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What is this about (now)

My family and I are orthodox.


We weren’t always. In fact, it was only recently that we really made the switch.

This blog is not about BEING orthodox so much as it is about BECOMING. About how we BECAME orthodox, about how we are still in that transformative process, and which (I suspect) we will likely always be. Becoming, I mean. We will probably always be in the state of becoming orthodox.

Because from what I’ve seen so far, even people who were born into 100% already totally orthodox families are also – if they are thinking and engaged and interested and curious – never the less in a constant process of becoming orthodox.

So whatever your state of becoming – wherever you are on whatever path you are walking – my hope is that you find some part of this that is familiar, and also some part which is challenging, which makes you a little uncomfortable. Maybe more than a little.

Because those moments of discomfort are also moments of growth.


Put It Aside

I started a new job recently. A new exciting job. One that I openly told everyone was my “dream job”. I get to do all the things that I like to do, working with people who are enthusiastic and talented.

Like any new job, there was a lot to learn. So I found myself printing out some of the juicier bits so I could look things over when I was away from a computer. By which I mean Shabbat.

But as I looked at the pile, and imagined how it would help me get ahead. I also imagined the temptation to take notes, to highlight passages, to flesh out ideas.

Which is when a thought occurred to me: “If you put it aside, your commitment will be repaid.”

There’s a well-traveled idea that any money one spends for Shabbat will come back doubled. I believe the same goes for time. If we “spend” our time on Shabbat, focusing on the day and actively choosing not to focus on items from the week, that time will be repaid to us twice over. Maybe it will come in the form of inspiration, or insight, or efficiency.

Or serendipity. I logged in after Shabbat, and found an email waiting for me:

“You know those worksheets I sent you? Don’t worry about them. We scrapped that idea and we’re moving on to something else. I’ll talk to you more about it Monday.”


Near the beginning of our Jewish Journey, the discoveries were grand, complex, and life altering. Looking back now, I can appreciate that we continue to wrestle with issues and traditions, but they are far subtler in nature.

For the record, we are now firmly settled in with 6 hours between meat and milk. While it has caused some in the family to become fleish-a-phobic (notably Pandora and daughter “I” – see “who’s who” on the side for details), overall we are managing well.

For the un-initiated, “fleish-a-phobia”  is the condition where one avoids eating meat now to ensure that they are able to have ice cream in half an hour should the opportunity present itself.

With all of that said, here was the view from our journey, circa 2010. You can find the original post here:

I know this is bothering me way more than it should. But it still is.

In our pre-Kosher days (or perhaps it’s more accurate to label them our “proto-kosher” days) we just focused on separating meat meals and milk meals. We didn’t change the dishes, we didn’t worry about utensils or containers. We simply avoided eating cheeseburgers, muenster-and-baloney sandwiches, or cheesey-beefy noodles.

Oh, and we steered clear of bacon-wrapped shrimp, of course.

Sounds simple, right?

Like most Jewish ideas, a seemingly simple idea can be totally bolloxed up by thinking about it too much.

It starts innocently: does “together” mean “on the same plate” or “on the same table”? If you go from one room with a cheese board to another room in the same house with lunchmeats, is that OK?

No, of course not. Because someone could be still savoring the flavor of a great piece of brie when they pop a delicate slice of brisket in your mouth and BOOM, you’ve mixed meat and milk. In your mouth.

(Side note: I used to do this all the time, but with chocolate milk. First you take a good long pull from the milk jug, leaving just a little room left over. Then you stick the end of the chocolate syrup bottle into your mouth and squeeze. Finally, shake your head vigorously until your vision blurs or you hear your neck snap. Then swallow. Everyone did that when they were kids, right?)

Ahem. Back to our discussion.

The Rabbis of Antiquity thought of that, of course (the cheese and meat thing, not the milk and chocolate syrup thing) and came up with a statement: don’t eat them together, and give your mouth time to clear itself of the previous food item.

For some Rabbis that meant either washing your mouth out or eating something that was neither milk or meat (a piece of bread fits the bill). Thus, they reasoned, you are pretty assured that bits of gouda aren’t still sticking around in your mouth when you start a bite of brisket.

Later on, Rashi was asked about time – like if you had a meat meal and didn’t eat bread, how long before you could start on a dairy dish? “Between meals” was the answer.

The problem was that “between meals” at that time was about 6 hours!

Skipping ahead, today we have the Dutch, who wait 1 hour, some folks from Germany who wait 3 hours, and everyone else, who waits 6. Except for the people who don’t.

