Kosher — A Diet For The Soul
June 22, 2010
In English, the word kosher (derived from the word kashrut) literally means ‘fit.’ In contemporary American society many of us are focused on physical fitness. Perhaps more than ever before, people are encouraged to watch what they eat, exercise, and keep their bodies healthy. However, the diet of kosher is an entirely spiritual diet – one that keeps our Jewish souls, also known as neshamas, healthy and fit. Keeping kosher is compatible with many a healthy physical diet (including vegetarian and vegan). In fact, Judaism places much importance on keeping our bodies healthy (see Rambam’s Guide to the Perplexed). For today’s health conscious Jew it therefore makes sense to maintain a diet that keeps one both physically and spiritually healthy. Keeping kosher enables the latter.
The Torah is a manual for living a Jewish life. No aspect of life is left untouched. Hashem commanded the Jewish people to bring holiness and spirituality into the world through physical mitzvoth which manifest themselves in almost every aspect of life. One who is curious about Torah observance may at first view the Torah as overwhelming, but if a person studies its laws and slowly integrates its teachings into their life, they will have the pleasure of experiencing a life transformed into a one of beauty, serenity, and peace that can only be achieved through growing close to Hashem and the truth of His Torah. With all these mitzvoth – 613 to be exact – where is a Jew to begin? Should one begin by plunging into the depths of Jewish mysticism in order to catapult one into the highest heights of holiness? No. Most of our rabbis advise the Jewish spiritual seeker to begin with something much more mundane; something that affects everyday life. You want to become closer to Hashem? Start by watching what you eat! The Jewish soul is allergic to non-kosher foods. Just as certain foods harm our physical bodies, the Torah teaches that certain foods inhibit us from living up to our full potential in experiencing a sensitivity to spirituality and serving Hashem. Whereas non-kosher foods clog our spiritual arteries, kosher foods remove this blockage from our hearts. Keeping kosher enables us to become a vessel for holiness.
In fact, the entire reason Hashem put into the world foods that help our bodies and foods that harm our bodies is to teach us that there are also foods that harm our souls and foods that nourish them. The Jewish people are a collective soul. The more each of us does our part to keep our souls healthy, the stronger we will become as a nation. The stronger the Jewish nation becomes, the better we can help bring Hashem’s presence into the world. So by starting to keep the laws of kosher, one is creating a ripple effect that will reverberate through this world and through the many spiritual worlds and ultimately hasten in an era where Hashem is more revealed in the realm of the physical. In addition to eating a physically healthy diet, exercising, and brushing one’s teeth, a Jew can self actualize beyond their imagination by keeping kosher.
The laws of kashrut are detailed and complex, but the basics include: avoiding pork and shellfish, only eating in kosher restaurants, not mixing meat and milk, and eating products with kosher certification printed on the package. Ask a rabbi for more information about the details of keeping kosher and reliable kosher certifications. I suggest starting with some of our wise, knowledgeable, and friendly rabbis here in Washington DC! Just to name a few: Rabbi Zvi Teitelbaum, Rabbi Yudi Steiner, and Rabbi Levi Shemtov. If you are looking for kosher products, I would suggest patronizing some great Jewish kosher establishments in the DC area such as Shalom Kosher Market in Wheaton or Kosher Mart in Rockville. Can’t make it out to suburban Maryland? No problem! Trader Joe’s carries plenty of items with kosher certification. And if you’re simply looking to go out and eat a good kosher meal there is always the famous Eli’s on the corner of 20th and N.
Thank G-d, today we live in an era where kosher food is readily available. For one who keeps kosher, one can eat a diet of much variety (one can find kosher products and restaurants of almost any ethnic cuisine). In fact, the market for kosher is one of the fastest growing food markets in the world today! As more consumers opt to spend a little more money and time obtaining organic and healthy foods, more Jews are realizing that keeping kosher enables one to become fully healthy and fulfilled.
The mitzvah of kosher belongs to the category of laws called chukim. These laws have no rational basis that is comprehensible to the human mind. Jews began keeping these laws when they were revealed to them by Hashem at Mount Sinai and in the desert. For those of us today who are a little further away from the giving of the Torah, one can only witness the benefits of keeping kosher through actually doing the mitzvah. One will find that when one keeps kosher Torah is more easily digested. I only speak from experience, but many others can confirm this truth.
For one who is interested in keeping kosher, but does not know where to begin I have included a list of the steps one can take. One who wishes to go kosher does not have to proceed in the order I have provided. In fact, one does not even have to pick up this mitzvah in gradual steps if they are more comfortable doing it all at once. However, I would personally advise not biting off more than you can chew. Best of luck!
1) Not eating overtly unkosher foods like shellfish and pork.
2) Not mixing meat with dairy.
3) Waiting 6 hours between meat and milk and an hour between milk and meat (Customs may differ. One should ask a local rabbi for more information).
4) Eating only kosher meat.
5) Only eating fruits and vegetables that have been checked for bugs.
6) Only eating sea creatures with fins and scales.
7) Only eating in kosher restaurants and only buying food with reliable kosher certification.
8) Making one’s kitchen kosher.
9) Only consuming alcoholic beverages that are kosher (Most are, but please consult a rabbi before you make that l’chaim).
10) Invite some friends over for dinner.
Will Gotkin is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews.