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February 23, 2009

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I converted about 7 years ago. After we got married (shortly after my conversion was complete), we kept kosher for a year. I enjoyed the challenge of living kosher when everyone around us thought we were crazy. (Not for the shock factor - but because we could actually DO IT without any help!)

And I would have kept doing it - but I got very sick when I was pregnant with Muffin and all the foods that the doctor suggested weren't kosher. Long story short, hubby put his feet down HARD and said he was done.

It's not easy giving up what you grew up with. You have to be passionate about it - and really want to do it. But I'm also a big fan in going with the spirit of the law instead of looking at all the loop holes you're not following. May you have an easy change.

PS Passover will occur right over your change - which will make it that much easier to remove wheat :)

I was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, and oddly enough, although I am SO NOT religious, seem to be the only one who follows the old "don't drink alcohol and don't dance" thing. I mean, neither is because of the religion - alcohol tastes bad to me, and I have 2 left feet.

But my sisters, who are completely religious, can both throw down some serious amounts of alcohol, and have no issues with dancing. It just seems to me to be another way to pick and choose what they want to follow out of their "rule book." (They don't think "God Hates Shrimp" is funny, for instance.)

The Lutherans don't have a lot of food rules, but I'm going to try to be more observant of Lent this year.

Recent lurker (is that possible :p). Anyway, I'm LDS and we have what we call the Word of Wisdom, which basically is no coffee, no tea, no alcohol, no tobacco. Some consider themselves to be more 'observant' and do no caffeine, focus more on grains, more meat in winter with pretty much no meat other seasons, that sort of thing.

I have some points of information and some thoughts I hope you will find helpful.

"Some have postulated that the purpose of kashrut originally was to separate the Jews (okay, Israelites) from their pagan neighbors."

The corollary, of course, is that kashrut promoted national cohesiveness, is something those in the Jewish community continue to share. And keeping kosher helps a convert to join the club; as you note, you will go from "they" to "we."

"Of course I have to be open to the possibility that what I will find is that observing kashrut is not something I find meaningful"

If you find no meaning through the experiment as you plan to run it, how will you determine whether it is the case that kashrut to any degree holds no meaning for you or in fact you need a higher degree of kashrut, a greater departure, something specifically and only about keeping kosher, to find meaning?

"We weight the sustainability/animal-friendliness of meat over rabbinical supervision, and since there aren't many options for meat that's both happy and kosher, we're going with happy."

Since you say there do exist a few options, if not a huge variety, and your experiment is only for a short time, why not run the experiment with meat that is both kosher and what you refer to as "happy"?

It's not all ritual. You'll find tangible differences in the meat, most noticeably a high difference in blood content.

Here are some resources for kosher "happy" meat, the first two with locations local to you, the others mail-order:

http://www.kolfoods.com/d.c.
http://www.wisekosher.com/storepa.asp
http://www.kosher.com/store/kosher-meat/kosher-organic-beef
http://www.kosher.com/store/kosher-meat/kosher-chicken/organic-chicken
http://kosherorganic.com/

And a major kosher producer, right in central Penna., might be more "happy" than you would have thought:

http://www.empirekosher.com/zip.php?contentpage=pagesnew/history.htm

Remember that if you go on a trip somewhere where there happens to be desirable meat available locally, and your transporting of it home with you is only incidental to your trip, it counts as local.

You can show there is interest in these products by purchasing them. This can lead to stores keeping them in stock and companies offering greater variety. Why not support these products just like you'd support any worthwhile product of which you'd like to see more?

Many people who keep kosher are interested in organic meat with improved ethical standards. One need not choose between the two, as there are options, and one can always work to add more options for one's family (shechting your own fowl), one's community (organizing meat shares), and beyond (see KOL, above).

Investing in a freezer can be useful in the kosher home not immediately local to sources of desired meat.

"So: No treyf. (Pork, shellfish, bottomfeeders, etc.)"

You mean to say, no treif breeds, yes? Because without hashgacha, you will be getting meat that is of course treif due to lack of kosher shechting and likely also issues such as:

-individual animals that would have been found to be unfit before or after slaughter
-blood not drained at time of slaughter
-forbidden parts of animal not removed
-meat from forbidden breeds mixed in with or mislabeled as meat from kosher breeds, also a danger with fish, perhaps more so, and with fish eggs
-cooking of fish such as for canning before proper evisceration
-partial cooking of meat, such as use of hot water to aid in removing feathers from poultry, prior to kashering
-too much time passed after slaughter without kashering or proper handling in lieu of timely kashering
-soaking and salting not done, though doing so would be kind of pointless without much of the above
-broiling of meat that must be broiled not done

There are also the issues of kosher utensils and equipment and contact with problematic foods, but you seem to indicate you aren't going to consider utensils and incidental ingredients.

