The Purpose of Kashrut

Kashrut reminds us again and again that Jewish spirituality is inseparable from the physical.

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Bringing Contemporary Concerns to Kashrut

kosher deli sandwichIncreasing numbers of Jews today are expanding their kashrut practice to incorporate additional ethical and environmental considerations. Was the food produced under conditions that respect persons and the environment? Were the workers who picked or prepared the food paid a living wage? Did the processes of production treat animals humanely? In addition to allowing these questions to influence our choices about what to eat, we can direct our tzedakah money to organizations that address these issues, like environmental and farmworker advocacy groups.

From the time of the Torah onward, Jewish tradition teaches us that the spiritual realm encompasses all of life. Kashrut and the other Jewish practices related to eating exemplify this teaching and extend beyond themselves: they stand as daily reminders to look for additional ways to turn the ordinary into moments of deeper connection and intentionality. Every moment has the potential to be one of connection. Through other mitzvot, such as the laws governing proper speech and interpersonal ethics, as well as through the less well-known but rich Jewish tradition of cultivating middot (personal qualities such as patience and generosity in judgment), we can seek to deepen our connections with each other and with God. A Jewish spiritual discipline around eating, practiced with intention, can set us on this course every day. "You are what you eat." That is, what you choose to eat and how you choose to eat it says a lot about who you are and what kind of a life you are striving to achieve.

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Rabbi Ruth H. Sohn is the director of the Leona Aronoff Rabbinic Mentoring Program and Rabbi of the Beit Midrash at Hebrew Union College in LA. She also teaches adults in a variety of venues in Los Angeles.