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"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

I Don’t Know Anyone Who Knows How to Keep Kosher: Part 1

Posted by shanamaidel on September 29, 2008

(Sorry about this being late…editing problems)

I’ll be frank: That includes me.

It took us a long time to get here. To say that I don’t know anyone that knows how to keep kosher, is a remarkable thing. It means, from an Orthodox perspective, that I have disqualified pretty much everyone I know from serving on a beit din, from signing a ketubah, from being a witness. It is a pretty serious accusation.

Yet I still eat their food, (and my own), in the hopes that every day we learn more and more about Kashruth.

How does no one I know know anything about kashruth? it is fairly easy, when the message of Hazon is correct: We are a nation divorced from our food. And this from someone who cooks (and makes some mean vegan soups to boot.)

Kashruth laws, like most laws, are an abstraction until you practice them. You can spend hours and hours studying them, but they make very little sense until you take up a chef’s knife, a gardening hoe, and ask some questions about time and place.

Like all laws, they have some sense of purpose about them. And they will seperate you from other people.

Lets put it this way-because of my concern for kashruth- I walk into my local grocer with my own board and knife so I can have fresh fish. I want to make sure that elements of prawn are not transferred to my own food, even if they are cold. This separates me from the vast majority of San Fanciscans who use the same store.

And yet, if you asked me, how do I salt and rinse meat for kosher consumption- I would not be able to tell you. I don’t know of a balabusta in the US of my age who can. I don’t know of community rabbis who actively hear questions about basic kashruth, who can identify a treifa, a blemish that would render an animal unkosher, on sight, because they regularly have people bringing them treifos. It stopped being a concern years ago, with the rise of prepared, factory developed food, and factory farming.

It totally reprioritizes your life when your food is presented to you is from somewhere else,(in the case of Kosher meat from Tel Aviv- South America) but you still think like you are from the ghetto, mostly.

When people in Orthodox Circles talk about the chumra of Cholov Yisrael, they are talking about a particularity that could only arise if you do not have large scale farms elsewhere producing milk that is of abnomarly high quality. Same thing with Pas Yisrael. You need to have a baker that is shipping nationally to worry about that chumra too. But it also means that you are cut off from the act of milking a cow, and the act of making bread.

Kashruth, at its most basic level, requires people to be committed to making food. Not creating it en mass.

In Orthodox circles (and Conservative ones) we are in what could be called, a post-Achron period. There has been no new major compilation of halachic sources in about 100 years, no magical new understanding of Jewish Law. In fact, just the opposite has happened. We are now stuck in circles with perversely calcified texts, while trying to fit an ever changing world in it. While it is unfair to say that rabbis of the past did not deal with change (they did) the do-dads, cultural shifts, and other massive changes of the post-war period have come much more swiftly than ever before, and the changes are increasing in speed, not slowing down. Moore’s law actually ended up changing culture, and it shows.

But we slaughter our meat in methods developed 2000 years ago, with very little to change them, barring some arguments about how healthy the cattle should be, and how we should treat the knife (polished or unpolished). The basics of slaughtering, the basics of kashurth, have not changed. Bugs are still unkosher , while berries (as long as you take ma’aser and it is not a shemita year in Israel) still are.

Food has though. We have products known as Juice drinks, rather than juice, fortified with chemicals that make them taste good without the calories, such as whatever Splenda is made out of, preservatives, extra vitamins and minerals, colors, enzymes, flavoring agents, and I have no idea what else. In order to maintain the kashruth of the drink, each article has to be certified kosher, even though a food sized portion of coloring might kill you (with cancer).

So we, as a community, hired a bunch of rabbis and mashgichim (some good and knowledgeable, some bad and not so knowledgeable, and some mixes between all those qualities) to scour the factories across the world so that the food on our table actually was kosher.

But this leaves us insecure. It leaves with an inability to keep our individual cooking customs regarding kashruth (and there are a number of different customs) as we flatten out the rules to get into those large factories in France, or China, or by the waters of Pacific Northwest. Instead we are stuck trying to fit all our differences in a box with not enough of the right size holes.

And this doesn’t even start with issues of material science- that’s a whole new category of being with the wide introduction of plastic.

So no one I know keeps kosher. Then again, I don’t know anyone who understands what kosher is.

Mostly because none of us have been educated well, the basic start to trying to understand where we are different and the same, and trying to come up with solutions to our postmodern kitchen chemical kitchen, where our food is now made of coloring, and food derivatives, and pacakaged in new age plastics for a microwave.

5 Responses to “I Don’t Know Anyone Who Knows How to Keep Kosher: Part 1”

  1. […] I Don’t Know Anyone Who Knows How to Keep Kosher: Part 1 […]

  2. LB said

    all good points. what is your solution? how can this be changed?

  3. Arthur said


    Very insightful
    and how true – I never would have thought about the angle from which you have written

    The chalav yisrael thing so does ring true since I know of no person who keeps chalav yisrael you has ever been up close and personal to a cow.

    Having worked on a dairy farm for 6.5 years in israel I can tell you that no one really gets it and does not understand the first thing about milk production

  4. lchaimlover said

    I don’t really understand. I live in a society of convenience, and this for me, includes in the Jewish world. Nope, I don’t know how to kasher a chicken, but a)i know a few people who do and b) I pay rubaskin’s to do that for me.

    sO i ASK, So what?

    the fundamental aspect of this, as with many other things in Yiddishkeit, is being able to at least know the right questions to ask and who to ask them to. And that, for sure few people know how to do. But not only in this, but in so many aspects of Jewish observance (i.e. shabbos, kashrus, family laws). I know plenty of people who, in the course of their learning, figure out they had been doing stuff “wrong”. At least they were learning.

    So I ask, so what if people don’t know how to shecht an animal? In this day and age, we’re lucky if people know what pareve means.

  5. jjj kkk said

    With any food manufactured out of one’s control there is a chance that it is indeed not


    Indeed there have been many scandles w respect to k. especially meat.

    Meat is vulnerable because of the high cost of K. meat compared to non k. look alikes

    which are much cheaper.

    If the purpose of certification is to reduce the chance (probability) of consuming

    something that is not kosher, than might it not be true that a non-certified vegan product

    has a lower chance (probability) of being not kosher than a certified kosher product?

    Convince me that eating meat or in a kosher restauraunt is more kosher than eating a vegan

    product (manufactured at a facility of sufficient size & prominence that it is very very

    likely to have been cleaned and the equipment sterilized prior to use for the vegan


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