As for "bottomfeeders," that has nothing to do with determining kashrut of fish. Some are kosher and some aren't. If they have proper fins and scales, they are permitted; otherwise, they are not.

There are breeds of fowl and especially fish that are not kosher that one might assume are kosher breeds if one goes only by common name.

"Separate milk and meat, and wait at least 45 minutes between."

I'm curious about your source for 45 minutes of waiting. The history of the various durations of wait time after fleishigs is an area I've been casually researching recently. I've never heard 45 minutes. Also, the way you phrase the above makes it sound as if you might be waiting after milchigs; is that the case?

"What about the hechsher -- the little K or U on the food in the box?"

The U is actually OU (a U inside an O), for Orthodox Union. The other big certifying agencies in the United States are Star-K (a K in a star), Kof-K (the Hebrew letter Kof with a K), and the OK (a K inside an O). A letter K by itself does not denote a certifying agency; as a single letter is not trademarkable and any company can choose to put it on its label, a plain K typically does not actually denote a supervised product.

Checking ingredients is always smart, and so-called kosher-by-ingredients is a common method of kashrut observance for non-meat products, but the supervising agencies can sleuth out information not necessarily obvious in this day and age, like a meat, dairy, fish, or insect derivative. That mono-diglyceride, for instance, in your dairy snack might come from meat, rendering the snack a dairy-meat combination, which you state you do plan to avoid, and a beverage might contain an additive for red coloring that comes from an insect.

"I don't really care if the factory also processes milk if the bread doesn't actually contain whey"

Cross-contamination is a big issue, as the highly allergic can tell you. Without supervision, how can you be sure the bread doesn't in fact contain whey? If the equipment wasn't properly cleaned between production lines, it very well may. What is listed as ingredients isn't necessarily all that a product might contain.

Items that are not even ingredients at all but are used in production can end up in food. Kashrut agencies check out even greases used on machinery. Foaming agents used in production of maple syrup aren't listed as ingredients, but often animal fat, most commonly pig fat, is used.

"(Provided it's Applegate Farms, of course...)"

If you are going to be that specific about a supplier of "happy" meat, why not be just as specific and procure kosher "happy" meat?

The Jewish part of my family couldn't have been less kosher -- they hosted crab feasts frequently, and my great-aunt developed a recipe for ham stuffed with oysters. I grew up to become a Catholic, but I've had to develop my own dietary rules to appease my wonky digestive system. No beef, no pork, no lamb. No dairy. So though it wasn't for religious reasons, I've had to make some of the same adjustments. Giving up dairy was, as you suspect, the biggest change and the one that still gives me the most trouble, especially at parties, when any creamy-looking food or pastry-wrapped something is automatically suspect.

My motivation is different -- dairy gives me Badass, and you know exactly how not fun that is, so I am quite determined to stay off the moo juice. But all I can say is, you adapt. You'll build a mental catalog of recipes that don't involve dairy. (I've preferred to go with things that naturally don't have dairy, rather than trying to substitute, though I will mention that Silk yogurt mixed with honey is quite delicious, and would probably be awesome on pie.)

I'll be interested to hear how this goes.

Good points, ploni. The first, about promoting cohesion, I figured went without saying (though I forget that not everybody has spent the past months immersed in background reading).

Thank you for the links -- I'll check them out. And Empire is the local kosher supplier of chicken around here, and sometimes has organic. Very good point about creating demand -- less of an issue on the east coast, probably an impossible task in Tennessee!

And yes, no treyf breeds.

45 minutes: various rabbis, no official source. That's a minimum.

Ingredients: Well, I don't generally eat things with mystery additives, and we're not planning on keeping particularly observant outside the home, so that's not something I'll be concerned about for this. And I know what cochineal is. :) I did not know about the syrup, though!

I just checked the two processed foods we have in the house (pb crackers and frozen mandarin chicken), and neither has any unidentifiable ingredients. We don't eat very much processed food.

Also, when I'm not properly kashering my kitchen, how could I realistically worry about factory cross-contamination?

