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Apr 13

Keeping kosher

My daughter Jessica is (again) prompting me to think hard about where I am, religiously.  Or spiritually – if I can be a little bit nitpicking.  Because, to me, religion has always been sort of rigid and dogmatic and not really something I can relate to.  Spirituality – that’s something I can really think about and form a serious opinion on.

Jessie Bug Noodle wants to start keeping kosher.  Because Marc is always, unilaterally, in favor of increasing our level of Jewish observance, I’m the one who’s really agonizing over this.  Do I want to keep kosher?

Keeping kosher, the way I see it (freely admitting that I’m very far from Jewish expert on these things), can mean a couple of different things.  One way to keep kosher is to follow the Talmudic rules (which are legion – it can get VERY complicated).  It’s not just a matter of not eating milk and meat together – it’s about using separate dishes and utensils, it’s about scrutinizing labels and following the letter of the law.  It’s not just no bacon or pork chops, it’s about maybe no broccoli because it might have microscopic bugs that are too tiny to see, and bugs aren’t kosher.

The biblical kosher way to eat is simply not to cook a kid in the mother’s milk.  To understand that in order to eat meat at all, an animal had to die to provide you with the meat, and to further compound the insult by cooking the meat in the milk that was meant to sustain his life is morally wrong.  Okay – that sounds right to me.  I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m not unaware that an animal’s life had to be extinguished in order to provide me with this chicken breast.  I’ve been pretty good about not mixing beef with milk.

I love milk, on a side note.  Just really do.  I grew up drinking it at every meal, and it’s still my favorite beverage, by far.  So adjusting to this – I essentially just stopped eating red meat.  But I do mix chicken and dairy, or turkey and dairy.

For me, keeping kosher is more about elevating the act of eating to a higher level.  It’s about really thinking about what you’re eating, being grateful for it.  Keeping kosher is more about sitting down to eat, taking a moment to be grateful for the food and the animal that provided it.  Not that I always do it, I’m a fan of reading and eating, or grabbing a handful of cereal and munching it while I’m cleaning.  But I understand the theory behind making the act of eating holy, and try to do it as often as I can.

Jessica wants to step it up – and I want to honor that.  Jessie is a child with a strong desire for religion, and for spirituality.  I got turned off to organized religion as a young kid – my CCD teacher sent home notes to my mother requesting that she speak to me about asking too many questions in class.  I learned early that religion is one size fits all, and if it doesn’t fit you, they’ll try to cram you in anyway.  But for my daughter – religion is very different.  On purpose – I very deliberately made this choice, to raise her in the Jewish tradition – where she’ll be encouraged to ask questions, she’ll be encouraged to be who she is.   I love the lessons she’s learning about life when she’s at Hebrew School.  I actively encourage her in her religion – I make Shabbat dinner, I bless her and light candles with her.

But now she’s started scanning labels, looking for the mark that says that it’s kosher.   Right now, it’s still a game with her, “look, Mama, I found it!” and I praise her copiously for her attention to detail.  Sam is even getting in on it, asking occasionally if a meal is kosher or not.

I’m easing my way into keeping kosher – trying to balance out my instinctive desire to rebel against religious dogma and my need to honor and encourage my daughter in her own religious expression.

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