reforming an institution or practice.
This becomes an adjective when referring to Jews. As in, “I’m a Reform Jew, and it’s important to me to be mindful of our tradition even though there are things I think need to be changed, or made more meaningful to me.”
B) Being a Reform Jew does not give you a free pass.
Identifying as a Reform Jew means making thoughtful choices. If you choose nothing because you don’t “have” to, or because you legitimately have no religious beliefs, that’s fine, you are secular, or consider yourself not affiliated with a particular denomination. Nothin’ wrong with that. Enjoy. Be well. But don’t say “I’m a Reform Jew so I don’t HAVE to . . .” .
It’s not all or nothing, though. If you’re rolling your eyes at me, thinking the only Jewish thing you choose is Reform synagogue affiliation so your kid can become bar/bat mitzvah in a communal Jewish environment, you are a Reform Jew making a thoughtful, Jewish choice. You are acknowledging the shared DNA of our People, and are creating continuity with your kids.
Serving shrimp cocktail at the reception right after the motzi is made by Grandpa Jack over a gigantic challah? By choosing to incorporate the Hebrew blessing over the bread, you are acknowledging that Jews have rituals that make us unique and we pass them from generation to generation. Just like you don’t “have” to keep kosher, you don’t “have” to say the blessing over the challah. But you’ve chosen to. You are a Reform Jew making a thoughtful, Jewish choice.
WHEW! I feel better
Up next: Stuff Reform Jews “don’t do” but can, and Stuff Reform Jews have categorically rejected and/or changed from our Tradition (as in: creating new Traditions).Filed under Am Yisrael, Being a Jew | Comment (0)
What’s that now? You say Reform Jews are not Orthodox? That’s true . . . I didn’t say Orthodox. I said “religious“.
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.
I’m a religious person. I have a very deep faith, and I Believe.
No Kool-Aid, compound lock-downs, or multiple wives (although, let’s be honest, think how much faster things would get done!).
Just plain old God, Torah and Israel (both Am/People and Eretz/Land): Judaism.
I’m heavily Reconstructionist in my leanings; I Believe deeply in the Power of Peoplehood, this Civilization that has managed to survive so much over the last 5000 years. For me, halacha (the Jewish Way) IS obligatory, not necessarily because God ordained it, but because our People have embodied it for 5000 years. It is a major part of what defines us as Jews, as opposed to, say, Unitarians. It is our DNA.
The word “halacha” (Jewish law, encompassing stuff from the Torah, Talmud and other various sources) is a lightening rod for controversy over here in the Reform Universe. “We are not a halachik movement!” (a movement that believes in strict adherence to halacha -True.) “Halacha is not obligatory!” (depends upon how you see halachah.) “Halacha is outdated, antiquated and useless to us as modern Jews.” (Wrong. IMHO.)
The root of the Hebrew term used to refer to Jewish law, halacha, means “go” or “walk.” Halacha, then, is “the way” a Jew is directed to behave in every aspect of life, encompassing civil, criminal, and religious law. For a very detailed (and pretty accurate) run-down of the term “halakha” and it’s meaning/history see this Wikipedia entry. See this section for info on present-day views of halacha. I’ll quote one part:
Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism both hold that modern views of how the Torah and rabbinic law developed imply that the body of rabbinic Jewish law is no longer normative (seen as binding) on Jews today. Those in the traditionalist wing of these movements believe that the halakha represents a personal starting-point, holding that each Jew is obligated to interpret the Torah, Talmud and other Jewish works for themselves, and this interpretation will create separate commandments for each person.
Those in the liberal and classical wings of Reform believe that in this day and era most Jewish religious rituals are no longer necessary, and many hold that following most Jewish laws is actually counter-productive. They propose that Judaism has entered a phase of ethical monotheism, and that the laws of Judaism are only remnants of an earlier stage of religious evolution, and need not be followed.
I fall squarely into the “traditionalist wing” of our movement. I am grateful that Reform Judaism has begun to embrace what I believe is an integral part of our DNA: The Jewish Way as it has been passed down through generations. Does that mean I think people who believe differently in the Reform movement are wrong? NOPE. To each his own, I say. Embrace what works for you.
However. I do believe learning, exploring, and making these decisions is obligatory. I cannot get on board with categorical rejection of all things Jewish. IMHO there are parameters. Future blog post. The evolutionary nature of halacha is what makes it possible to be a Reform Jew and believe in the binding quality of this system. If there were no way, built in, to accommodate modernity, that would be an issue. But I believe there is, on most issues. Citing Wikipedia again (I know! But it’s a factually accurate article):
Throughout history, halakha has, within limits, been a flexible system, despite its internal rigidity, addressing issues on the basis of circumstance and precedent. The classical approach has permitted new rulings regarding [things like -ed] modern technology. [For example - ed] These rulings guide the observant about the proper use of electricity on the Sabbath and holidays within the parameters of halakha. (Many scholarly tomes have been published and are constantly being reviewed ensuring the maximum coordination between electrical appliances and technology with the needs of the religiously observant Jew, with a great range of opinions.)
This is but one example of how the issues of modernity can be addressed within the structure of halacha. You or I may not follow those exact guidelines, but it is the process of making that decision that is important. Traditional Jewish law is our jumping-off point – it’s embedded in our DNA – and from this we can make informed, Jewish choices that reflect our lives today and what is meaningful to us. And this, I embrace.
