Ask the Rabbi: Should I Keep Kosher?

A reader asked: “I’m in the process of converting to Judaism. Should I keep kosher? How do I get started?”

First of all, thank you for asking. It’s always good to ask. I have some questions for you before I answer directly, though.

You say that you are in the process of conversion to Judaism. Are you studying with a rabbi? If you are, this is really a question for your rabbi, not for some random rabbi on the internet. Sit down with your rabbi and talk it through. If you don’t feel that you can ask your rabbi, then perhaps you haven’t found the right rabbi yet. Go meet some more rabbis! You need to work with someone with whom you can talk.

If you do not yet have a rabbi, you need to get one. Saying “I’m in the process of conversion” isn’t really accurate; the first step is to find your rabbi, one with whom you feel comfortable and who is willing to work with you. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve read, how much you know, how many holidays you’ve celebrated: until you get yourself a rabbi, you have not yet gotten serious about conversion. A lot of the conversion process takes place within the relationship of rabbi and candidate. If you are not sure how to find your rabbi, I’ve written about it in Choosing a Rabbi.

I know that this answer may be annoying or a disappointment. But it is really the truth: you need to talk this over with your rabbi. Here’s why:

When you become a part of the Jewish people, you do so as part of a specific community of Jews. Different communities have differing customs. If you check out the kashrut (kosher) customs in several different Jewish communities, there will be differences. The sage Hillel teaches us “Do not separate yourself from the community.” You need to learn the customs of your community. So talk to your rabbi, and follow his or her guidance.

You will get different answers from different rabbis. Depending on the congregation and the movement – and depending on the rabbi! – he or she might do any of the following:

  • suggest some reading about kashrut, and discuss it with you before you disrupt your kitchen and your household.
  • caution you about taking on too much too quickly, and direct you to explore other mitzvot first.
  • match you up immediately with someone in the congregation who is knowledgable and who keeps a kosher kitchen, so that you can learn from them.
  • direct you to a class on kashrut and encourage you to get on with it.
  • talk with you about your reasons for interest in kashrut and explore with you what observance might be right for you and fit in with your community.

So there’s my answer for you: talk to your rabbi. If you don’t have one, get one. Conversion is a long complex process, involving growth and change in many areas, and you need more than an anonymous rabbi on the computer. You need someone with whom you are willing to be honest, and who can read body language as well as email.

Make the most of your exploration of Judaism, and of the sacred partnership with your sponsoring rabbi. Good luck!

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

4 thoughts on “Ask the Rabbi: Should I Keep Kosher?”

  1. Sound answer! Maybe what was not really expected…
    We are used now, to find answers from all over the internet, in a sort of getting a ready-made attitude.
    The process of conversion is quite the opposite: a long path, beginning with the finding of a rabbi.
    Many steps demanding a constant thought of what is really asked, and what you ask for…
    In fact, pondering, wondering, observing, always in company to confront and share.
    As Rabbi Adar says: make the most of it!

  2. I’d say, before going full kosher (oy! the dishes alone!), start by giving up the pig and the seafood. Bacon is so often the first step to un-kosher, I hear. 🙂

    No bacon cheeseburgers in front of the rabbi!

  3. I converted 11 years ago with a Reform rabbi. I now belong to a Conservative synagogue where customs are different among clergy, members and within the synagogue itself. My spouse was raised in a kosher home, eats kosher (sans extra dishes), and is a professional chef who specializes in kosher catering. We have been together for 30 years and even before my conversion, I respected her enough to keep pork and shellfish out of the house. After my conversion I wanted to “go all in” so to speak and made a huge investment in extra china, glassware and silver as well as pots and pans and serving dishes. Then, news breaks on the abuses at a US kosher slaughter house, I was sickened by those revelations. Over time we have adopted a mostly vegetarian diet with an occasional serving of fish. It has allowed me to cull my kitchen wares to a more manageable size and scope. The one take away I have for someone asking such a question (and your advice rabbi was spot on) is, who else is in your home? Are they on board with this? I don’t know how anyone could do it successfully without total buy-in from other family members. Keeping kosher in the strictest terms can be isolating so take your time to discover what works for you.

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