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December 22, 2013 1:37 PM   Subscribe

I was raised in a kosher household, and am feeling like I would like to get back into keeping kosher. Kosher (or Kosher-ish) MeFites, how do you do it?

I'm not asking for information on religious law. Rather, I'd like to hear about diverse ways of keeping kosher in real life so that I can find the best approach for me. I also am concerned about the ethical treatment of animals. How can I ensure that the animals I eat have been treated humanely according to tza'ar ba'alei chayim? Is kosher vegetarian the only way to go? Your thoughts, please! (Please note: I'm not interested in opinions about whether kosher slaughter is humane; I've done my own reading on the matter.)

* For example, the Kashrut of my youth did not allow the mixing of milk and meat but did allow for the consumption of Chinese takeout on paper plates as long as it was eaten on the porch: go figure.
posted by Wordwoman to Religion & Philosophy (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
check out grow and behold and kol foods for ethical kosher meat (on my phone, sorry no links.).
posted by sabh at 2:11 PM on December 22, 2013

How can I ensure that the animals I eat have been treated humanely according to tza'ar ba'alei chayim?

By patronizing a kosher butcher. That's the only way that you can ensure slaughter by a shochet, and even an "ethical" non-kosher farmer is probably not going to have animals resting on the Sabbath. Scroll K in your city seems to be the place to go. You might want to consult with a local rabbi or JCC.

Are you concerned with just keeping a kosher home with "anything goes" outside the home, or being kosher 100% of the time? The Chinese take-out on the porch indicates to me that your childhood was the former, so I wondered if that's how you were planning to proceed. If you are going kosher 100% of the time, that's a big challenge if you are concerned with kosher slaughter because it is the rare restaurant (that does not expressly state that it is kosher) that will serve kosher meat or run kitchens that adhere to the law of basar b'chalav, for example.

Or, you could just go vegan/vegetarian.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:26 PM on December 22, 2013

Magen Tzedek is/would be an ethical certification intended for kosher foods and is perhaps something to keep an eye on, but apparently there are no certified products yet.

My take on things (as a formerly Orthodox, strictly-kosher Jew who just ate a lovely brunch including bacon at my good friends' house) has always been that the things people do, like eating non-kosher food out of the house, or eating non-kosher takeout at home on paper plates, aren't so much "allowed" or part of an actual "kosher" schema in their heads as it is a cheat that they know to be a cheat and have decided they're OK with.

The first non-kosher thing I ate was a cookie baked by my college biology professor because she'd been nice enough to make cookies specially for us and individually wrapped them and handed them out and it seemed silly to me that something made out of kindness and coming from someone whom I'd trusted to teach me so much over the semester should be classified as "not OK to eat." And while I no longer keep kosher at all, I think (spiritually speaking) that there's an argument for considering the source, and eating food that someone has kindly prepared for you regardless of what's in it or whether their kitchen is kosher. (This is obviously not a strict kosher perspective.) So I suppose for me ethics and the personal connection to food has subsumed keeping kosher (see above re: bacon brunch with good friends who share my values.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:28 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

also, the way I keep kosher is that my home is fully kosher (separate utensils, etc. for meat and milk), and I will only eat kosher meat, but will go out to a restaurant and eat vegetarian and kosher species of fish.
posted by sabh at 2:32 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Animals "resting" on Shabbat isn't relevant for kashrut or for ethics. As far as kashrut, Jews aren't supposed to use their animals for work on Shabbat but that isn't relevant to kashrut; the animals themselves are not commanded to keep Shabbat and an animal doing work on Shabbat wouldn't make it non-kosher once slaughtered. As far as ethics, well, if an animal is being raised humanely, that means that any work it's being used for (are animals raised for food even used to perform farm work? I doubt beef cattle are used to pull plows in the Western world, at least) is being done in a humane manner, so a day of rest is, again, irrelevant.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:56 PM on December 22, 2013

I have many friends who keep kosher and are vegetarian almost all the time, and restrict meat to holidays or maybe at other's (kosher) homes. There is some movement towards ethical kosher meat (Grow and Behold) but depending where you are and your budget, you may or may not have access.

I personally keep a vegetarian kitchen but would use disposables for takeout and eat whatever out. I don't think of myself as keeping kosher though.

There is really such a range. I think it helps to think of why you're doing it, what you want to get out of it, and what role you see authority as playing in your diet - and which authority you would feel comfortable looking to for guidance/rulings.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:07 PM on December 22, 2013

Learn to make homemade versions of the restaurant foods you desire.