Simple, huh?

So my family and I come onto the scene and try to answer the very earnest (and hungry) sounding K, asking if he can have mac-and-cheese for dinner even though he had a bologna sandwich for lunch.

A wrong answer looks like this: “Well, bud, let me look online, then get a book from the library, and then I’ll call the Rabbi and see what he says. I should know sometime next week.”

Originally, what we did was wait 1 hour either way (meat to milk or milk to meat). As we learned more, we waited NO time between milk and meat, but we still waffled about the time between meat and milk.

See, without a family history of waiting 3 hours, we’re TECHNICALLY obligated to wait 6. But lots of people we know only wait 3 hours.

On the one hand, we don’t want to just pick and choose observances to make it easy on ourselves. On the other hand, we don’t want to pick the hardest possible ruling just to prove how tough we are.

Honestly, we’re still on the fence about this. Like I said at the start of this post, I know this is bothering me way more than it should. But it still is.


Is This Food Kosher?

Not long after we enrolled my son in Jewish Day school, he sat at the dinner table and asked “Is this food kosher?”

At the time, we were at the very start of our journey to a more observant lifestyle. We did not think we would end up part of mainstream orthodox. In fact, our decision to enroll him in a Jewish school was based more on his urging (“I want to go to a school where I can be Jewish all day”) than our own need for him to spend part of his day learning Hebrew and Halacha.

So my answer was honest, if a bit simplistic (he was only 8 at the time): “Well, buddy, the box that the food came in was kosher. But the pan I cooked it in was not.”

I thought that would do the trick. I was forgetting that with him, a simple answer NEVER did the trick.

“Well, ” he said, chewing thoughtfully as he spoke, “I get to eat kosher food all day at school. So when am I going to get to eat kosher food at home, too?”

I was out of bullets. Anything more was going to need to wait for my wife. When she got home, I brought her up to speed. What followed was a family discussion about what it would mean (to our family) to keep kosher. What kinds of food we would no longer eat, and in which combinations. My wife and I didn’t know everything (looking back, we knew just a fraction) but it was enough to convey a clear sense of things.

And the most surprising thing happened.

For some reason, as parents, we carry around a belief that if kids know how complicating or difficult something will be, they will automatically shy away from it. This belief causes us to minimize or simplify difficult things that we want our kids to do, and over-explain things which we don’t want them to do.

But the reality is that, if a difficult task is presented truthfully and in an age-appropriate way, kids will often choose something which is difficult for reasons that have nothing to do with how hard it is. Maybe they want the end result. Maybe it’s simply how they want to be seen. Maybe the difficult thing embodies an aspect of who they want to be.

Or maybe kids intuitively sense that the things which are challenging are also the most meaningful.

Whatever the reason, my wife and I discovered that “being kosher” was – despite it’s difficulty – on the menu in my home. The kids were up for the challenge, which means WE had to be up for the challenge.

That isn’t where all this started, but it was one of the major steps along the way

Lunch Meat Diet

My wife recently gifted me with a five-pound bar of chocolate. I expressed my appreciation by enthusiastically consuming it at a frightening rate.

Because, you know, who needs willpower right? Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s all giggles and teasing and fun and games until your pants don’t fit. Just as I was about to throw in the wardrobe, I stumbled upon a fantastic solution. So fantastic, that I’ve dropped 3 pounds this week and managed to avoid all junk food snacking for days. What’s my secret?


I’ve written before about how the kosher laws around eating meat – and the time to wait after eating meat before you can eat dairy again – have been a subject of much discussion here at GoingKosher Headquarters. In fact, a great deal of planning goes into what we’re going to eat and when we’re going to eat it, just to avoid chewing ourselves into a corner from whence no ice cream can be scooped.

Why all the planning? For those who are coming to this late, here’s the basic facts about keeping kosher with regard to meat and milk:

  1. You can’t eat something that has meat in it together with something that has milk in it
  2. You can’t have them on the same plate
  3. You have to wait between eating one type of meal and another
  4. from milk to meat, you have to wait a short time (some say seconds, others say 20 minutes)
  5. from meat to milk, you have to wait some number of hours. In our case, we wait. Six. Long. Hours.

Normally, we simple eat meat meals – like turkey sandwiches – on Thursdays, when the boys get a meat meal at school, and after school have to bounce off the bus, across the dinner table, and off to cub scouts in short order. Halfway into my sandwich I realized that no milk chocolate bars would be in my immediate future. And by “immediate” I mean that whole six hours thing. I’d have to stay up well past my bedtime just for a snack I didn’t need. Problem solved. At least on those few days we eat meat for dinner.