The bigger issue here, i think, is that I'm going to be calling it "kosher" when no Orthodox or most Conservatives would. I repeat: this is NOT rabbinical kosher! And I'm okay with that -- here is where I bust out the "Rabbi-said-so"! Is that okay to do in the context of Judaism? Well, it depends on who you ask. I'm okay with that too.

And the Applegate Farms thing? That was an attempt at humor. They're local and sustainable lunch meat.

I don't mind being challenged on this stuff, just so y'all know -- it gives me the opportunity to refine my thinking and practice. I may not change my mind, and you (collective) probably won't change yours, but... (say it with me:) I'm okay with that!

We keep kosher. My husband grew up orthodox, so for us it was all or nothing. We started last year for our kids, plus now my in-laws can actually eat in our house.(They never would before, and some of our friends wouldn't either.) We live in central NJ, so there's plenty of kosher restaurants to go to and the ShopRite near us has a kick-ass Kosher Experience section.

With that said- it's still hard. We almost never eat meat, because kosher meat is horrifically, out-of-this-world expensive. I refuse, REFUSE to pay $45 for one lousy brisket. It kills me to pay $7 for a pack of American cheese. Right now, because of the whole Agriprocessors mess, we're looking into the local butchers for alternatives. And someone needs to explain to me why all the kosher chicken I get still has some feathers on it. Yuck.

I have two sinks, two ovens, and different plate/silverware sets for meat, dairy, and Passover. But it's infinitely easier to eat off paper, especially with kids, so that's usually what we do, except for Friday night. Our biggest challenge is remembering to switch the microwave between milk and meat, and explaining to babysitters what the deal is. Also, sadly, I have to watch my own mother like a hawk when she's in my kitchen. She likes the IDEA of us keeping kosher, but doesn't like to abide by the rules. She's constantly bringing us food we have to decline, and I've had to fling myself at her to stop her from putting dairy in the meat oven. She's what my husband calls a pick-and-choose. She finds a cheeseburger abhorrent, but has no issues with shrimp. Which makes no sense.

I will say that when we made the switch, it was while our kitchen was being gutted and redone, making it so, so much easier and I was happy to notice that many of the items we already bought were kosher. Like Girl Scout cookies and International Delight French Vanilla creamer. You know, the necessities. :)

Good luck, I think it's awesome you're taking whatever steps you can.

I grew up a quite-observant Catholic. Which doesn't involve many dietary rules, except during Lent. We followed all those in our family.

I'm now what I like to call a Hippie Catholic. Catholicism a la Dorothy Day, Vatican II, etc. I've rejected a lot of the rules I learned growing up. But not the spirit. Plenty of Catholics would say I'm not Catholic at all, no doubt. Luckily I don't believe they have the last word on that. :)

But ironically, I've expanded the Lenten meatless habit to my entire life. Honestly, I just don't like meat that much. It's not a sacrifice, and meat is so expensive. I love fish, on the other hand. It's easier to find sustainable, healthy fish; also easier and quicker to cook. It's affordable too, and my kids like it. So there you go.

We're Reform, and I converted going on 3 1/2 years ago. As our observance deepened, and it came time to have the kashrut talk several years ago, we made the decision to go vegetarian, which obviates a lot of the day to day decisions about practice. My husband is definitely of the mindset that although we don't actually have two sets of plates, we're obligated to understand the dietary laws. We are watching a lot of our likeminded friends who do eat meat struggle with local vs. organic vs. kosher certified vs. humanely raised vs. a hundred other worthy goals. One thing that we talk about a lot is that a lot of it comes down to mindful eating. The reason that kashrut speaks to me in pricinple is that it is a reminder that every act, even one driven by instinct, has the potential to be holy, and every act is an expression of conviction and purpose.
If you haven't already done so, you might be really interested in checking out Hekhsher Tzedek (loosely translated as Justice Certification...Tzedek actually translates better as Righteous) which is the Conservative movement's proposed complimentary certification, which addresses issues of animal welfare and human rights.

Hi Jo,

I'm a lurker, always enjoy your writings. Reading your post, I thought of this article, which is at least a good read if you haven't seen it:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/magazine/12kosher-t.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=kosher%20butcher&st=cse

Delurking here (I think - maybe I've commented before? No matter...) I keep kashrut in the house on the conservative ticket (one oven/dishwasher etc) with two sets of silverware, three sets of utensils (meat, dairy, pareve) and glass dishes (multi-taksers!) I switch everything for Pesach. For most items I use the "read-the-ingredients" shopping method, but my preference is to find a product with some sort of kosher indication marked on the package.

