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Kashrut in Context

Introduction

Keeping kosher reminds us that we are Jewish, but it can be much more than an irrational cultural remnant. Kashrut, as the system of food regulations are called in Hebrew, can be a practice by which Jews can invest the act and experience of eating with spirituality. (Reciting blessings before and after eating food is another such practice.)

It is a central aim of spiritual disciplines to reveal the depths and significance of the ordinary, and Judaism is no exception. Judaism explores, and celebrates, the intrinsic sanctity of the repetitive aspects of everyday life. It encourages us to raise commonplace actions such as eating and sexuality to spiritually higher levels -- even while affirming their value.

Related:
Judaism and sexuality
.

The rules in brief

The most basic rules of kashrut are the following:

  • Not every animal may be eaten: Only animals with cloven hooves that chew their cud, and fish with fins and scales, may be eaten. Consequently, it is forbidden to eat pig, which has split hooves but does not chew its cud, and shellfish, which have neither fins nor scales.
  • Not every person may slaughter: Animals may only be slaughtered by one well versed in the associated rituals, called a shokhet. After slaughtering the animal, the shokhet must check for specific defects which would render the meat unkosher.
  • Blood may never be eaten. Before one eats meat that has been designated kosher, the blood must be drawn out through salting or roasting.
  • Meat and milk may not be eaten together. This principle pervades how one's kitchen is organized. A kosher kitchen is one in which there are separate sets of dishes and pots for dairy and for meat. Furthermore, one must wait a period of time after eating meat before one is permitted to eat dairy products.

Meaning

Taken as a whole system, Kashrut is a way of honoring life by limiting our ability to take it, even in order to eat. Killing is a serious matter. Kashrut mandates that an animal be slaughtered in the least painful way possible. We do not simply hunt down any animal and eat it. There are limits to how we can exploit another life.

First Person
I have absolutely no inner desire, at this point in my life, to sanctify, either for me, or for my family, our eating life, anymore than I have a desire to sanctify our clothing life.

I would, however, like to get my family to sanctify our life in general. I have not figured out how to get my children to appreciate what God has given us.

Are we saying that we should start sanctifying life, by sanctifying food? I could buy that, I guess. Something to think about.

--Sue L.

Now that I've kashered my kitchen, I need to kasher my life.

--Nechama M.

Share your thoughts. Join our private havurah communities.

Kashrut also forces us to be more aware of what we are and what we eat; and this has spiritual import. In particular, eating meat has ramifications. The separation between eating meat and milk means the animal we killed cannot instantly be forgotten.

The separation derives from the Torah, which forbids us "to cook a baby goat in its mother's milk." Useing an animal's loving sustenance to consume her offspring is cruel. It also represents the utter confusion of categories, a blurring of boundaries. Kashrut asks us to focus on the difference between types of food and types of life, just as we are to distinguish between us as consumers of that food and the God who ultimately provides us with all.

As with any discipline, kashrut, by itself, does only half the job. The rest depends on us. Without our consciousness in approaching kashrut as a means to our spiritual end, its rituals can become as routine and mundane as the ordinary act of eating.

Related:
How is your kitchen organized? An exercise in thinking about kashrut and meaning.

Blessings

Mishpacha participants on kashrut

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