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Tag Archives: kosher

Failure to Communicate


I recently started a new job at a new company and once again I am the only Jew (observant or otherwise) on the block. Which means I have to (get to?) educate my manager and team about certain aspects of Judaism when they intersect with work.

Most often, this comes up when responding to the question “we’re running out to lunch. You want to come with us?”.

But sometimes I find myself digging into the details more than I would have predicted when I first started this journey. Like when I was invited to my manager’s house for the annual Christmas party.

He knew I kept kosher, and actually went to great lengths to make sure there was SOMETHING I could eat (he asked me to print out pictures of the kosher symbols, and texted me from the store as he was buying things. It was actually one of the kindest things a manager has done.)

So there we were, sitting around the fireplace playing the obligatory office-party-game complete with prizes for the winners. Which happened to be chocolate candies.

I won a round and was handed my candy, which I began checking for a heksher. As I did the comments from the other people served as a reminder that, if Kashrut is difficult to grasp for Jews, it can be downright incomprehensible to others.

THEM: Is it the nuts? My candy bar doesn’t have nuts so you can have mine if you want.
ME: No, I’m looking for the special symbol that would tell me if it’s kosher. Which would be ironic, since it’s a Santa Claus candy bar
THEM: Oh! Well, mine’s in the shape of a snowman. So it’s probably kosher.
ME: (slight pause) Uh, that might not be true.

In retrospect, I probably should have just told them I was on a diet, and I was going to save the candy for my kids.

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VIDEO: Kosher Symbol Blues


While on one level, this is just a cute little ditty, on another it hints at some of the confusing and frustrating moments many of us have when learning to live with the mitzvah of keeping kosher.

Like many human endeavors, our efforts to make things clear have – to the un-initiated – made things even more confusing. does “P” stand for pareve, or for Pesach (Passover)? The answer – like many answers to Jewish questions – begin with the phrase “well, that depends…”

UnKosher: Microsoft Uses Bacon to Poach Employees


Microsoft is trying to steal good programmers away from Amazon and Google.
No surprising news there.

By tempting them with bacon.
Whaaa fuuuh huhhh?!?!

I am not making this up. I couldn’t. I’m not that creative.

But according to this article on Gizmodo, that is exactly what is happening.

Microsoft wanted to double its Kinect for Windows team from 35 to 70. And with good engineers typically already working for other companies, the bacon cart is a great ploy for Microsoft to grab their attention and tell them to “Wake up and Smell the Future”. The food cart is serving free bacon today at Amazon headquarters in South Lake Union, Seattle and has plans to move over to Fremont on Tuesday to be near Adobe and Google.

I wonder if the ADL is going to get involved, because in my mind the implication is either that no observant Jewish programmer is any good; or they’re good, but Microsoft (like a certain cantina at the Mos Eisley Spaceport) doesn’t serve their kind.


[Edit] In my haste to get this posted, I overlooked a point my Rabbi just made: They are saying the same thing about traditional Muslims and Hindus. Not to mention the rock solid programmers who are vegetarian or vegan.

Swimming in the Kitchen


“A father is obligated to do the following for his son: to circumcise him, to redeem him if he is a first-born, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade. Others say: teaching him how to swim as well.” Talmud (Kiddushin 29a)

Once upon a time not so very long ago, those obligations were very real and true in the most literal sense. A parent had to ensure that their child was known in the community, had a certain level of education, learned a trade, found a spouse. That much of the Talmud’s quote makes intuitive sense.

But what about swimming? I’ve heard some people teach that this was a Talmudic shorthand for a parent’s responsibility to teach a child how to protect themselves from dangerous natural forces – more than protect, to have the skills to turn a dangerous situation (drowning) into a positive activity (swimming). In the same category would be teaching a child how to handle animals, how to read the lay of the land to know where to plant or build and how to navigate through terrain to get to their destination safely.

Today, everything this quote from Talmud teaches is still true, although sometimes in a more distilled form. We still welcome our children – boys and girls – into the community and ensure their identity is known. We still work hard to ensure they have the proper level of education. When we are lucky and skillful, we are able to help them grow into people who can create an honest, open and loving relationship with another person; when we aren’t lucky or skillful, they still seem to manage it OK, although with far more bruises than we’d like to see.

We help them see their own natural inclinations and skills and guide them to leverage those skills into a meaningful career.

But again, I’m left with “swimming”. How, in this modern-day, does the injunction for me to teach my children to swim fit in?

Of course there’s summer camp and swimming lessons – the p’shat (plain text) sense of the reading. But there’s got to be more.

I submit to you that in today’s world, the equivalent of “swimming” is “cooking”.

