Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Kashrut - Unify or Divide Community?

היום ששה ימים לעמר
Today is the sixth day of the omer

יסוד שבחסד
A day of foundation in a week of loving kindness

This coming Shabbat we read Shmini--one of the parshiot in the Torah that lists which creatures to eat and which not to eat--the foundation of the laws of Kashrut.

In this week's "Today's Torah" drash I receive from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, Rabbi Bradley Artson comments on the practice of Kashrut:

"Kashrut offers an opportunity to harness the act of eating to contribute to who we are and what are our values. Kashrut summons us to elevate eating from an animal response to an encounter with holiness, transforming our kitchens and our dining room tables into sacred altars, our meals into reminders of our deepest values as Jews. . . .
For thousands of years, the dietary laws served as a vehicle for solidifying Jewish identity, for forging a link with Jews throughout time and across the globe as well as for strengthening the connection between Jews and their Judaism. Jewish meals forge a potent bond, linking family and friends into communities devoted to a more humane order on earth.
. . .
Finally, the practice of kashrut, motivated at its core by a recognition of the holiness of every living creature, has instilled sensitivity to the suffering of animals and of our responsibility to other forms of life. True, the practice of the dietary laws requires commitment, self-discipline, and striving."

I wrote something similar last year on the third day of the omer - you can read it here. So I can't say that I disagree with Rabbi Artson on his view as a whole, but I'm not comfortable with the tone of his drash. You see, when he talks about "Jewish meals" and "kashrut," he's thinking only in terms of his Conservative movement view of those things. And because of that, he doesn't address the difficult issues surrounding the practice of kashrut in Jewish America today.
While I believe that kashrut is one of the practices that kept Judaism alive for all these thousands of years, I find that today it often serves to divide Jews to the extent of making some Jews scorn the practice completely. I know many people who eat mindfully and compassionately. I am a part of communities who bond over food. But it is often hard to reconcile each person's or group's version of what is kosher so that the caring act of sharing food becomes a seemingly judgemental event with some feeling either they are not good-enough Jews or their practice is not being respected.
It is a dilemma that is being felt by many Jewish communities across the nation. I wish that Rabbi Artson had addressed that, and given us some guidance as to how our communities can deal with these issues--or even recognize that the issues exist.
To me, it shows me one more reason to believe the Jewish Conservative movement has it's proverbial head in the sand----and may find itself deeply buried there if it doesn't start to pick up it's head and live in the real world.

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