DAY 530: The Practical World of Kashrut

December 12, 2013
By bethmordecai
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DAY 530: The Practical World of Kashrut

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אם רוצה לבשלן יחד ואין שם ס’ מותר (יורה דעה קט:ב)

If you want to cook together two different kinds of food [that are generally forbidden from one another], and one of the kinds of food is less than 1/60th of the other kind, then the mixture is allowed (Yoreh Deah 98:2)

Dear Hevreh,

Outside of observing Shabbat, there is probably no greater indicator of Jewish religious observance than keeping kosher (shomer kashrut). Yet even more than simply religious observance, the act of keeping kosher in some capacity indicates our cultural attachment to Judaism. For instance, one person I spoke to recently says “I eat bacon, but I don’t eat ham because that’s what my father taught me.” Whether it’s kosher style or attitudes towards eating pig among many others, there is a variety of choices that all Jews — regardless of religious affiliation — make towards adopting some element of kosher practice.

This individualized approach to keeping kosher is not just a phenomenon of Jewish culture (especially in America), but rather has its antecedents in Jewish religious (halakhic) observance of kashrut. In other words, the rabbis created the halakhic system of kashrut to include a range of options in which there is no monolithic method for observing kashrut. The quote above is one example of this flexible approach. A dairy dish in which 1/60th or less of it contains some meat products is still considered to be dairy even though technically speaking the dish mixes meat and milk! The reason for this rule is practical — a mixture that is 1/60th will not give off its taste to the entire dish (eyno noten ta’am) therefore you cannot tell that there is a mixture, and what’s more it would be a waste of food to throw out an entire dish with that small of a mixture! Thus, even though the laws of kashrut technically teach us to not mix any meat and milk together, this rule is not monolithic; it contains a range of options.  

Most of you know that I eat out at non-kosher restaurants and the reason for that is that I feel great joy in trying many different kinds of food which I would not have the ability to try (or afford) if I only ate at kosher restaurants. At the same time, I do not believe that eating out at non-kosher restaurants is breaking kashrut because I only eat fish or vegetarian (therefore no food on my plate contains any mixture with meat) and I assume that the dishes used to make my food were cleaned thoroughly beforehand so that there is no taste (eyno ta’am) of the previous dish which could have been non-kosher. Some of you may agree with me and some of you may not, but this is a  practical halakhic choice I’ve made when it comes to my personal eating habits outside of the home.

The choices I make as an individual Jew when I go into another person’s home or an owner’s restaurant does not mean though that I would necessarily make the same choice as the rabbi of our community. Whereas I feel comfortable assuming  a certain level of dish cleanliness and preparation when I personally eat out, I do not feel comfortable making that same assumption when using outside caterers for community events because I have a responsibility to our community (and those looking at our community) to make sure that the food we eat is kosher.

Today, I am looking forward to fulfill that responsibility on behalf our community.Our Homecoming Weekend committee is looking at having a big Saturday night event on Cornucopia Cruise Lines out of Perth Amboy. It will be a lot of fun to party for Purim by enjoying the beautiful skylines while drifting in Raritan Bay. Yet, because we are a Conservative, halakhic community — regardless of what we do in our personal lives — we must make sure that the food we eat on this special night is kosher. As such, today I will be meeting with the owner of the cruise lines and, with the help of my father Rabbi Moshe Saks who has years of experience in the kosher industry, talk about how to make sure the food we eat that night falls within the practical and halakhic range of kashrut as passed down by our sages. This is a responsibility I am obligated to fulfill and it is a task I’m excited to undertake to ensure our commitment to Jewish religious tradition.

If you’d like to see updates from the meeting, feel free to check out my facebook profilelater today.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Ari Saks

Category : Rabbi Rabbi's Journal Ritual Practice
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