Physical to the Spiritual
Eating affects our bodies.
What about our souls?
Thousands of cookbooks have been written in the name
of elevating the experience of eating to a higher level. As Jews, we are
experts in the idea of elevating the experience of eating to something
higher, not only because of our culinary preferences, but also because of
our efforts to add spirituality to our lives through what and how we eat.
These dietary habits not only sanctify the fulfillment
of this basic need, they also unite us with Jews around the world.
Kashrut, or "keeping kosher," originates in the Torah
and is further developed in later rabbinic literature. We keep kosher
because it is God's mandate.
Yet, it goes beyond blind acceptance of some ancient
laws. It gives us an opportunity to bring holiness into our lives several
times a day through the simple act of eating and connects us with Jews all
over the world.
Ethical concerns for all of God's creatures are
central to keeping kosher. The system of kashrut also lends spiritual
order to the chaos of the world by establishing categories of permitted
and forbidden foods.
[Return to top of
Animals which have split hooves and chew their cud can
be prepared kosher, including cows, sheep and even buffalo. This excludes
most non-domesticated animals, as well as pigs. Most fowl, with the
exception of birds of prey, can be prepared kosher.
According to Jewish law, meat and poultry must be
slaughtered in a specific, humane manner, in order to minimize the pain
the animal feels during the slaughtering, a process know as sh'hita
(a shohet is the name of the trained professional who
carries out the process).
Another critical element of kashrut is that the blood
of an animal may not be eaten, reflecting a sensitivity to blood as
life-force. Before the meat or poultry can be prepared for eating, it must
be soaked and salted to drain it of blood.
Most kosher butchers and meat packers soak and salt
their meat before packaging (it will usually say something like "kosher,
soaked and salted" on the label).
In order for fish to be kosher, Jewish law stipulates
that it must have both fins and scales. No specific ritual is necessary
for slaughtering fish. Shellfish and mammalian fish are not kosher, since
they do not have fins and scales.
The other essential aspect of keeping kosher is the
prohibition against mixing milk and meat. Milk represents birth and life
sustenance. Meat stands for flesh and death. Mixing them shows an
insensitivity to life.
[Return to top of
The Torah tells us this in basic terms three times
(Exodus 23:19 and 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21) with the phrase: "Do not
boil a kid in its mother's milk." Using these three citations, the rabbis,
in later discussions, deduce three meanings for the prohibition on mixing
milk and meat.
Cooking - Eating - Benefiting
Eating includes the obvious, like
cheeseburgers (which are, of course, prohibited), as well as waiting
between eating meat and eating dairy so that the food is digested first.
Current opinions on how long one must wait after
eating meat and before eating milk vary, ranging from the Dutch practice
of waiting for one hour to an Eastern European custom of waiting six
If your family has not passed down a custom, you may
choose to adopt the prevailing custom in the Conservative Movement (and
others) by waiting for three hours-After eating most dairy products and
before eating meat or fowl, some people wait half an hour, while others
simply rinse their mouths.
[Return to top of
Of course you can! There are thousands upon thousands
who already incorporate kashrut into their daily lives. You can start by
looking for foods with a mark of kosher certification known as a hekhsher.
There are a number of such certification marks. One
should be careful with foods marked only with a "K," unless you know for
certain that the product is under appropriate rabbinic supervision (the
letter "K" is not a trademarked symbol).
You can phone or write the company to ask who provides
their kashrut supervision. There are also websites which give regular
kashrut updates. These can be found with a simple Internet search.
Fresh fruit and produce require no hekhsher, nor do
canned or frozen fruits and vegetables which have nothing added. The
Conservative Movement permits the eating of American-made cheese without a
hekhsher, although there are Movement authorities who do require
If you think you are in a place where finding food
with a hekhsher is difficult, do not despair. It has never been easier to
keep kosher, given the proliferation of kosher products on the marker.
There are hundreds of national brands on the shelves
which have been prepared under supervision. If these are hard to find, try
the health or vegetarian sections of your favorite food store.
You can also make any kitchen kosher. After everything
is scrubbed clean, run the oven through the self-clean cycle or turn it to
its highest temperature for one half hour.
Metal utensils and metal cookware should be thoroughly
cleaned and immersed in boiling water. Broiler pans, baking pans and
barbecue grills (things which do not rely on liquid in order to cook and
come in direct contact with flame) need to be cleaned and heated until red
Soak glassware for 72 hours, changing the water every
24 hours. Used porous materials (like wood and stoneware) cannot be made
kosher, nor can plastics, which will melt if raised to the requisite high
Don't forget!--you'll need separate sets of dishes,
cookware and utensils for both milk and meat (at separate times, of
course). Although it is not strongly encouraged, under certain
circumstances, you may use one set of glass dishes in your kitchen. And
there are always paper plates--kosher and recyclable!
[Return to top of
You can still keep separate cookware, dishes and
utensils, as well as sponges (one for meat, one for dairy) to go with
them. Your food can be set aside in the cabinet and refrigerator.
Double wrapping in foil allows food to be heated in
any oven. Be sure to explain your requirements to your roommates. Most
will be surprisingly understanding!
KOACH, your Hillel and your home rabbi (or any local
Conservative rabbi) are all available to you as resources for learning,
guidance and specific questions. Our bibliography will be helpful as well.
When everyone else is eating without restrictions, or
when that hamburger at the nearest fast-food restaurant seems so
appealing, don't give up!
Living a life where your most basic and regular need
has an aura of sanctity can be uplifting. It will give you a sense of
connection with your people and it will infuse every day with spirituality
and God's presence.
All of God's creatures eat to sustain their bodies.
Kashrut also enables us to sustain our souls.