My blog is about Jewish food… and Jewish food is, by its very nature, kosher food. There are Jews all over the world, and each community has developed their own amazing regional dishes. Kosher is the thing that ties all of these dishes together. The spiritual dietary laws of kashrut are written in the Torah, Judaism’s central religious text. While many modern Jews keep kosher, observance is not nearly as prevalent as it was in centuries past. In fact, most of my Jewish friends pay little—if any—attention to the kosher laws. And yet, you can’t write a blog about Jewish food without acknowledging the importance of the Jewish dietary laws.
As most of you know, I am a recent convert to Judaism. Even before converting, I made a conscious effort to adhere to some of the kosher laws because of my interest in Jewish cuisine. As I learned more about the spiritual side of Judaism, I began to appreciate the significance of the kosher laws, which made me more excited to incorporate them into my life. How a person chooses to keep kosher, however, is a big question. There are many different levels of observance and several ways to interpret the laws. The choice to keep kosher is a very personal, and sometimes complicated, decision.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the kosher laws, please see my website’s Kosher Pages for an introduction to the subject. I am by no means a kosher expert, but I am somebody who passionately loves Jewish food. I created my blog to introduce people to Jewish cuisine; it was never my intention to become an authority on all things kosher. I provide kosher information at the end of each recipe (pareve, meat, dairy) as a service my readers who do keep kosher. However, the focus of my blog is Jewish food, not the laws of kashrut. If you are interested in pursuing a kosher lifestyle, I suggest that you speak with your Rabbi or visit a local synagogue for further guidance.
When it comes to my own personal dietary rules, I would describe myself as kosher-style, not strictly kosher. I do adhere to several of the kosher laws in my day-to-day life. In fact, I take kashrut far more seriously than my Jewish family does (and I’m a convert… go figure!). But on certain points, I remain flexible. Kosher is only one part of my overall food philosophy. For the most part, I attempt to eat Biblically, meaning I enjoy the simple foods and spices that have been around for thousands of years. I try to use only natural ingredients in my recipes; I prefer eating whole, organic foods that have not been processed. That’s why I’m especially attracted to the Sephardic side of Jewish cuisine. Sephardic food has roots in the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia. Many of the dishes I’ll be sharing with you this year have Biblical origins. They are simple, unprocessed, and healthy.
The kosher laws are written in the Torah, though their meaning has been interpreted in different ways throughout the centuries. Rabbinic Kosher law is based on the writings of the Talmud, in which the ancient Rabbis interpreted the Torah laws and created a series of detailed food regulations that are still adhered to by Jews today. There is another way of eating known as Biblical Kosher, which is largely adhered to by Messianic Jews. They find inspiration directly in the Torah, rather than the Talmud’s reading of the laws. The majority of kosher Jews today follow Rabbinic Kosher law rather than Biblical Kosher law.
In my own life, I draw inspiration from the Rabbinic Kosher laws. They influence my eating habits, but I am not bound to them as an Orthodox Jew would be. For example, I usually take a short “digestion break” between a meat meal and a dairy meal. While this seems perfectly reasonable to my kosher-style standards, some Orthodox Jews feel you should wait as long as eight hours between a dairy and meat meal. If you’re wondering how long you should wait, that’s a question for your Rabbi, not the Shiksa in the Kitchen.
Though I usually eat kosher-style, I am also a firm believer in living life to the fullest and enjoying unique food opportunities that come my way. If I am given the rare chance to dine in a world-renowned French bistro, I’m not going to ask if there is butter in the meat sauce. If a Southern grandmother asks me to try her generations-old family recipe for chicken pot pie, I won’t hesitate to have a taste. While I keep kosher-style in my home, I also believe that we are put on this earth to enjoy the gifts of our Creator. Restrictions are important for spiritual growth, but I also feel it’s important to be open and willing to try new things. In other words, no regrets.
There are many different levels of kosher observance. The majority of our Jewish friends don’t keep kosher at all. Some avoid non-kosher meats. Some keep kosher for Passover, but the rest of the year it doesn’t cross their minds. I was shocked last month when our Ashkenazi Jewish friends from Israel showed up at our house carrying a bag of pork rinds! While many people don’t pay much attention to the kosher laws, I personally appreciate them, not just for their spiritual significance but also for their ancillary health benefits (cream sauce on meat is a recipe for cholesterol and digestion issues). I happily live a kosher-style life, because that’s what works for me.
Now I’d like to hear from all of you. What level of kosher observance, if any, do you keep in your daily life? Are you new to kosher? Have you been kosher your whole life? Is this whole kosher thing simply a mystery to you? Discuss! :)