Monday, March 21, 2011

Faith in the Food We Eat

Parshat Shemini
20 Adar Bet 5771 / March 25 – 26, 2011
Vayikra 9:1 – 11:40

Faith in the Food We Eat
by Alli Zionts, Moishe House London

This week’s Parsha, Shemini, deals with two quite important issues in contemporary Judaism, although touches upon them each in rather strange ways: obedience and kashrut, our dietary laws. Beginning on the eighth day of Aaron’s instalment as the High Priest, he successfully creates an offering to G-d as an apology for the Golden Calf, an incident which is still haunting the Jewish people. However, while Aaron is taking to his new vocation quite well, his sons’ enthusiasm ruins that joy. Nadav and Avihu, although unqualified to perform sacrifices, do one anyway, and as a result G-d kills them. This strict punishment shows us not only how stern G-d is about G-d’s commandments, but also the type of mindset one should be in to create an offering: one should be concentrated on that which is pure and holy, rather than trying to show off to G-d.

In the second part of this parsha, G-d delivers to the Jewish people the laws of kashrut—with no discernable reason attached. As the dietary laws are so important, it at first baffled me that there was no explanation to the different nuances; however, linked with the killing of Aaron’s sons, it is beginning to make more sense. We are not meant to question G-d with G-d’s reasons, especially for something which involves all people (as we all have to eat at some point).

That being said, contemporary rabbis and other Jewish thinkers have questioned how to keep kosher in a world where other factors are maybe as important—what about supporting the local community? Fair wages for work? Harming animals when there is little need? Without the rationales from G-d, we are up to creating our own “new” kashrut, having to read into the laws and interpret them for ourselves. More and more people are giving up the hecksher (kosher symbol) system for vegetarian-items, or refusing to eat kosher meat unless it is also sustainably produced. These extra-stringencies may get tedious, but I believe that it is the caution and forethought in what we eat that allows us to truly connect to our roots, and show our obedience to not only G-d, but to the world and communities in which we live.


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