(Without mentioning names for a change) a friend of mine recently came out of the pantry to me and confessed she is bi-potted. In addition to her two sets of milchig (milk) and fleishig (meat) pots and pans, she keeps … Read More
(Without mentioning names for a change) a friend of mine recently came out of the pantry to me and confessed she is bi-potted. In addition to her two sets of milchig (milk) and fleishig (meat) pots and pans, she keeps a few others in the closet. They are bi. They could go either way. She calls them "milfleshig." Keeping kosher is a complicated business for some of us. How kosher is kosher enough, and whose standards are we interested in meeting, anyway? In a conversation years ago with my rabbi, he made the point that keeping kosher isn’t about this world or getting a reward in the next world, nor is it something you have to understand – it’s something you do, simply because it’s commanded by God. That’s it. But for those who rebel against being commanded to brush their teeth, or don’t have faith that God truly meant for them never to have a bite of the forbidden fruit that is called calamari, or who can’t surrender to the notion that God cares if they fry a hamburger in the same pan in which they made a cheese omelet two days ago, then keeping kosher gives them pause. If God doesn’t care, then why should they care? I would guess that most Orthodox Jews (like much of my husband’s family) absolutely never breach the countless, complex laws of kashrut – they only buy meat from a kosher butcher, some have separate milk and meat dishwashers and sinks, they keep two separate sets of dishes for meat and for dairy and never let one stray into another’s territory thereby creating a hybrid milfleshig plate. A good friend of mine had kosher food shipped from New Jersey to Disney World on a recent vacation, and she rented a double stroller for four days to push the food around the park in it! I can’t confirm that they are all committed to these laws because they believe them to be a Divine decree. Indeed, God’s will aside, any number of rationales have been offered as to why keeping kosher is good for body and soul: you become mindful of your actions, and you live your life with deliberation; it sanctifies even the most mundane of activities and imbues it with another level of spirituality and holiness; and recognizing boundaries in life is a good thing (though interestingly, with all the rules on what you can eat, there are no limits as to how much). For many of us who strive to adhere to the kosher commandment, we’ve devised our own system as to how kosher is kosher enough, and what is unnecessary and bordering on ridiculous. Because it’s our own system, it deviates from others’ standards – maybe we don’t wait three hours between having meat and dairy, just rinsing our mouth out is enough. Or, we keep kosher at home but will eat non-meat items outside; some eat meat out – but never pork or shellfish! (Again mentioning no names), some who profess to be kosher will flee the Upper West Side and sneak off behind their collective communities’ backs to the dens of depravity downtown where they suck up every pig-snouting, tentacle-bearing creature on the menu, making even their non-Jewish friends blush with shame. Trayf, trayf, trayf, they exult, taking a huge, cracking bite of lobster then ever so carefully picking the meat out of the claws. What happens on Houston Street… There’s a curious reversal of that last category: those who admittedly don’t keep kosher in their private lives – but in certain very public arenas, they make it a point to do so: in 2002, a ravenously hungry Ethan Zohn turned down bacon on the television reality series, "Survivor"; and in 2003, the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon (z”l), requested kosher food in outer space. In both cases, because they were representing all Jews in a public forum, they felt they had to make a point. And that point was…?? I would guess that the food served as a synecdoche for a bigger statement: with it, they were saying to the world I’m different, I’m separate, I’m Jewish. Yet, even this, I find funny and inexplicable. Why the urge to suddenly assert their Jewish identity and to use food as the vehicle? Did they think others would regard them as "better" Jews, better people if they foreswore the sizzling Oscar Mayer delicacy? It’s only food, for God’s sake! It’s not lying or cheating or stealing or being unkind or slandering someone, all of which would make you as a Jew look publicly bad and would risk tarring other Jews with the same immoral brush (no Bernie Madoff reference intended). It’s food! Surely, God gave us lots of other commandments, so is it necessary to make such a fuss about this particular one? I would bet Moses would plotz if he saw how a few sentences in the Bible forbidding eating pork or shellfish have resulted in an entire industry that revolves around creating more and more nitpicking laws and monitoring everything from the slaughter of chickens to the sale of dried fruit. Personally, keeping kosher does make me more mindful of God’s presence in my everyday life, and it also means that those who are observant can feel comfortable in my home, which is an important value to me. I can also appreciate the various other reasons for keeping kosher, even if so much of the minutiae seems arbitrary and encourages bi-potted behavior. In the end, though, I’ll stick with my rabbi on this one – ultimately, if you believe that God said you gotta do it, you gotta do it. If you don’t believe that, then it’s all up for grabs, and maybe I’ll see you on Houston Street.