Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tiptoeing towards kashrut

This is the summer of change, apparently.

For a while Mrs. Yid and I had been musing over the idea of experimenting with keeping a "kosher-ish" household, albeit in our own way. We both read Sue Fishkoff's Kosher Nation and while neither of us was inspired to toivel our plates or hunt down some Glatt, it did get us thinking a little about the intersections between kashrut and community. This is particularly relevant because our new shul hosts a potluck once a month and, foodie that she is, Mrs. Yid would like to be able to prepare something people feel comfortable eating without it being cast to the "kosher status questionable" table. We decided that since we now are in a new place, this could be a chance to try something different.

But, here's the rub: as someone who already has a wide swath of things their own body forbids them to consume (any cow dairy products), the idea of further limiting myself to only kosher meat (ok, fine, and all things pareve) is not particularly appealing (pricing and availability are also issues around here). While I can get behind the idea of being thoughtful and careful about what food you eat and where it comes from (and, in the case of proteins, how they were treated/slaughtered), I'm still not decided on whether I need my meat to have been schetched, per se. For where I am right now, I think treating kashrut as cultural foodways and guidelines (and general food taboos) makes more sense than deciding that everything I eat needs to have a hescher.

So the plan as it presently stands is this:

  • No pork or shellfish in the house (I gave Abbot Yid a giant bag of frozen shrimp yesterday after packing out our old apartment).
  • When possible, only organic poultry, beef, and other proteins (yes, it may not be kosher per se, but it's a step up in thinking about where our food comes and how it was treated. I'm already sighing in frustration upon realizing how many non-pork sausages are in pork casings. Farewell, my beloved Aidells!)
  • For now, the very few times where we mix milk and meat (goat cheese pizza is the only example I can think of) will stand, but may be revisited later.
  • Per our new shul's guidelines, we will be purchasing some new utensils and cooking implements to prepare food for their potluck and will only use them for that purpose.
  • When possible, we will try to have Shabbat meals not be obviously non-kosher. (Oh, and speaking of Shabbat, working on that screen-less Shabbat thing more.)

In the interest of shalom bayis (and in not triggering major irritation/feelings of deprivation), the idea is that these rules will be followed inside our new home but that we'll reserve the option of eating treyf out, following in the longstanding (if slightly hypocritical) footsteps of my ancestors. Our biggest concern is not wanting to alienate any friends or family, as well as not wanting to jump too far before we're ready.

I haven't told my family much about this yet, and it only came up the other day because I had to explain to Abbot Yid why I was bestowing a giant bag of shrimp upon him. His response was totally unsurprising, if slightly irritating:

[Annoyed stare:] "You're not going to get all... weird on me, are you?"



Antigonos said...

OK, you have several different issues here. One is keeping kosher as a religious duty, in which case, in your house at least [I'll address the particularly American problem with that below, b"h] should conform to halacha. Since my background is Reconstructionist, I'm willing to accept kashrut as part of the "folkways" of the Jewish people, but the bottom line is that, even if you are doing it as a means of national identity, it began as a way of "honoring" God by eating the way He ostensibly wants you to.

[End Part 1]

Antigonos said...

Part 2:
The other issue is the ethical one -- humane slaughter, etc. That's not really what kashrut is about. A lot of people think that "kosher" means cleaner, more environmentally friendly, etc. To be frank, it doesn't. Eating organic but not in accordance with halacha isn't kosher in any way.

In the early 1970s this was a big issue for me. I didn't grow up in a home that was kosher [Dad wasn't Jewish] and there were exactly zero kosher restaurants, and only one kosher butcher in Washington DC -- and it was very difficult for us to get to. I might want to live more Jewishly, but if it was going to be really unpleasant, was that what God wanted, that I should feel the mitzvot were some kind of punishment?

Antigonos said...

Part 3: [blogger doesn't let me write long comments]

It might interest you to note, if you are allergic to dairy, that many Mizrachi Jews cannot handle fresh milk [lactose intolerance], and indeed, at my late mother-in-law's, she didn't even keep a set of dairy dishes, so seldom would anyone even slurp down a leben. They do pretty well with fish, meat, veggies, fruits, and salads. And anyway, there's always tofu and its derivatives :-) The problem isn't goat's milk cheese pizza, it's pepperoni pizza, and I bet there's vegetarian pepperoni out there, especially in tree-hugging SF.

