Keeping Kosher: A Personal Perspective

Boundaries, rules, cravings, and keeping my kashrut fresh

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It's important to note that unlike electric charges, milk and meat aren't present at the level of subatomic particles. If taste is not transmitted, milk items and meat items may come into contact. Once the principles are understood, it becomes clear that one can exaggerate the separation of milk and meat unnecessarily. Much of what is commonly done today, such as having separate dish drains for meat and milk dishes, is designed to help up avoid mixing up the things that really count. One isn't really required to have two of absolutely everything and to seal each off hermetically from the other, to the point of having two separate sets of everything.

Seeing Negative, Seeing Positive

Now, surprisingly, as in the case of the game with the long rulebook, you might find that your focus shifts to what you can do, rather than what you cannot do. Recipes that call for milk can be made with soy or rice drinks, or with fruit juices. At a lunch meeting, you can order a cold salad (hold the onions--they're chemically hot and impart non-kosher flavors from the knife!) instead of a hot meal, and today you won't even stand out by doing so.

Yes, I can have steak and eggs--as long as the eggs are prepared without dairy products. Like the optical trick in a picture that can be perceived either as two profiles facing each other or as the goblet that is the space between the faces, the same reality suddenly looks different.

Can't Have It, Don't Want It

After a longer time, you may discover that even the non-kosher foods you once liked are unappealing. Blatantly non-kosher foods--lobster, cheeseburgers--may even seem disgusting. You might have expected the opposite. You might have imagined that the prolonged self-restraint would just make it that much more tempting. As the Hebrew expression puts it, "stolen waters are sweet." It turns out instead that a thing you declare off limits to yourself can become, foresworn enough times, a thing you not only no longer want but cannot even imagine desiring.

And here is precisely the challenge of keeping your keeping of kashrut fresh. Only the occasional challenge, whether in the form of a situation to be navigated or a curious questioner to be answered, makes playing the game of kashrut something that has meaning at the conscious level. I am grateful for the large non-kosher world in which I live. Without it I might forget that I am serving God and affirming my identity with each bite I take--or more precisely, with each morsel I pass up.

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Rabbi Peretz Rodman

Peretz Rodman is a Jerusalem-based rabbi, teacher, writer, editor, and translator. He was a founding editor of MyJewishLearning.com.