To be or not to be … kosher Shemini, Leviticus 9:1-11:41
Before you choose to skip this column, let me tell you that you will not be subjected to a regimented discussion of how you should keep kosher. Nor will you be subjected to exhortations to change your level of keeping kosher. This column is not being written by the “kosher police,” as one of my Jewish Theological Seminary professors once put it.
In Shemini, the laws of kashrut (the dietary laws) are greatly expanded. The first layer of kashrut was separation of milk and meat (Exodus 34:26 – “you shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”).
The second layer, in Shemini, adds an extensive list of permitted and forbidden foods, as well as the containers in which they might be stored or prepared. Ethical treatment of animals is also mandated.
In Israel, kosher food is easily available and reasonably priced. This is not always the case in the United States. American Jewish communities have to bring in kosher food from distant cities or via the Internet.
We are a bit more fortunate in Pittsburgh. We have several sources of kosher foods, whether in Squirrel Hill, major local grocery stores, national health food chains or super big-box stores.
For Passover 5770, these store shelves were groaning with matza and all sorts of pesadikhe foods. Even nonkosher chain stores were preparing “kosher-style” Passover dishes. It was easy to be a Jew this past Pesach.
This raises the perennial Jewish question: “is it good for the Jews?” Easy is one thing; good is another.
Jews don’t live by kashrut alone. For many of us, kashrut is a major portion of our Jewish lives, but it is not the only core value of Judaism. Through kashrut we sanctify the food we put into our mouths. The only concrete reason Torah gives us for keeping kosher is: “For I the Lord am He who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God: you shall be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11: 45)
Judaism teaches that we must also sanctify what comes out of our mouths. Words are powerful. Our use of words—whether through vows, false oaths, or lashon hara (hurtful speech) — also matter. Our treatment of others — through proper working conditions, benefits, and safety precautions — as well as our treatment of the environment, also matter. This is at the heart of the efforts to establish a Hekhsher Tzedek (ethical kashrut) certification.
We treat each other best when we allow each other to be. The choices we make are made for ourselves.
We must not choose to be incremental in our ethical choices. We must not choose to be incremental in our social choices. In our actions and words we must also choose to be kosher.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)