ONE WORD - AN ENTIRE LIBRARY Kosher means history, dedication and tradition. Kosher and Judaism have become almost synonymous.
Principles We are all prepared to pay for those things we value and appreciate and are equally prepared to go without in order to uphold our principles and values. What we find intolerable is paying for and sacrificing to uphold principles we cherish yet being provided with products and services that are not transparently or truly faithful to those principles.
More Than One Way Gd is infinite and His wisdom is infinite. Within His infinite Knowledge and His Love for the world He created there are perspectives of Gd and His Torah that are tailored specifically for every single one of us. Kosher in particular is a daily ongoing aspect of our relationship with Gd that binds us to or makes us feel alienated from Gd. Kosher brings Gd right into our kitchen and invites Him to sit at our table as we engage in a most basic human need and a veritable pleasure.
Kosher is a system of laws that govern the foods we are permitted to eat. I am discussing the "hardware" of Kosher, the Laws and the manner in which they are implemented. It is a vast topic about which libraries of learned discussion, the fruits of centuries of intense research has been compiled by scholars immersed in the minutiae of our texts and traditions. I can not possibly hope to accurately communicate the full import of this gigantic repository of wisdom and knowledge but I wish to attempt to convey, through various illustrations, some of the beauty, complexity and unexpected character of Gd's Laws of Kosher.
Insects Are Not Kosher All vegetable and fruit are Kosher. However, the stowaways on board; the various insects that make themselves at home and that are typically found in lettuce, asparagus and leafy and clustered vegetables, are not Kosher.
But We Do Eat Insects Now here is a great opportunity to leap into the deep end. Since vegetables may harbour insects and insects are not Kosher, we should conclude that vegetables are not to be eaten. But this is not true. We are permitted to eat such vegetables. Ask the most intensely orthodox Jew you know or a vegetarian, "Have you ever eaten an insect?" The most accurate answer would be, "Not intentionally." unless they have never eaten a leafy or cluster vegetable in their life. I mean they can't say, "Not willingly" or "Not knowingly" because they know that over time and considering the volume of vegetables they have willingly eaten, it is inevitable that some insects have been ingested and have contributed to their body and well being.
Come to think of it we must define the word "intent". When one eats vegetables and says they never "intended" to eat the insects that they know are harboured within them, it would be like shooting a bullet at random into a crowded arena and saying they had no intention to cause injury. It does not sound very convincing.
It's Not the Foods But The Relationship The answer to this mystery is quite straightforward: it is not the foods themselves that are prohibited but the interaction between the foods and us. When Gd prohibits eating non-K foods it is not just a prohibition against the "foods", the "eating" is also a primary factor. Those same foods may be consumed by Torah Law if they are not eaten in the normal way, for example if they are swallowed or eaten at a temperature that average people would not eat. This is not what Gd forbade.
The non-K foods are not poisonous, as some proponents of Kosher suggest. Gd forbade the "eating" of non-K "foods". If they are not being eaten by Gd's definition of eating or they are not foods by Gd's definition of food, then we are obeying Gd's Torah when ingesting them. Similarly non-K foods will be redefined as Kosher in various circumstances. This is the notion of Bittul or Nullification which is discussed in another article. Thus insects are eaten but they are, in the circumstances that Halacha permits them, Kosher foods.
Our relationship with Gd is expressed through the things we do and do not do. These are guided by the Laws of the Torah and the Talmud. But it is not a mechanical relationship. It is an emotional relationship its substance being the state we cultivate in our mind, with our Neshamah - our soul or spirit.
Therefore one who scrupulously keeps all the dos and do nots of the Torah and the Talmud is not necessarily enjoying a healthy meaningful relationship with their Creator. There may be many reasons why we keep the laws of the Torah and not all of them contribute to developing a meaningful relationship with Gd. But the Torah is the message that Gd communicated to us and it is thus the conduit to reach Him and with which we can develop our relationship.
Loyalty and Allegiance to Gd So the fact that the Torah food laws have provided safety for us and many will believe that there are also spiritual energies to be enjoyed by maintaining the rules of the Torah and Kashrus in particular, it is not the main reason for these Laws. The main reason is that we are expressing our loyalty and allegiance to Gd and His Torah by following His word.
Learning Torah is the Greatest Link to Gd This idea is still incomplete because being orthodox may mean to us leading a life of obedience but it is not necessarily the true and correct path to being a Torah loyal Jew. As strange as it may sound obedience is not the major component of our relationship with Gd. It is not our actions, our obedience, that Gd is concerned with but our minds. The Jewish religion demands that we engage with Gd with our mind. It is for this reason that the command to learn Torah is the most important and most powerful. Learning Torah is greater than all the other commandments combined.
The Gemara is fond of asking, "Lama Li KeRa SeVara Hu?" which means we need no word of Gd to inform us of something that is obvious to us. This question must be founded on the assumption that we have some type of innate understanding that presumes
that Gd's Laws are structured with some type of system and process and are not just arbitrary;
that we are created by Gd such that we can mentally grasp these systems; and
that we can evaluate and disqualify some proposals without empiric proof but simply by our own logic.
Now this is a pretty significant set of assumptions. Why can we not propose that Gd arbitrarily selected a couple of rules for no reason at all? Or for no reason that we can possibly understand? Or simply to observe if we will obediently follow His directives?
What a facetious group of dilettantes we must be. Are we really confident that we can evaluate with our mind and perceptions the plans developed by the Infinite Wisdom?
Our Minds Are Attuned to Gd's And the answer is, yes. We are confident that Gd has implanted in humanity the wherewithal to grasp with sufficient clarity a component or two of His Wisdom such that we can offer evaluations about the system He created. It actually becomes part of the rational for the purpose of Gd creating this universe. Gd wants us to engage in such speculation. It is with this in mind that the great Chassidic masters opined that the Neshama, the Soul of each and every one of us is a "spark" and a part of the Holy One, Blessed Be He.
Gd Wants Us to Ask Questions and Engage Our Minds Now this ties in exactly and poetically with the idea I mentioned elsewhere that Gd does not want us to be obedient and do just as He says. He does not wish us to come to the mindless state of asking "How high?" when He directs us to jump.
Gd wants us to engage with Him through our minds. And this is the exact notion initially assumed when exploring and proposing reasons why insects or any other foods, may not be Kosher. In fact this is the entire structure of the Talmud which is engaged most emphatically with understanding and detailing the tiniest particulars of Gd's guidelines for humanity. But we still need to look more closely at the type of questions and thinking processes that the Talmud pursues and contrast them with the ideas that we pursue. Do they match? Are we pursuing the same or similar thinking as that of our Sages?
I can not speculate upon the reasons that may have prompted Gd to choose which foods are and which are not Kosher. And I am not particularly troubled by not knowing. Need I know why my children love or detest certain foods or colours? I love my children and therefore try to make them happy. I would not be happy if I had to always explain and justify why I like or dislike the things I do. Those who love me accept me and my likes and dislikes. If they are forever attempting to analyse; that is not love but something else.
Keeping Gd's commandments is the most inspiring thought and emotion that a human can experience. And the most significant of all Gd's Mitvos is that of learning Torah. Therefore we are by our Gd given nature very inquisitive, and that is how Gd has made us and wants us to be; this is the most important aspect to our identity. This creates a bond and affection and loyalty that transcends any simple mechanical relationship of obedience and declares. "I love You - with my heart and with my mind and I will ask questions because I love You". That sentiment forms the foundation of Judaism and is expressed every time we follow His Commandments. It is why we still today bless and thank Gd, not for having given us the Torah but for continuing to give us the Torah - Nosein HaTorah.