Keeping Kosher: Contemporary Views

Recent writers reflect on what observing kashrut has meant in their own lives.

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--Harold Kushner, Rabbi Laureate of Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts, is the author of several popular books, including When Children Ask About God, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, and When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough. This passage is reprinted with permission from To Life!: A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking, published by Little, Brown and Co.

Does God Care What We Eat?

After a lecture I was giving one evening, I invited questions from the audience. One woman raised her hand, identifying herself as a Jew who tried to be a good and honest person, a helpful neighbor, and a supporter of Israel, but said that she did not live a religious Jewish life. She asked me, half seriously, half challenging, "Do you really believe that God will like me better if I keep kosher?"

I told her that I was no authority on whether or why God liked some people better than others, but that was the wrong question. One didn't live a seriously Jewish life so that God would like you. Maybe that is what we were taught as children, but if so, that is only because children operate on that basis, not because God does. Children strive to do the right thing to win the approval of parents, teachers, and other important people in their lives (including, I suppose, God). If our perception of Judaism is still based on what we were told as children, we may well think in terms of doing things?going to services, keeping kosher, telling the truth?in order to please God.

But, I told her, if we can outgrow that childhood notion, we will come to understand that living a seriously Jewish life is not a matter of winning God's favor but of growing as a human being. Is God angry at you if you eat a cheeseburger? I can't believe He is. Do we disappoint God when we regularly reject the opportunity to turn breakfast, lunch, and dinner into religious moments, to raise them from the level of animal sustenance to the level of encounters with our humanity by imposing standards of permitted and forbidden on the foods we eat?

Do we disappoint God and shortchange ourselves when we only worry about the food we are eating nourishing our bodies, when we worry about its calorie count, cholesterol, and artificial ingredients, and never worry about choosing food so as to nourish our Jewish souls? That I can and do believe.

--Reprinted with permission from Harold Kushner, To Life!: A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking, published by Little, Brown and Co.

We Observe Kashrut Because God Demands It

The faithful Jew observes the laws of kashrut not because he has become endeared of its specific details nor because it provides him with pleasure nor because he considers them good for his health nor because the Bible offers him clear-cut reasons, but because be regards them as Divine commandments and yields his will before the will of the Divine and to the disciplines imposed by his faith. In the words of our Sages, "A man ought not to say 'I do not wish to eat of the flesh of the pig' (i.e., because I don't like it). Rather he should say, 'I do wish to do these things, but my Father in Heaven has decreed otherwise.'"

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