Interesting thoughts on Kosher

Wednesday, 25 January, 2023 - 8:18 pm

My wife and I recently came back from a mini-vacation, well deserved I might add. While it was just a few days, it was refreshing and rejuvenating. I highly recommend it. While I went there for some R & R, I ended up learning much from this small coastal town.

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the broad Chassidic movement once declared, “Whatever you encounter should be viewed as a lesson for you to better live your life.” So true! Each day was indeed an encounter with a life lesson.

The place we visited was not only chosen for its beauty, but also for the fact that there are kosher establishments for us to enjoy. When a “kosher Jew” goes on vacation to a place where there is no food, you end up overdosing on tuna fish and crackers. This place had kosher galore and we enjoyed an array of different foods, and none contained tuna.

As we were walking down the street, we noticed a restaurant sign that served falafel, shawarma, and hummus. There was a huge Star of David on the sign as well. Even though we had just eaten, we stopped at the open menu to peruse what other delicacies they served, and lo and behold on the second page, we noticed that they served shrimp. We started to walk away as this was obviously not a kosher establishment. The owner came running and in perfect Hebrew asked if he "can help.” I responded, “No thanks, zeh lo kosher – not kosher.”  He retorted back in Hebrew, “Hey, I run a very clean place.” I wondered to myself if this guy really thinks that the definition of kosher means clean. I have no idea, but it makes a great discussion as to what kosher is and is not.

The rules of kosher are many and they are primarily taken straight from the Torah. Here are a few highlights. Fish must have both fins and scales to be considered kosher and animals must have both split hooves and chew their cud and also be ritually slaughtered to ensure a quick end. Any fish or animals that do not have both of these signs, then are not only not kosher, we are also not allowed to drink its milk or consume its eggs either. Birds have no sign but are delineated in the Torah by name. We must also soak and salt our beef and poultry to remove the blood. Another biggie, we are not allowed to mix meat with milk under any circumstances. All vegetables are kosher but the leafy ones need to be thoroughly checked for infestation. There is so much more but we are short on time and space.

While it would be nice if every kosher and non-kosher establishment had a grade A on the placard in the window, having a B grade does not make it treif (non-kosher). Kosher does not mean clean, rather it means proper or fitting. This is why you hear the term kosher being used in non-food context. As an example, the term “this is not right” can be substituted with “this isn’t kosher.” Therefore, to equate kosher with being clean is wrong and is missing the point.
What is fascinating is that the Torah gives no reason as to why some animals are kosher while some are not. Likewise, there is no explanation offered as to why kosher beef and kosher cheese are fine when separate but not together. Cleanliness we can grasp with our limited intellect. However, kosher is beyond our finite understanding. We Jews follow it anyway, happily and with pride even though we do not understand the reason. Our philosophy is that God is a general and human beings are His foot soldiers, and a private in the army does not question the general’s orders. If one is a believer in a God, then if He says do not eat it, then who am I to question!
I am reminded of a sentence attributed to the famed ancient philosopher Socrates, “To know, is to know that you know nothing."

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