Kashrut Themes: Contemporary Concerns

Modern Jews balance their secular knowledge and Jewish commitments in forging attitudes toward traditional dietary laws.

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The attitude of Reform Judaism, in the earlier period, was more or less one of indiffer­ence to the dietary laws. In 1888, a number of leading American Reform rabbis adopted the "Pittsburgh Platform," in which is contained the declaration:

We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinic 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.

Nevertheless, some Reform Jews do keep the dietary laws, especially those found directly in the Bible such as that on the forbidden ani­mals. To the taunts of those who scathingly dubbed observance of the dietary laws as "kit­chen religion," Morris Joseph, himself a Re­form rabbi but one who kept the dietary laws, retorted, "It is better to have kitchen religion than drawing-room irreligion." Rabbi Gunther Plaut summarizes the modern Reform attitude, "The spokesmen of Reform Judaism rarely find it necessary either to attack or defend these observances. They do not regard such provi­sions as the literal word of God; they hold that they are no longer religiously meaningful and therefore need not be followed. But they have no quarrel with those who choose to observe the dietary laws." To which final sentence one can only say, "Jolly decent of them!"

It cannot be maintained that all Jews who call themselves Orthodox are strict observers of the dietary laws. Some, for example, will keep a "kosher home" in which the separation of meat and milk and the other laws are strictly observed, but will not be too particular about eating non­kosher food outside the home in restaurants or in the homes of non-Jewish friends. Against this is the marked tendency in Orthodoxy, nowadays, to be excessively strict. Various or­ganizations exist to provide rabbinic supervi­sion of prepacked foods to ensure that these contain not the slightest trace of terefah [non-kosher] ingre­dients. In right-wing Orthodox circles, there is a tendency to go rather over the top in matters of kashrut, ignoring even the leniencies found in the standard codes of Jewish law.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.