Or, alternatively, make the decision that "hot vegetarian," i.e., vegetarian foods in nonkosher, meat-serving restaurants, is OK for you.

I say this as someone who EATS "hot vegetarian"--I'm not proud of it, but it's true. We are FOOLING OURSELVES if we think that chicken broth, grill residue, etc. is not getting into our food. I made the decision, from the heart, that it's a sin, but there are worse sins. Better hot vegetarian than out-and-out treif.

There is a large swath of modern Orthodoxy, for lack of a better word, who will eat "cold" items in nonkosher restaurants, e.g., something like salad and possibly bread. Holding the line on this is harder than it seems.

I personally am not a giant fan of the ethical kosher meat options because kosher meat is expensive enough as it is. I think it smacks of ultra-rich people from Englewood and Newton. I don't mean this personally if this includes any people on this thread. It just rubs me the wrong way. Instead I limit the amount of meat we eat, for many reasons.

Consider whether you want this to be a home practice or a full-time thing.

If you are concerned about dishes, you can go all-glass and not get 2 sets for now.
posted by skbw at 3:12 PM on December 22, 2013

Animals "resting" on Shabbat isn't relevant for kashrut or for ethics.

OP asked, "How can I ensure that the animals I eat have been treated humanely according to tza'ar ba'alei chayim?" Part of tza'ar ba'alei chayim is that animals are entitled to Sabbath rest. If the animal isn't given Sabbath rest, it isn't being treated according to tza'ar ba'alei chayim. (whether that animal is kosher, just as whether a kosher restaurant open on Shabbat is kosher, is a question for better minds than mine)
posted by Tanizaki at 3:18 PM on December 22, 2013

Here's a slightly different angle to consider:

At home, if you buy separate POTS (start with one or two), get some glass dishes, and check your ingredients on processed food, you're 70% of the way there and definitely making a big improvement in the eyes of the law. Kudos to you, to use a Hellenism!


Eating out. This is an analogy to think about:

When I was young and frum, I asked a couple of different rabbis about meat from Lubavitch ritual slaughterers. (Why Lubavitch may be a problem is a story for another time...memail me if you're interested.) 2 rabbis dodged the question. The third said:

"Your question on its merits is a good one. But if you like eating in restaurants, if you like being able to go into any store and buy [National Brand] kosher meat or chicken, then you can't worry about Lubavitch slaughter. Because it's everywhere and it's impossible to avoid. You'll be ruling out almost all restaurants and all but a few meat brands that you can only get in Brooklyn. So I recommend you not be stringent in this matter."

This answer is relevant here as well. Not just in re: ethical treatment of animals (though there is an obvious parallel there).

If you are taking up kashrut again as a matter of personal practice, then that is obviously a great idea.

IF, however, you see this, even in part, as a matter of doing God's revealed will, then proceed very, very slowly in whatever changes you make, because you will be limiting yourself greatly.

From the traditional perspective, you're better off remaining in the dark on some matters, because it's better to sin by accident than to know better and sin anyway. I am not saying that's my perspective...but it's a mainstream Orthodox view.
posted by skbw at 3:33 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

How can I ensure that the animals I eat have been treated humanely according to tza'ar ba'alei chayim?

*Disclaimer: not a Jew*

I have a very good friend who is Jewish and keeps kosher (she's a Conservative Jew, for reference). Growing up, her family only purchased glatt kosher meats, but we don't live in a place with a local kosher butcher, so they would buy factory-processed kosher meats at the local supermarket. Unfortunately, there are only three domestic kosher meat processing plants in the US, (Alle in NY, Noah's Ark in Minnesota, and Agri-whatever-they-are-now in Iowa) which drives the price waaaaaaaaaay up.

So when she moved out of the house and went to college, her parents told her that if she wanted to keep kosher, that was of course wonderful, but she should be a little more flexible on how the meat was slaughtered because there was no way she was going to be able to afford glatt kosher processed meat.

I think if the ethical slaughter of animals is important to you, and especially if you live someplace where there is not a local kosher butcher, you may have to make the same decision.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:04 PM on December 22, 2013

As others seem to be suggesting, perfect is the enemy of good.

Decide how you want to do it and don't get too caught up in the details. As others have noted, there's quite a bit of cognitive dissonance involved in setting the boundaries, unless you're going all out, letter of the law type kosher.