Through a series of weird events, we’ve been having meat meals at odd times during the week (and day). That six-hour timer kicked in and like magic, half of the contents of our fridge and pantry became off limits to the wild roaming snack-a-beast dwelling in my mind.

“Off limits?” you may be asking. “Like no cheating? Isn’t snacking the epitome of cheating in the first place? What makes this (ie: being fleishig) so much more adhear-able than being on a diet in the first place?”


God didn’t tell me to diet.

(side note: Most of the commandments point to a full enjoyment of each holiday (including Shabbat). This does not jibe well with a desire to say “Oh, I’m going to skip dessert or I’ll regret it later.” Not that “enjoyment” is the same as “eat yourself into a food coma”. But many interpretations are that you should eat more than you normally do during the week. Which was probably great back in the days when people had one or maybe two meals a day and those were pretty sparse. But in America, in these days of plenty, obesity lies just one more “Oneg Shabbat” away if you don’t have some kind of discipline.)

Getting back to God. God didn’t tell me to diet so I treat dieting like most of the other rules in my life – guidelines meant to be bent as the situation dictates.

But Kashrut is a different story. Kashrut came from The Source of All Things. Kashrut is a mitzvah – an obligatory commandment that, if you buy into the whole “God is real and is all-powerful and really does care what I do” scenario, is part of the deal. So yes, I cheat on my diet and no, I don’t cheat on kashrut. You don’t have to agree with it, but it works for me.

While it would make a lousy commercial (and I’m not – yet – svelte enough to be on the short list of spokesmodels anyway), I’m here to tell you that whenever I get those sudden cravings for junk, I just pop a slice of (kosher, of course) bologna in my mouth and that craving just fades away.

Here There Be Dragons

Let me lay this out up front: If you are keeping Kosher and you are sticking to a diet program (WeightWatchers, for example) and you are on the road away from home, you may as well eat your carry-on bag and snack on luggage tags.

I might be exaggerating (it’s been known to happen), but not by much.

For the last year, my job has included travel. Not long distances nor for weeks on end, mind you. But far enough and long enough that I can’t come home each night. Which means I have to work out the whole “food on the road” thing.

My wife and I have been following WeightWatchers for the last 4 years. It’s been very successful for us, mostly because my wife is a genius both in the kitchen and out, and can calculate all those “points” things for both herself and me on the fly. Then we started keeping Kosher a year ago, and that turned up the difficulty a little. Everything was still reasonably do-able though.

Then I got laid off from my previous job, and landed a consulting position for a company 500 miles away. The money was too good to pass up, and they were willing to let me telecommute SOME of the time. For one week a month, however, I travel to the home office, stay in their company-owned housing, and get in the requisite “face time”.

I’m not complaining. Given this economy I know I’ve got a sweet deal. But the food situation is a real thorn in my side.

Where I happen to be, there are (apparently NO Jews). How do I know this? I called the local Chabad (LINK) to ask what time their morning services started. They never called back. You know it has to be sparse if the CHABAD – of whom it is said (only half-jokingly) that we know there isn’t life on Mars because if there were, they (the Chabad) would already have presence there. And when I asked about kosher food, I was told they go out once a week, driving an hour one way, to pick up kosher food and bring it back. They would pick me up some stuff if I gave them a list.

That’s ok. The local supermarket carries kosher-labeled products. That, plus some paper plates, plasticware, and foil pans and I’m all set.

Except for the fact that I don’t cook very well (read: the only people who eat my cooking are me and… well, it’s pretty much just me).

Then there’s the business meetings. Regardless of how open I am about at work about my Judaism, with the absolute absence of kosher restaurants I have limited options when it comes to face to face discussions over food.

I find myself trying to do my best, but eating poorly the entire week. I arrive home with either my scale or my conscience (or both!) shining a light on my faux pas.

So this is an open-ended blog post. If there are any road warriors out there with kosher clues, I’m all ears and empty stomach.

What this is all about, part 3: Kosher

I have waited a while (9 months, actually) before posting the last of this series (you can find part 1 here, and part 2 here). I waited because I didn’t think I would be able to speak about why I wanted to try the mitzvah (commandment) of keeping kosher right out of the gate. At the start of this experience, everything was too new, too foreign.

Guess what? It’s still new. And some stuff is still foreign. But I do think I have a little perspective and experience to draw on. Read the rest of this entry