Image: Shakshuka, an Israeli dish of eggs and tomatoes. Photo by calliopejen1, click for copyright notice.
This is an update of a post from a couple of years ago. Life changes, and the journey continues.
Knowing the basics of Jewish dietary law and keeping kosher in real life are two different things. The best way to learn how to keep kosher is to learn from someone who actually does it.
When I decided to learn how to keep kosher, my rabbi pointed me to a woman in our Reform congregation who had kept a kosher kitchen for many years. Ethelyn Simon gave me a tour of her kitchen, and then we sat and chatted about it over a nosh. She reassured me that I could indeed do it – and then when she heard that I was about to relocate to Jerusalem to start rabbinical studies, she recommended that I wait and begin in Jerusalem.
“You can start with an already-kosher kitchen in your rental,” she said, “Israel is the easiest place in the world to learn how to keep kosher.”
It didn’t work out exactly that way, but close enough. My apartment did not have a kosher kitchen. I needed a ground-level apartment, and what I found was a basement office with a countertop, sink, fridge and bathroom in it. My landlord was a secular Israeli who thought that my whole project was pretty silly: a woman? Reform? in Jerusalem to become a rabbi? My desire for a kosher kitchen was just icing on the silly cake.
Undeterred, I cleaned the fridge thoroughly. I acquired a hot plate, a skillet, and two saucepans (one meat, one dairy.) I acquired two dish pans (one red, one white,) and enough dishes to serve meat to two people and dairy to two people. I was horrified at what it all cost. Keeping kosher is not cheap, even if you buy the cheapest things you can find.
I lucked out: a classmate who grew up keeping kosher lived right around the corner. My method of study was to have David over regularly, then he’d tell me where I was messing up. No cream in the coffee after a meat meal! Switch that dishpan, girl! After a year of this in Israel, setting up a more conventional kosher kitchen in Los Angeles was a snap.
I kept strict traditional kashrut for six years. When I moved back to the SF Bay Area, I set my kitchen up to be kosher and quickly realized that with my family back in the picture on a daily basis, it wasn’t practical. A kosher kitchen requires buy-in from every member of the household. Very soon I was manufacturing a drama of self-martyrdom: “Oh poor me, I have to do all the cooking and cleaning, because no one else cares to keep kosher!”
I decided that my attitude was (1) stupid and (2) bad for my family life. I backed off on the kosher kitchen, for reasons of shalom bayit, peace in the home. That seems to me to be an appropriate set of priorities.
I am glad that I learned about kashrut, and glad that I lived the lifestyle long enough that I can teach about it with authority. It’s an important part of the Jewish tradition, and an important part of life for many Jews. It taught me a sacred mindfulness about food that I would not have learned in any other way.
This past September a series of changes in my health moved me back toward kosher observance. I no longer eat meat, so my kitchen has only dairy to worry about. My kitchen is still not kosher by traditional standards, but it has been a comfort to me to be able to reframe a medical necessity with a spiritual nechemta (consolation.)
What’s next? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll bring in assistance to really kasher the kitchen. Or perhaps I’ll continue becoming more concerned about the sources of eggs and dairy products. For me, Jewish food practice is a spiritual journey.
2 thoughts on “Kashrut: A Spiritual Journey”
Rabbi: A Christian is learning to become a funeral director at our Jewish funeral home, which we applaud. Confounding us is his refusal to wear a yamacka during funeral services. Our funeral director and assistant funeral director maintain that they cannot force him to comply. Your thoughts?