I kept kosher whilst I lived with my parents and then in my own home until about eight months ago (moved in with my Catholic-agnostic partner-now-husband and that solved my ongoing ambivalence about keeping it up).

My kashrut in my home was more about the spirit of the thing, rather than the letter of the law. I kept dishes, cutlery, pots and pans separate (think about getting different versions for milchig and fleishig, otherwise expect to be eternally perplexed) and I only had one sink. I used two different tubs, two different dish racks and two different sets of gloves and sponges.

I didn't stick to any kosher lists -- just looked at the ingredients to make sure there wasn't anything in there I shouldn't be having (e.g. gelatin, unexpected milk or meat products, animal rennet in cheese).

I bought kosher meat -- supervised by the Addass community in Melbourne I think -- not sure the implications there for issues discussed above re: glatt, etc. Kosher meat here is about three times the price, if not more, of regular meat (last night I bought 10 treif pulkas for $6 cf. the same kosher for $20-$25, this is all in Ozbucks).

I also had a separate set of dishes for the occasional non-kosher takeaway. I washed them in the laundry sink and kept the dishes and cutlery out of the kitchen.

I've not kept kosher outside the home for >10 years -- before that I ate fish and vegetarian out at restaurants, which was somewhat limiting.

Do you have any food allergies? Think about how that may be affected by further restrictions. Somewhat coincidentally, I started eating meat and seafood out around the time I was diagnosed fructose intolerant, which was good timing because otherwise it wouldn't have been worth eating out anymore.

My mum is gluten intolerant and kosher so she tends to eat steamed veges, plain fish and the odd risotto (if she can confirm they don't use chicken stock) which is somewhat limiting and she gets sick of eating out pretty quickly.

I've always understood kosher meat to be killed in a more ethical manner, but I suspect I'm fooling myself/have been misinformed. You'd want to do a lot of research around it -- talk directly to the butcher would be my suggestion.

My other suggestion would be don't do absolutes -- play around and see what you are comfortable with. Be willing to try things and change them if they don't suit or you find them too hard to keep up. A gradual approach as suggested by others would be easier, I suspect. (And always keep a plant pot at home or a place reserved in the garden for sticking the cutlery you've mixed up by accident!)
posted by prettypretty at 7:30 PM on December 22, 2013

sabh: "also, the way I keep kosher is that my home is fully kosher (separate utensils, etc. for meat and milk), and I will only eat kosher meat, but will go out to a restaurant and eat vegetarian and kosher species of fish."

Yep, this is what I do, too.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:41 PM on December 22, 2013

You haven't mentioned the context in which you grew up kosher: were you old school Ashkenaz kosher or Glatt? Hasidic, Modern Orthodox, or Litvak? I have wasted many precious meal minutes listening to Vizhnitzer hasids argue about whether they would eat at a Skver table, and I knew an old Satmar Hasid in a Jewish old age home who ate vegan rather than touch the Lubavitch heckshered meat. Glatt kosher wasn't as widespread until the 1960s - it is a Hasidic obsession that eventually took the biggest market share for kosher meat. At one time when I was considering going Bal Tshuvah to the Breslov Hasids, a friend of mine who was raised Satmar Hasid told me - "You want to be kosher? Only Satmar is kosher. You would never survive it."

A joke has the Satmar rebbe's students arguing about what meals to choose after the Messiah comes. The Bible says mankind will have a choice of Ahavaroth (the mythcal giant bull) or Leviathan (the giant fish.) The students (ok, der bikherim...) ask the rebbe.. "Rebbe, what should we eat when Moshiach comes? The Ahavaroth or the Leviathan"

And the Satmar rebbe thinks for a minute and says "Be safe. Order the fruit plate."
posted by zaelic at 2:46 AM on December 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Everyone's "kosher" family ate Chinese Take Out on paper plates on the porch. Those were not kosher pork ribs.

My cousin keeps Kosher at home, but mixes milk and meat in restaturants.

You have to decide what works for you.

Once, my aunt told my mother that she could use a Pyrex cassarole for both meat and milk dishes, to which my mother asked, "So why wouldn't you have one set of glass dishes then?"

I've seen silliness with two separate kitchens, one for meat, one for milk. Or double sinks for the same purpose. I'm pretty sure that on the shtetl that we were pretty lucky to HAVE a basin to wash dishes in, let alone two.

