As we have spoken to different people – young families who grew up with the practice, single individuals who took it on after they moved out of their family home; people in our situation, where their Jewish Journey has taken them to this spot, it has become clear that everyone has their OWN reasons for keeping kosher. Each reason is significant, meaningful and most of all, connected to what that person wants out of life.
In other words, it’s a selfish decision.
You can’t start keeping kosher it to impress your Rabbi (or your buddy, or the cute orthodox guy down the street, or… you get the idea); You probably won’t be successful with it if you do it out of some empty sense of obligation to family tradition; You certainly shouldn’t consider it if you are bored on a Sunday afternoon and looking for an entertaining hobby.
Like any significant lifestyle choice, the decision to keep kosher (or continue to keep kosher, for those newly out on their own) is a personal one. People choose to keep kosher because it’s something they want to do, plain and simple. Their reasons don’t even have to make sense to anyone else but them. Because keeping kosher itself doesn’t “make sense” in the traditional meaning of that phrase.
Kashrut, I’m sorry to say, is not and never was a logical decision. You see, Judaism recognizes two kinds of mitzvot (commandments) in Torah:
- Mishpatim are rules that make sense. “Don’t Steal”, “Don’t leave your animal around people if you know it is violent”, and “don’t dig a ditch if someone is likely to fall into it” are all good examples of mishpatim (and they actually are found in the Torah portion of the same name).
- Chukim are laws that don’t make sense. They include things like “don’t wear linen and wool together”, “kill a pure red cow and use it’s ashes to purify you if you touch a dead body”, “give your house back to its original owner every 50 years”
… and one of the biggest choks of all is the reason we are here today: “do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk”.
Jews don’t keep kosher because it’s healthier. While kashrut might be a healthy choice (with the price of kosher meat – not to mention kosher food in general, you may find Michael Pollan’s advice easier to adhere to: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) it’s important to keep in mind keeping kosher isn’t intrinsically healthier than eating anything you want. It wasn’t some magic bullet God gave the Jews. Thousands of years of eating pigs, shellfish, bugs and even blood sausage hasn’t seemed to hurt hundreds of other cultures. They’re doing fine, and we’re doing fine.
If you are considering keeping kosher (or if you are trying to figure out why WE want to keep kosher), I have three thoughts to leave you with:
- Beyond the whole “it’s a personal choice” thing I mentioned earlier, chukim are about obeying/honoring/loving God. God made some things off-limits to us. Some stuff is off-limits in certain contexts (you should plan to have amazing sex – once you are married); some stuff is off-limits at certain times (no bread during Passover); and some things are off-limits based on the details of what it is (To paraphrase Mr. Pollan, “Eat food. Enjoy it. Just not this stuff“).
- Holiness isn’t achieved through self-denial. In fact, you are more likely to be righteous if you are truly experiencing all the great things the world has to offer. Holiness is about showing that you are more than a bottomless pit of wants and needs; that you can channel your desires and passions toward good and show restraint when asked.
- One of the first things the Israelites say to God when they hear the 10 commandments is: na’aseh v’nishma (“we will do, and we will understand”, Exodus 24:7). Sure, some mitzvot are intuitively obvious. But many (as well as many other things in life) you just have to try first before it starts to make sense. In some cases, you “get it” as soon as you actually get your hands dirt and start the work. Others, you have to keep doing, and some time down the road you realize it has loads of meaning for you – much of which has built up around your doing it in the first place.
More to come. Of course (thank God), there always is.