Kosher or not Kosher, that is the question

I keep Kosher in my home. Unless you ask most people, in which case, I don’t. Let me explain: Torah commands Jews to eat only animals that chew their cud and have split hooves. No horse or rabbit on the menu and, of course, no pork. It also commands us to eat only fish that has both fins and scales, so no shellfish, and no unagi (eel sushi). Finally, it forbids us to cook a kid (baby goat) in its mother’s milk. Although this latter point seems to have been more about which rituals were appropriate than a dietary prescription per se, its spirit, which was to avoid cruelty and to keep life and death separate, has spilled over into Kashrut, for the better.

No moral or ethical explanation is given alongside the dietary commandments in the Torah, but since Torah itself is essentially a Code of ethics, it stands to reason that Kashrut is first and foremost about being holy.

Kosher chicken parmesan, anyone?

Not only do I follow the dietary rules laid out in Torah as mentioned above, I expand on them a bit by not mixing any meat from any mammal with dairy, hot or cold. But I do mix poultry and dairy, hot and cold, because a chicken does not equate milk with life, or with its mother, therefore I see nothing unethical or cruel in my “escalopes de poulet à la crême”.

I also tend to treat fish as meat (according to traditional Kashrut, it is considered “parve”, i.e. neither meat not dairy).

Kosher or organic?

That one is a real struggle for me. If Kashrut is about eating in an ethical and healthy way, meat that is produced within our current mass agriculture system should not qualify. I feel the same way about fruit and vegetables that have been doused in pesticides and other chemicals known to be toxic to humans, by the way.

Even the rules of shechitah (ritual slaughter of animals that is meant to ensure as little pain and distress as possible) seem to have fallen victim to the demands of the market, what with machines flipping cows upside down in front of a giant blade… eesh.

I am not naive, I understand that with the demand for Kosher meat as it is, the idea of a lone shochet slaughtering hundreds of cows is not the most realistic. And yet I wonder if that is not the only way we are supposed to eat meat: a healthy animal raised in its natural environment, slaughtered humanely and in a dignified way by a local shochet, processed and sold by a community butcher. We would eat a lot less meat, we would eat much better meat. Right now, I feel it is more ethical, more “holy”, to eat organic meat than Kosher meat. I wish I could find meat that is both Kosher and organic, but the eco-Kosher movement has not yet gained enough ground to make it an option, at least, I haven’t come across a good one yet.


2 thoughts on “Kosher or not Kosher, that is the question

  1. Zhu says:

    Side note: I recently visited the Rideau Bakery (you probably know it) and learned it was a kosher bakery. I had no idea, not that it makes any difference. Just “personal trivia” 🙂

    I find dietary commandments fascinating because they truly make sense if you know the reason behind them. Same goes with various faiths who have similar requirements.

    Another side note… I like the reference to the Torah as a “Code of ethics”. As an atheist, it makes me see the holy book differently.

    Alright… I’ll stop here since I already have to catch up on Shabbat 😉

  2. Hi Zhu, thanks for reading my posts so faithfully! (I happily return the favour ;)) I do see Torah as a Code of Ethics, i.e., the way G-d wants us to behave, as told through stories, for the most part which, taken out of their context, can all too easily be construed as meaning exactly the opposite of what they do mean. For example, some commandments having to do with crime punishment are (rightfully) considered quite barbaric, like cutting a thief’s hand. No one in their right mind would consider that an adequate sentence today, and some literalists of any religion who do are, in my opinion, tragically missing the whole point.

    In the context of time and place, cutting someone’s hand was a much more lenient punishment than death, for example, or senseless beatings, or endless detention. So the lessons that we should draw from such antiquated or otherwise incomprehensible commandment is that punishment for crime should be proportioned to the crime committed, and that each crime should only be punished once.That is the principle that underlies our judicial and legal systems today. The nature of the punishment recommended also implies that, if you use your G-d given hand to commit a crime, you are no longer worthy of that hand, and you “lose” it, symbolically, if not literally (and in fact I wonder if this particular commandment was ever meant to be taken literally, but that’s another -translation related- issue).

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