However, all bets are off when I leave the house. I adore lobster and like my bacon extra-crispy.

Basically, this is how I was raised. For me the message was that "whatever you do out in the world is your business, but our home is a special place" and the rules created a kind of warmth that I can still feel when I think of a holiday meal cooking in my mother's kitchen, with my much-missed grandmother in attendance. I hope that I can replicate that experience for my daughter (and hopefully her sibling one day). My husband (who doesn't eat any pork product or shellfish) doesn't really understand how I can live the contradiction, and I think I'll have to change my hypocritcal restaurant-eatin' ways when my daughter is old enough to wonder about such things. But for now it works for us.

Good luck with your experiment.

We keep kosher at home, and I do not eat meat out, but my husband observes no rules except his own bizarre food likes/dislikes. We are both Jewish by birth, but raised in diametrically different communities, so keeping kosher was natural for me, very difficult for him. We still have 3 sets of every day dishes and flatware - dairy, meat and "Sam."

However, after 16 years of living like this, I think he feels pretty comfortable with the whole thing. Sometimes he really surprises me with an insight into kashrut.

Choosing to do this as an adult was, for me, mostly about being mindful of my food. I do find it exclusionary sometimes, but as someone who mostly lives like a vegetarian that has been a part of my life for a very long time.

I have been working hard in my not-on-the-East-Coast community to get access to "happy" and "kosher" meat. It is possible to do, even here. And totally worth it. I think buying meat that has been schected properly adds a whole level of spirituality to the endeavor of keeping kosher.

"The reason that kashrut speaks to me in principle is that it is a reminder that every act, even one driven by instinct, has the potential to be holy, and every act is an expression of conviction and purpose."

This is it, exactly, hearhoofbeats.

I think the whole topic of religion and food is absolutely fascinating. I'm an Orthodox Christian, and we keep a lot of fairly strict fasts. Times, like Lent, where we don't eat meat or dairy (or fish - except shellfish, bizarrely). We're also supposed to keep the same fast every Wednesday and Friday - and believe me, it's easier to do it for a whole 40 days than to remember it's Wednesday. It does strange things to you, because it's supposed to simplify things and make you more prayerful - but some days you just obsess about things or get sucked into the world of vegan egg-replacer and non-dairy ice cream.

As much as I complain, part of me loves the forced discipline and the communal aspect, and boy does it make you appreciate that fried egg for breakfast.

How interesting! And thanks for asking... although my answer might not be so interesting to you because we're not Jewish.

I've never eaten pork or the other forbidden animals of Leviticus 11, but I think that I may have eaten meat with cheese a few times in my meat eating years (before I was 19 years old). I became vegan then and was one for a while, but went back to eating dairy and eggs slowly but surely in the last 10 years. I've eaten fish sparingly (like a 2-3 times a year) too...

So, that's basically it about us, I think most of the foods we buy (we don't buy a lot of processed foods either) may be Kosher. Ah, one thing I've struggled with over the years is jello, since kosher jello is really hard to find and should a product made of pigs and/or cow bones be eaten by vegetarians to begin with?

My husband, the scientist sometimes says that one shouldn't bother much, since it's not really meat... oh well. And gelatin is present in a lot of products (e.g. fruit snacks).

The diet restrictions speak to me as I flippantly suggested to my husband that we stop eating mammals. Just a thought. And he took the idea and ran with it. I've never been a pork fan and beef appealed less and less. (And just never ate lamb or any other mammal meats.) It has been about 2 years now. He takes it all very seriously; I am less strict.

I think the tension has been greatest for me when we're out. The announcement, the inflexibility. I feel like bad guests, weird restaurant patrons, difficult. And we eat chicken. :) I admire your experiment - I think the Silene's comment about keeping the house special and being less strict in the world resonated with me. I don't think I had even voiced in my head what bugged me about the non mammal eating. It isn't that I want to eat mammal, I just have more a conformist streak than I realized.

Good luck!

I am amused by the first commenter who is a convert who wanted to do kosher...And her husband (who I suspect is Jewish by birth) was like ENOUGH.

Yeah, to my husband's mom kosher is just some evil plot to enslave women (having grown up in a kosher house) and my husband is not at all inclined to do kosher and me, non-Jew am all: Let's be kosher! (I should say that his family was definitely Jewish but Reform--and Reform kind of reminds me sometimes of how like a mainstream Methodist thinks about a Bible-believin' Pentecostalist. I'm sure there are reform who are kosher but I think it's sort of annoying sometimes to be told what kind of Jew to be just like Methodists would get annoyed at those Petacostals?)