I know you don't want to go whole hog [you should excuse the expression] because kashering your kitchen is a much bigger undertaking than you imagine, and I don't know whether Beth Elderly is an Orthodox or a Conservadox shul. That makes a big difference. If the former, NOTHING Mrs. Yid makes will be edible for them, it's more than a question of a few pots and utensils*. If the latter, well, it depends on the individual congregant more.

What I suggest is that, [1] get a good standard work on the laws of Kashrut, and I mean Orthodox kashrut, even if some of it seems far out and way beyond anything you are prepared to do, just so you are acquainted with the nuts and bolts. [2] Begin thinking in terms of "kosherly acceptable meals" -- i.e. planning whether a meal is milchig or fleishig, since in my experience keeping them apart at first can be quite difficult unless you think about it. Like, no roquefort dressing on the salad with the roast beef. Begin noticing whether a product has a hechsher [OU,or K, for example; they will also note if an item is parve or dairy, etc.]

Antigonos said...

Part 4 [and last!]:

As I said, organic, unless it is KOSHER organic, isn't about keeping kosher, it's about making a statement about wanting to avoid certain chemicals [myself, I think the whole organic business is a scam, but you may think differently]

Technically, of course, anything you eat out is going to be treif unless you're in a restaurant with a hechsher you accept [and believe me, two Jews, three hechshers]. However, cold dishes are preferable to hot ones, and fish is always OK [as long as it has fins and scales] EXCEPT if it is cooked along with shellfish [the really observant will specify baking a fish in a double layer of aluminum foil and bringing the entire package to the table, as the fish can't make contact with a plate used for treif].

At some point you are going to have to deal with the two sets of everything issue, and kashering pots [some can, some can't be], stove top, and oven. But we'll wait a bit for that :-)

*If you or Mrs. Yid would like any further clarifications, or have questions, you can email me, although I make the standard disclaimer that I'm only a balabosta, not a rav. Keeping kosher is a BIG step; indeed, just when you think you've got it sussed, there's something more you never knew about. But I think that, along with conquering the aleph-bet, it IS worth doing.


Friar Yid said...

Hi Antigonos,

Thanks for the mega-comment! Your observations are all sound, though as I said, since for me right now it's more of a thought experiment about Jewish connection than specifically, "God has said this chicken is ok and this other chicken isn't," I suspect the days I scour Whole Foods in search of an OU hescher are quite a ways off.

Beth Elderly is officially Conservative (Rabbi has Recon smicha, as is quite common around these parts), and tends to operate on a pretty laisse-faire, DADT policy regarding food. However their website has official kosher guidelines that include options for households that are "not yet kosher," which basically amounts to, "use kosher ingredients (pref. with hescher), use designated pots and utensils set aside for shul use, and bring in designated serving container". As with everything else we're doing, I think it's more a matter of starting the process and becoming aware of it, then working our way to surer footing. You may have a point about organic; we'll have to see.

Honestly, the only easy part about any of this is that almost all of our meals are fleischig due to my food allergies (Mrs. Yid has also become more dairy-sensitive over the years, possibly due to withdrawal).

But on the plus side, at least we're off to a good start: last night's dinner was at a new veggie thai food place we found. Not a hog in sight.

Friar Yid said...

To clarify: Mrs. Yid knows that unless/until we actually have a kosher kitchen, her food will live on the "kosher status questionable" table. But I think she's feeling excited and motivated to start the process and at least have kashrut be part of the conversation around our family meals.

Antigonos said...

"God has said THIS chicken is OK..." That's more about shechita than kashrut, per se, although the two are linked. BTW, I don't know about SF, but the Whole Foods on Manhattan's West Side [just a block from where my son used to live], had lots of items with hechsherim, including Empire frozen chickens. But that's irrelevant.

Eating kosher, and eating ethnic, are two different things. There are small things such as breaking each egg in a recipe which calls for them into a cup before putting them into the bowl with other ingredients [check for blood spots, which disqualifies the egg from use], or being very careful about any bugs on your lettuce leaves, even ones you can barely see, are aspects of kashrut that beginners rarely think about. [My first book on kashrut was the Jewish Catalog, believe it or not, back in the early 70s; not a heavily halachic work. The article began with "Find a rabbi who likes the same kind of food you do".]
It's customary to eat dairy food on Shavuot, and I've come to think of the holiday as "Eating Italian Day", since I make cheese lasagne, or ravioli, etc. My family gets more or less traditional Thanksgiving fare at Rosh Hashanah, without knowing it, 'cause I like roast turkey with stuffing. So you don't have to be bound by "traditional" Ashkenazi cooking!

BTW, disposables are useful for your potluck suppers.