It's more about the ritual, than it is about the strictness of it. Do the best you can, that's enough.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:54 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Because of your interest in ethical treatment of animals, you might be interested in eco-kashrut. My husband grew up Reconstructionist and this was the type of kosher that they were into. In the "eating Chinese take-out on paper plates" example, the paper plates would be worse ethically than the take-out.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:30 AM on December 23, 2013

Wow, "Chinese takeout on paper plates as long as it was eaten on the porch" is hilariously familiar. (For us it was Vietnamese takeout on a blanket in the backyard.) We ate non-kosher meat (but only allowable animals; no catfish in clay pot!) in restaurants, but only bought kosher meat and kept two sets of everything, even to having one of those double-sided sinks with one side for milchig and one for fleishig. We were willing to buy packaged vegetarian food that didn't have a hechsher, but we always checked the ingredients list for chicken broth, etc. I think this is a pretty common type of observance.

When I moved out I decided that I was interested in buying humanely raised kosher meat. (I didn't, and still don't, think of the humane part as part of kashrut; I just wanted both.) Simultanously I realized that I could not actually afford that meat, that honestly I couldn't really afford kosher meat at all, and that even if I could afford the meat I couldn't afford the two sets of everything. So now I just have milchig pots and dishes and don't buy or cook meat. This is not a huge burden because, the cost of kosher meat being what it is, we ate a lot less of it at my house growing up than the average non-Jewish American family does. I still eat non-kosher meat outside the house, though. I think that, for people who have grown up doing it, eating out is very hard to give up. Eating out vegetarian-only is probably the next step.

I guess just bear in mind that, especially at first, you don't actually have to be internally consistent. Start with the things that are easy for you, and then you can add more -- getting back into the mentality of having religious restrictions on your eating is probably the biggest thing.
posted by ostro at 12:11 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's hard to be very strictly kosher: buying only prepared food with a hechsher, ensuring you keep milk and meat separately, etc. It's also hard to eat even vaguely kosher out of the house, avoiding pork or seafood at restaurants. But it's really, really tough to do both, keeping strictly kosher out of the house.

There are some kosher restaurants in many large cities. But the variety is pretty limited, you'll probably have to give up Mexican/Japanese/Korean/etc unless you want to make it yourself. If you ever go on a resort vacation, or to a part of the world where not too many Jews live, you'll be stuck eating raw fruit.

But worse, it becomes less of a restriction on your food intake, and more of a restriction on your social life. Friendships fade amazingly quickly when you suddenly can't show up at someone's birthday at a non-kosher restaurant, or can't go to a dinner party at someone's house. You will have to either commit to hosting your extended family for every holiday, or not really participate in their holiday meals.

I'm not saying not to do it, but I would caution you to wade gently into that swimming pool.
posted by vasi at 12:21 PM on December 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

I (atheist, raised Episcopalian, trying my best here) live with my Modern Orthodox boyfriend in a tiny NYC apartment, where we are trying to keep kosher as best we can. We have two sets of pots and pans, dishes, silverware, assorted cooking utensils, dish towels, and sponges (color coded to the extent possible and stored in separate cabinets/drawers) for meat and dairy. We use our one porcelain sink for everything (though never at the same time), which I think technically means that we've un-koshered it all - oops. I suggested we do glass dishes instead of china but the boyfriend said it was sort of a pride thing for him to maintain the two separate sets (for the record, though, there are some cute glass dishes out there). When we buy packaged foods at the grocery store, we try very hard to buy only things that have the kosher certification on them (but we screw up occasionally, and oh my god, prettypretty's comment about rennet and gelatin...I know we have blown it on those, yikes). We definitely only buy kosher meat - easier in New York than elsewhere, but we still end up just not eating much meat. When we eat takeout or other not-kosher food, my boyfriend only eats vegetarian ("hot vegetarian" as skbw puts it above) and kosher species of fish, and I eat whatever I want, including the occasional non-kosher animal, but we both use paper plates and plastic utensils (is it ok to bring, say, eel sushi into the house as long as it doesn't touch anything? I don't even know). I don't ever cook non-kosher meat - I suppose I might if we had an entire third set of everything, but that would require more space than we've got. My boyfriend also eats vegetarian/pescetarian when we go to restaurants or friends' homes.

Since you grew up doing this stuff, it may be an easier adjustment, but I admit I've found it a challenge. The first time I cooked for my boyfriend (when we were first dating and hadn't moved in together yet), I put chicken broth in a cheese sauce and didn't even think about it until we were already eating - I burst into tears. He held me while I cried and insisted on eating seconds. Don't be too hard on yourself.
posted by naoko at 10:02 PM on December 27, 2013

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