Back in August 2010, just before Rosh Hashana, the JTA ran a story about Jews that kept kosher only during the holidays.
It described Jews who buy kosher wine for Shabbat or holidays, even though they normally are not strictly observant. It wrote about Jews who keep kosher for Passover, even though they do not insist on eating kosher the rest of the year. It said that some people buy kosher foods when their observant relatives come to visit.
Why do they do it? Perhaps, they do it as an expression of Jewish identity, an identity they do not want to relinquish. Maybe it is a way of connecting them to the Jewish people, our history and to Israel.
It may not be consistent. You may view it as hypocritical. But it is a connection to Jews and to Judaism, and as such, it should be seen as a positive step. If a Jew feels he (or she) cannot be 100 percent kosher yet, we should still encourage whatever he (or she) is willing and able to do.
In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, the Torah tells us which animals, birds and fish can be eaten and which cannot. The Torah does not give us a reason for the kosher dietary laws. We keep kosher because Hashem (G-d) commanded us to do so.
Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, in his book “To Be A Jew,” suggests that the laws of kashrut (kosher) are a call to holiness. Rules on what you may eat help us to be more self-controlled and to follow the dictates of Hashem even in the most mundane of activities.
“I am G-d,” says the text after the dietary laws, “and I brought you out of Egypt to be your G-d. Therefore, since I am holy, you must also remain holy.” (Leviticus 11:45)
All Jews should strive for holiness in their lives. Kashrut is one of the mitzvot that reminds us daily to follow this holy path. Shabbat Shalom.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)