Keeping Kosher: My Religious Adventure

Photo from Shamash: The Jewish Network

Having been raised Christian my whole life, I never really had the opportunity to study other religions or see how differently they live their lives prior to taking this religion class this summer. I knew basic facts about different religions and the main differences between them but I never learned the logic or reasoning behind it. For instance, prior to this class I knew that orthodox Jews exercised being Kosher but I really didn’t have any idea what that truly meant or the logic behind this way of life. After learning about more about Judaism and other religions in class over the past few weeks, I thought I would exercising Cal Poly’s motto of “learn by doing” and expand my educational process by exercising the religious practice of being kosher from the Jewish religion for 5 days.

Before I started this adventure, I wanted to further research what kosher means and who exactly in the Jewish religion practices keeping kosher. What I learned was that kosher, the Anglican form of the Hebrew word kasher meaning “good” or “proper” is consistent with one of the Jewish principles that expresses the idea that everyone is good. After further research, I found that being kosher is a religious practice is in fact not practiced by all Jews and/or not practiced constantly. According to the article Keeping Kosher: Jewish Dietary Laws published on the Religion Facts website, only orthodox Jews fully obey the laws of keeping kosher; reform Jews see it as outdated while others only practice this way of life at home but not when they are dinning out.

To make sure I was going to effectively execute this practice I needed to research the specific rules for this way of life. There are many different laws or rules when determining what is okay to eat when practicing being kosher. These rules however, were not simply made up but rather are all based and derived from specific instructions from the Torah, the Jewish holy scripture. The first rule is that you can’t eat grapes or grape products (all other fruits, vegetables, and grains are allowed) because there is a law against eating or drinking anything that was offered to idols. This reasoning comes from another Jewish principle that there is only one god, and to not worship any idols. The second rule that comes from the book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy is you can only eat animals that chew their bud and have cloven hooves. This means that beef, sheep, lamb, goats, and deer are okay to eat, but pork , camel, and rabbits are not. This doesn’t just pertain to the meat of the animal but any products made by these animals including organs and milk. Also, the animals that are okay for eating, must have no diseases or flaws and be ritually slaughtered, a rule derived from the book of Numbers and Deuteronomy. Certain parts of kosher permitted animals aren’t allowed such as the sciatic nerve, meaning food like filet mignon and sirloin steak are not allowed. For birds that are permitted kosher include domesticated fowl only, so eagles, hawks, and vultures are not allowed since they are scavenger birds. When it comes to seafood and insects, only animals with fins and scales are permitted meaning any type of shellfish is forbidden and insects aren’t allowed. A very important rule is that meat and dairy products can not be combined in the same meal based on the fact that you don’t want to eat the baby with it’s mother’s milk, a principle that stems the from the Exodus and Deuteronomy book. Lastly hard cheese is not allowed because pig fat is used as a product in the process.

After I finished my research and making my list of rules I was very intimidated but started my adventure on the 11 of July with a determined attitude. A helpful hint that my Jewish friend back home told me was to look for the kosher certified symbol on food (as seen below) to make sure it is okay to eat. For the first three days, it was fairly simple and easy because I just picked one food that I enjoyed for each meal. For breakfast I had either a bagel or oatmeal, for lunch I had a tomato/basil/ and mozzarella cheese sandwich, and for dinner I had a baked potato (without cheese) or tomato pasta. After the second day however, I was over eating the same foods for the past two days straight, was already tempted to try some of my favorite foods that weren’t allowed, and starting to convince myself that just a small bite of a non kosher food was fine and no big deal. Thankfully, I did give in to temptations and successfully practiced being kosher for 5 days.

photo from KCET

Most common kosher certification symbol from The Union of Orthodox Jews Organizations

During this experiment, I came across an interesting fact about a food product that most people would think is not kosher; honey. It is a rule that you can’t eat insects, which also means you cant eat anything that is produced by an insect. Since bees are an insect and they make honey, most people would thing that honey is forbidden under kosher but this is actually not the case. According to the post by Rochel Chein titled Why is honey kosher? website, honey is kosher because it is not actually digested by the bee.

Overall, this experience was very educating and allowed me to develop a better understanding of the Jewish religion and sense of respect for people who keep kosher. I only accomplished this way of life for 5 days but orthodox Jews along with others, exercise this way of life every single day. They are constantly tempted by different foods but stick to their morals and beliefs showing how devoted they are to their faith. I am so glad I decided to perform this task because it allowed me to experience another religion, how they live their lives, better understand their faith, and gain a more; something I wasn’t able to do before I took this class.

Sources:

“Keeping Kosher: Jewish Dietary Laws.” – ReligionFacts. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2012. <http://www.religionfacts.com/judaism/practices/kosher.htm&gt;.

“Why Is Honey Kosher?” – Kosher Q&A. CHABAD.ORG KOSHER, n.d. Web. 11 July 2012. <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/712032/jewish/Why-Is-honey-kosher.htm&gt;.

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