Now. I’m not gonna say that I believe every single thing in modern life can be viewed through the lens of halacha. There are things I believe were codified at a time when said things were seen as a very real threat to our faith and survival, whereas today, not so much. Given what we now know about life, the universe, human nature, etc, IMHO there are things that are obsolete.
My next blog post will be examples of what I am talking about, both in regards to interpretations of things that are seen as “stuff Reform Jews don’t do” and things that I think are obsolete in today’s 2012 world. Look for it Thursday. And don’t hesitate to chime in with your thoughts!Filed under Being a Jew, TRR | Comment (0)
I’m reposting this because it’s awesome, and I ran out of time to write an original post.
It’s a 60 Minutes segment on the company Malden Mills, who developed the fabric Polartec. It’s owned and operated by Aaron Feuerstein. The interview with him about the fire that ravaged their factory, and their ultimate bankrupcy filing, is a lesson in true Torah values. The segment starts with a spot about the horror that was Enron and the deceit they engaged in that ruined the lives of hundreds of their employees. It concludes with Morley Safer asking Mr. Feuerstein what role his faith and religion played in his decision to “do the moral thing.” Mr. Feuerstein’s answer is a true inspiration.
Hat Tip: ImaBima
Get out the Kleenex.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YcWLXBXaD8]Filed under Am Yisrael, People | Comments (17,445)
I read a whole bunch of blogs, and I really like the way Penelope Trunk writes. She’s straightforward and refreshingly honest. Read this post she wrote about trying not to work on Rosh Hashanah – I guarantee it will give you something to think about. It’s not my cup of tea, but I’d love to hear what you think . . . Here’s a quote:
Filed under Am Yisrael, Holidays & Festivals | Comment (0)
All this to say: you don’t need the Jewish holidays in order to learn something about yourself. Force yourself to isolate for a day. Don’t allow yourself to do all the usual things. You will learn something about yourself. It’s impossible not to.
Cross posted with slight modifications at Out of the Ortho Box – thanks for the opportunity Ruchi!
” Why do I need to worry about all these commandments? I’ll just be a good person and not bother others. I don’t steal, kill, or commit adultery. Really, that’s what matters in the grand scheme of things. “
And other Jews who say,
“The important thing, what makes us Jewish, is our relationship with God. Prayer, kosher, Shabbat – these are the central Jewish tenets and hallmarks of religiosity.”
Ruchi’s conclusion is that both parties are half-right. And half-wrong. They have each only acknowledged half of Judaism.
Ruchi is right. Being an active, thinking Jew is more than just being a good person, and it’s more than just keeping kosher. There is a phrase from our tefillah, “The World stands on three things: Torah, Worship, and Acts of Loving-kindness”
Not just one of these things, but all three.
#1: Torah (Written – 5 Books of Moses; Oral – Mishnah/Talmud): The Jewish Way as we know it. Kosher, Shabbat, marriage, birth, death, business ethics, etc. It’s all in there. How each person interprets it . . . well, that’s a whole other post! But we must acknowledge its place in our DNA, and find ways to incorporate its spirit, if not always its letter, into our lives. However, it can’t be our ONLY thing.
#2: Worship: Fairly obvious. Except, it’s not. Many of us think of prayer as something we do a couple of times a year in a big room filled with lots of people and questionable art. Or maybe a Shabbat service here and there. And for many people, “prayer” hangs over them as a prescribed thing that is in a relatively foreign language and said to a deity in which one may or may not believe. I’m here to say that, at least for me, “prayer” = the hopes that I have, the dreams that I have, the gratitude that I have, and how I express all of that and acknowledge the Divine presence in my life. It’s rarely in the form of what is in our prayer-books. It is, however, a part of my daily life. I think it’s integral to being a conscious Jew – being conscious others and of the world around you. Like #1, it can’t be the only thing you do. Being pious in prayer alone does NOT = good Jew.
#3: Acts of Loving-kindness: “good deeds”. Chesed. Charity. Being a good person. We all strive for this! But it has to go hand-in-hand with #1 & #2.
1+2+3 = 1. A whole Jew. How we incorporate these things into our lives is as unique as our fingerprints, but we can’t go “halfsies” on this. This is our challenge: be a full Jew.Filed under Am Yisrael, God, Torah, TRR | Comment (0)
A friend posted this comment on this blog post. I think it’s a lovely sentiment to remember that this is a holiday the almost all Jews around the world celebrate, whatever their affiliation or lack of affiliation, beliefs or lack of beliefs, religious or secular. For this week, let’s put aside our differences and stop the hatred and vitrol amongst ourselves. Let these candles we light unify us and strengthen us as K’lal Yisrael – a whole People, and let us be a Light to all Peoples and Nations.
Filed under Holidays & Festivals | Comment (0)
“This evening, as we go to light out menorahs, in the window, for all to see, we must remember that the world is constantly looking as us Jews. Even if you don’t believe that G-d is watching every move you make, because G-d is just not your thing, who can deny that countless beings walking this Earth would love for us to fail and or disappear altogether. Many gleam with excitement as we sling mud at each other, for it makes their jobs that much easier. May the unifying act of lighting our candles bring us closer to one another and solidify our role as a light unto the nations. Chanukah sameach! Happy Chanukah!”