How many interfaith families keep kosher? I have no idea, because I’m never sure what “kosher” means in that sentence. I mean, yeah, I know, it means appropriate or fitting, and it refers to food prepared according to laws set forth in Leviticus and enumerated over centuries by the rabbinic legal process. A kosher meal is either meat or dairy, not meat mixed with dairy, and any animal products must be from a selected set of permitted animals. Kosher meat has to be slaughtered in a specific way and drained of blood, usually by salting. (For a vegetarian, I know a lot about kosher meat.) Yes, see, I know about grape products and the special laws that govern them, why some people don’t accept rabbinic supervision from this or that kosher certification agency, what ingredients in cheese [float=left][/float]are problematic and even how to navigate a kitchen with separate dishes.
But when people say “I keep kosher” or “I don’t keep kosher”–I don’t know without asking more questions what that means about what they’ll eat. A lot of Jews who don’t care about mixing milk and meat at the same meal won’t eat meat from unkosher animals.
And some will. Andrew Silow-Carroll blogged last Friday about the ongoing fascination of hipster foodie Jews with bacon, which he noted made interesting reading in articles on Tablet magazine and Jewcy.com. (Jewcy seems to be having temporary technical issues, I’ll come back to post that link later.)
Unlike Andrew Silow-Carroll, I didn’t grow up eating bacon. I had it a few times outside my parents’ house, and even got to cook it once at the food co-op in college. After the experience of cooking the stuff, I was so grossed out that I was not tempted to eat it. (Though not as grossed out as I was when I found a chocolate bar with bacon in it on the shelf at my local gourmet food emporium.) As I’m sure a lot of non-Jewish spouses who read our site can attest, some Jews have food taboos, and even when they don’t keep all the rules of kashrut, they are just grossed out by the thought of some foods in their kitchen, leaving cooties on their plates.
I have mixed feelings about the importance of keeping kosher. I eat vegetarian food in restaurants and other people’s homes (and at my house, too) and that’s my observance. I honor other people who will only eat food prepared on kosher utensils, and I’m also OK with Jewish people who don’t keep kosher at all. I was at a meal at which other Jewish people were eating bacon and snickering uncomfortably, “I’m the worst Jew ever!” I said, “Um, hell no, you aren’t, even if you eat bacon until the cows come home,” and then enlightened them with some of the recent scandals in the Jewish community, in particular the ones about the largest kosher slaughterhouse.
You can’t be a good Jew by only keeping the mitzvot (commandments) that are about your relationship with God, like meticulousness in kashrut–you also have to care the ones that govern your relationship with human beings. I don’t think keeping kosher necessarily makes anyone a better person, though it could if you decided to use it as a way to be more mindful about what you eat. I don’t believe that it hurts God if I eat the wrong thing, but it could hurt other human beings, and what we eat may affirm or violate Jewish ethical principles of not causing pain to animals and not wasting natural resources.
Hazon, a Jewish environmental organization, has started up a Jewish Food Education Network, to talk about food issues. That’s also a hipster foodie posture. Keeping kosher is an opportunity to elevate something we have to do anyway to a level of consciousness and even spirituality. Keeping my people’s food taboos preserves the integrity of my culture in a multi-cultural society. It is important to many people in interfaith families for that reason. I’d love to hear more from people in interfaith households about how they deal with keeping kosher.
Next, let’s talk about the hipster foodie fascination with beets. What’s up with that?
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