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Camping Jewishly

I was pleased to read Maxine Segal Handelman's piece on camping Jewishly (Summer 2012). She is a star of early childhood and family education in our movement, and her joy in our traditions shines through.

Jewish camping is also accessible through any of the many Boy Scout troops and Girl Scout units sponsored by Conservative synagogues across America. In genuinely Conservative scouting units, all of the strengths of scouting (leadership, reverence, service) combine with our core values (God, Torah, chesed) to engage families as they grow. Conservative units can provide the same kosher and Shabbat standards which Maxine so strongly role models for us.

Unfortunately, far too many of our youth in scouting only have non-Jewish units to choose from, due to a lack of synagogue charter organizations. Even though Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are tremendously respectful of individual religious identity and practice, the result is often non-observant camping, nonkosher food, absence from synagogue life, and an experience where one’s Judaism may not be fully engaged.

Of course, certain national policies of the BSA have been controversial in recent years, including its bigoted stand on homosexuality. Rest assured that each unit sets its own policies and standards, which is another excellent reason for us to sponsor our own troops and packs.

I encourage all of our communities to consider scouting and camping in all its forms.

B'nai Shalom
West Orange, New Jersey

What's Around Your Neck?

I very much enjoyed the article about Fredric Goldstein and his parashah-appropriate neckties in the Summer 2012 issue. Our spiritual leader, Rabbi Mark Fasman, of Shaare Zedek Synagogue in St. Louis, also coordinates his neckwear to the weekly Torah reading. He traditionally wears a bow tie for Parashat Bo and a tie with a big eyeball for Parashat Re’eh. My favorite, though, is his tradition, during the Yom Kippur Avodah service, of beginning the service with a solid red tie and somehow managing by the end of the service to have changed (while still on the bimah) to a solid white tie! David Copperfield couldn’t do it any better.

St. Louis, Missouri

What We Eat

I have affiliated with Conservative synagogues for more than 70 years and rarely have I read anything like “What We Eat” by Rabbi Edward Feld (Summer 2012). I am offended by the position he takes on kashrut and the arguments he uses to justify it.

The very purpose of kashrut was to separate ourselves in the most fundamental manner, eating. A recurring theme in the Torah is “Don’t mess with the Canaanites.” Don’t eat with them. Don’t follow their ways. And certainly don’t marry them.

Rabbi Feld is correct when he notes that “Food laws in the Talmud are a way of constructing a barrier between Jews and the larger society.” It is a pity that Rabbi Feld does not understand the necessity of such barriers in order to preserve, protect and defend Judaism against the encroachments of an assimilating society. While I do not fear the Canaanites, the reality created by their successors does not warrant changes in our regulations or how we adjust to that reality. And, who would make these changes? Has the Law Committee replaced the Sanhedrin? I must have missed the announcement.

Observing kashrut has always been a personal commitment and I sincerely hope that God has something more important on His mind than what I had for lunch. Keeping kosher connects me to generations past who have kept Judaism’s standards unmolested by modernity. However, I believe that raising a calf in a box should render veal unfit, no matter how it may be shechted (ritually slaughtered). And, how does Rabbi Feld propose that caterers determine if hoisting and shackling have occurred in the slaughtering process? My kosher butchers do not provide that information.

Lastly, Rabbi Feld has the temerity to relate how a congregant was inspired to embrace kashrut after seeing the rabbi eating in a Chinese (non-kosher?) restaurant. I am at a loss to think that such an observation could lead to anything but a justification for eating non-kosher.

How holy is holy, Rabbi Feld, when it seeks to make Jews more like goyim?


Somerville, New Jersey

I read with great interest the article by Rabbi Edward Feld. I applaud his discussion of the importance of avoiding animal cruelty and the treatment of the workforce in the production of kosher foods.

However, I think Rabbi Feld is seriously misleading halachic Jews by endorsing the consumption of foods apparently “conforming to kashrut” in restaurants without rabbinic supervision. Certainly the Talmud is sometimes quite liberal regarding the use of utensils that have been used to cook non-kosher meat. However, this is a far cry from proposing the consumption of food where the presence of treif makes errors likely.

How can one know what ingredients were used to prepare a vegetarian dish in a nonkosher restaurant? French fries are vegetarian, aren’t they? Well, not if they are fried in meat fats (e.g. MacDonald’s). Those preparing food in a non-kosher restaurant may consider a dish such as rice cooked in chicken broth to be vegetarian. Food servers cannot be expected to know exactly what ingredients were used in the preparation of each dish. Also, there are literally thousands of food items available which may contain treif ingredients. That is why those concerned about kashrut purchase food items with kosher certification. Nonkosher establishments do not restrict themselves to certified ingredients. Furthermore, in an unsupervised establishment, a spoon used to stir a meat dish might also be used to stir a vegetarian dish.

If eating in non-kosher restaurants is permissible, what is the necessity of having restaurants certified by Conservative (or Orthodox) rabbis?

East Brunswick, New Jersey

Rabbi Edward Feld comments on a liberal/ lenient position in tractate Hulin that says if the food does not taste from nonkosher food from the pot in which it was cooked, one can eat it and consider it kosher. He applies this to eating vegetarian in a nonkosher restaurant: “This standard can be applied easily to eating in a restaurant that uses the same pots and pans to cook nonkosher meat and vegetarian offerings.” I would like to ask Rabbi Feld if this means that normative Conservative Judaism now permits people to eat vegetarian in nonkosher restaurants?

Orange, New Jersey

The paragraph/statement that reads: “For the same reason, we should buy grass-fed beef. American cattle growers often use feed that cows never would eat in nature. Sometimes the feed contains ground up blood and animal products, though cows are vegetarian by nature.”

This statement is not only untrue but it is against federal law to engage in this practice. The regulation has been in effect since August 1997 and has been updated and revised.

It is a choice that an individual makes to eat and observe the laws of kashrut. We as professionals are supposed to know and understand the laws and US federal regulations along with the true meaning of kosher: kosher = fit or proper. Swaying your readers with statements that are false is also not acting kosher!

Central Beef Ind. L.L.C.

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