I also sort of encourage/make him go to the more conservative temple for the services than he probably would otherwise. I just like that one better. It's more religious-like than the one where they all sit around kind of a plastic table (i.e., the Reform service).

Can you tell I'm Catholic?

Oh and I don't eat pork!!! He loves bacon too much to ever be kosher.

I think we'll go semi-kosher by going veg. That could work. That's what my plan is...eventually.

I've kept kosher my whole life, I grew up in a traditional Conservative home. Seperate dishes, only kosher meat, but we would buy other products by ingredients (i.e. only vegetarian products that didn't have a hechsher). We waited 3 hours between meat and milk, and we would eat at non-kosher restaurants but only vegetarian/fish food. I have to say that keeping kosher meant a lot more to me when I lived in America than now that I live in Israel (ironic isn't it). When I was in the U.S. it was part of my identity a framework with which to live my life. Now that I live in Israel I really have to go out of my way to not keep kosher and it's kind have turned it into a non-issue. So, my point is, enjoy keeping kosher, however you guys decide to go about it, because in my mind the most important part of kashrut is the context that it brings to your lifestyle. That's the great thing about all of the laws of Judaism, they allow you to bring meaning into every little thing you do in your daily life just by being aware that you are doing things consciously and differently.

This is fairly interesting to me. I grew up in a Jewish home that did a very similar type of thing, what is sometimes called "kosher style". I became more observant as a young teen, and now we (along with my rabbi husband), keep your full-on Rabbinic kosher, symbols on everything, etc. And we live not in a particularly densely Jewish area (let's just say y'all is part of our vocabulary these days), so it is logistically challenging sometimes. I think to me, aside from the things you've spoken about, which are very true, the thing that commits me to a "rabbinic" model is my faith. I believe that the Torah was given by G-d, and along with it a system of laws and oral teachings. Those were passed down to teach us exactly how to do G-d's will. So what others see as restriction, I see as opportunity. Following so many detail oriented rules is one way to connect with G-d throughout the day. But..if I pick and choose which details i feel like and which i don't, then am I serving G-d or myself? If I am only doing what I feel like doing, then perhaps I am serving myself. And although I am commited to kashrut, this is something i have to remind myself of in other areas that are more challenging for me at this time. To be fully commited and subjugating my will. Which by the way, sounds a lot harder than it is. Really it's about infusing spirituality into each decision we make, like you said before. OK, hope that makes sense, it's kind of hard to write coherently in a little box, while procrastinating. Good luck with your endeavor.

Atlanta-based Griller's Pride delivers kosher meats to Nashville, including all-natural chicken, turkey from the same producer, and sometimes all-natural and/or organic beef.

http://www.grillerspride.com/WSWrapper.jsp?mypage=StoreOutOfTownDlvrySched.htm

http://www.grillerspride.com/WSWrapper.jsp?mypage=AboutChaiChicken.htm

Grins Cafe is a "crunchy" kosher establishment on the Vanderbilt University campus.

http://www.bongojava.com/grins.php

http://www.bongojava.com/faqs.php

The local Federation site has a history of Jewish Nashville.

http://www.jewishnashville.org/page.aspx?id=75712

I keep kosher at home , separte dishes, another set for pesach etc. but only one refrigerator (sides divided by meat and dairy), and one dishwasher. However, I love my turkey burgers with cheese; so I eat out a lot! ;) (have never had bacon or shellfish)

Ha! Look at that!! Aren't you happy you got some specialist in kosher eating in Nashville comment here? Pretty cool!

Man. I grew up eating kosher only at home, which was pretty common in my community. Interestingly, in college a rabbi told us a story of a family who kept kosher at home. Apparently, he told them: oh good: your dishes will go straight to heaven! Sigh.
At this point in my life, I don't keep kosher at all, though I do eat consciously: organic whenever possible, hormone free, low to no preservatives, etc. That's what speaks to me. I also think I have a little PTSD from my orthodox childhood (not because it was bad in and of itself, but because it just never felt right for me), so even reading the rules about kashrut again got my blood pressure up.
Anyway, best of luck for this experiment, and I'm looking forward to hearing how it goes. I do have to say that because of my childhood, I'm VERY tolerant of people's food restrictions, whatever they are...

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