The system of kashrut does not “make sense.” It certainly not for us in 2014 and I’m not sure how much kashrut “made sense” for our ancestors, either. After all, if you are a people wandering in the Wilderness, why be picky about food?! Just eat what is available!! In 1885, in a major break from traditional Judaism, the Reform Movement declared, “We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.” Does keeping kosher “fail to impress the modern Jew” with a sense of holiness? Does it really obstruct our spirituality?
In our Torah portion this week, Parashat Shemini, we are introduced to a major pillar of the Jewish dietary laws: animals which are fit to eat and those which are unfit to eat. In Leviticus 11:44, the Torah gives us the justification for keeping kosher: “For I the LORD am your God: you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy.” When we keep kosher, we are acting like God who is kadosh--separate, distinct, holy. Frankly, eating a cow is only holier than eating, say, a pig, because the Torah tells us one is fit and the other is unfit. Perhaps God has instilled kosher animals with a certain spark that He has not put in non-kosher animals, and we unknowingly benefit from eating the kosher ones. Perhaps, as Rabbi Moshe Isserles taught several centuries ago, keeping kosher prevents intermarriage. Perhaps keeping kosher identifies humans as distinct from other animals. That is to say, whereas most animals eat whatever they can as a matter of instinct, we Jews know how to overcome our base animal instincts by responding to our soul. Perhaps keeping kosher simply reminds us of who we are as Jews, and that God has expectations of us. Whatever the reason happens to be, kashrut is a central tenet of Judaism in general and Conservative Judaism in particular. Moreover, for those who choose to keep kosher, it can indeed impress the modern Jew with a spirit of holiness and sanctity–if we let it.
There are, in Metro Detroit, a handful of kosher restaurants along with a few caterers. Most recently, what was Unique Kosher Catering Deli re-opened as Kravings, under the ownership of the same wonderful family that owns and operates Quality Kosher Catering out of its main office located at Congregation Shaarey Zedek. I encourage you to eat at this and other kosher establishments. I encourage you to eat at them because, in doing so, you support Jews and the Jewish community. I encourage you to eat at these restaurants because it helps those who keep strict kosher have greater options. But, most of all, I encourage you to keep kosher because kashrut does not make sense … but it can make us holy. Where is God? Wherever you let God in.
Rebecca, Caleb and Ayal join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom um’vorach!
-Rabbi Aaron Starr