If, in its original form, “swimming” was representative of natural danger, then we need to teach our children to handle themselves in the kitchen to avoid the inherent dangers that food presents: eating too much, eating too little, eating the wrong things. As they move into adulthood, we want them to know that (despite what Bill Cosby says) chocolate cake is not a good breakfast choice. We want them to know that traditional cooking techniques do not include “Swanson” and “Lean Cuisine”.

More than that, we want to teach them to respect and honor the things God provides. We want them to know that they can elevate the fruit of the earth and the trees into something that is both fulfilling and joyful. You can’t do that when it comes from a box in the freezer section.

Keeping kosher adds yet another flavor to the Talmud injunction. As parents we need to teach our children how to feed themselves while maintaining the mitzvah of kashrut, even when their shopping cart contents don’t come with OU stickers.

As I write this, my family and I have been keeping kosher for about a year and a half. It’s been an incredible journey where we’ve learned a lot. But one of the unanticipated results is that all four of my kids are much more involved in preparing our food. I’m not talking about “stir this while Mommy reads the recipe”. I’m saying the 8-year-old takes things from raw ingredients to a prepared dish on the table with little supervision. My older two kids work part-time at a kosher bakery.There is an awareness of (not fixation on, but a healthy respect for) food.

I don’t think that would have happened had we not started down this path.

On Friday afternoon, as everyone is bustling around the kitchen, preparing the best they have to offer in an attempt to clothe the Shabbat table as beautifully as they will clothe themselves for synagogue, it does look a bit like synchronized swimming.

Of course, the idea of swimming – of avoiding life’s dangers – goes beyond cooking. Knowing how to manage one’s time or money both could count as swimming, as do a host of other skills some of us take for granted while others struggle with (and suffer from the lack thereof) their entire life.

So consider, for just a moment, whether you are honoring the Talmudic tradition – are you teaching the children (and by extension the adults) around you to swim? Are you yourself drowning? What can you do to rectify that?

My Girlfriend “Betty”


I tend to play a little fast and loose when it comes to rules. I don’t exactly break them (at least, not usually), but I do tend to see how far they’ll bend.

How that translates to kashrut is that I’m don’t break a sweat when I cut a (cold) cold cut with the wrong knife. Cold is cold, after all. And I’m not always so careful about whether I use the dairy sponge or the pareve sponge to wash a (dairy or pareve) dish.

When it comes to kashrut, part of the reason I’m comfortable doing this is because of how far I am from the original Torah commandment. (And yes, I know that the Rabbinic commandments are (almost) just as important.) But we’re still a few kilometers from that truck stop.

How far is my dishwashing “faux pas” from the original injunction of not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk?

  • First, it’s not goat meat.
  • Second, it’s not meat at all.
  • Third, it’s not directly touching – it’s something (milk) touching something else (a pot or fork) touching something else (a sponge) touching something else (the pareve item).
  • Fourth, it’s not being done to “flavor” the other object.
  • Fifth, IT’S COVERED IN DISGUSTING DISHWASHING LIQUID!!

I might have casually mentioned this to my Rabbi recently. I was expecting a knowing wink and a smile, an indication that yes, young grasshopper, I have learned The Way of The Kashrus.

Instead, his eyes bugged out a bit, and in tones that showed he was attempting to remain calm despite an overwhelming desire to hit me with a kosher clue by four.

“You can’t do that,” he explained. “Even though you are right – all of that is essentially ‘protecting’ you, you can’t work with that in mind as your initial plan.”

Then he started talking about some girl named “Betty”. Her last name is Eved, I think. The upshot is that (according to this girl, I guess) if you do some of the stuff I mentioned above by accident it’s OK. But you can’t expect or plan to do it that way because all that happens is people (ie: me) push the limits just a bit further until you actually do mess up a commandment.

It’s clear that Betty dated guys like me in High School. Or maybe she had brothers.

Anyway, I got the point: no planning to make a mistake. My wife will be so pleased to hear that yet another loophole in my “live fast, kosher as you go” philosophy has been closed. In the meanwhile, I am sure I’m going to make legitimate mistakes, and that Betty and I will have a chance to become better acquainted.

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?

Meat.

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.

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.

Pride and Shame


As I’ve mentioned before (“Here There Be Dragons“), I’ve started traveling about once a month for my job. This means I’ve become a bit more sensitive to the availability (or lack thereof) of kosher eateries when I’m out and about.

Which is why a recent post  from Yeah, That’s Kosher (“The Remaining Kosher Subway Restaurants in the US“) caught my eye. As he reports, there used to be 12 (with 5 in NYC alone). Now there are 5 left.

This makes me feel sad, frustrated, and a little ashamed. It’s not like Subway is going out of business, just the kosher versions. What is it about kashrut that makes sub sandwiches such a losing proposition? Why does “kosher” seem to be such a barrier to success in a way that “Thai” or “Gluten Free” or “Vegan” is not?

It also makes me feel a little bit proud though. Because of the 5 cities listed, my town is on the list.