Food Connections: How Kosher Connects Me to the World

Kosher for Passover Coke

Kosher for Passover Coke (Photo credit: mhaithaca)

Welcome to our Food Connections Series. This is a guest post from Eric at Narrow Bridge Finance, a blog that focuses on tips to save you time,
money, and headache while getting the most out of your money. Be sure to check out his finance eBooks on automation and entrepreneurship.

I grew up in a Jewish home, but Judaism was always a cultural part of my life, not a religious one. As I grew older and explored my heritage, I found that keeping my religion in my life day to day was very important to me. The most logical place to start was my diet.

The Road to Kosher

We believe that Kashrut, the practice of keeping Kosher, began when we received the Torah 3500 years ago. Modern Kosher laws are derived from the Talmud. Those laws date from around 1500-1800 years ago. Either way, we have been doing it for a long time.

I knew that my grandparents kept Kosher until after my Mother was born. Before them, every generation I can trace was very religious. After doing this for thousands of years, who am I to stop? So one day in college, I decided I didn’t need to have bacon with my breakfast at the dorm dining hall. That was 9 years ago and I have not eaten a non-Kosher animal since.

From there, I started to slowly add more observance to my life. The last time I mixed meat with dairy was at Chipotle about a year later. The next year I ate only Kosher meat for five months while living in Israel, a tradition I did not give up when I returned home to Denver.

A Meaningful Life

Many people try to explain Kosher laws using logic and health benefits, many of which no longer exist. For example, at the time Kosher laws rose to prominence, eating shellfish would likely cause toxic shellfish poisoning. Pork was a common source of digestive parasites. But Kashrut is much more important than a primitive USDA.

There is no reason given in the Torah to why we keep Kosher, we do it because we believe the Torah came from God. We do it because God said so.

When I follow these laws, I feel a connection to both God, my family, and Jewish people all over the world. In travels around places like London, Prague, Budapest, Kiev, Costa Rica, New York, and Israel, I have found an instant community by seeking out the local Kosher restaurants. It is amazing to see how quickly someone embraces a fellow Kosher keeper like family.

Not Always Easy

Just because it is a tradition that goes back thousands of years does not mean all Jews view it the same way. In some communities, a Jew that does not keep Kosher would be quickly shunned as a heathen. Where I grew up, it is the opposite.

When I started keeping Kosher, my parents hoped it was a phase. My Jewish friends wondered what was wrong with me. Finding a girlfriend that eats the same way as me is virtually impossible in Colorado. While I can usually find something vegetarian (sort of Kosher by default), I have to be incredibly careful when I choose what goes in my stomach.

It does not stop there. I have separate dishes for meat and dairy products. I can’t take leftovers from my parents’ house (my Mom was offended the first time). I can only buy products with a Hechsher, a logo signifying that the product was created under religious supervision, for my home.

In some ways, keeping Kosher keeps me disconnected from my family and friends. However, it feels like the right thing to do and I feel satisfied every day when I know that I am eating the same way as my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great Grandfather, Rabbi Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov. I am eating the same way as my cousins in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Belgium.

Just like the song from Fiddler on the Roof, I do it because it is Tradition, I do it because it feels right, and I do it to live a more meaningful life.

Your Questions

I know there are a lot of misconceptions about Kosher practices. I am happy to answer any of them in the comments below.

Editor’s Note: It is not always easy for writers to put themselves out there with controversial subjects, and I am grateful to my readers for the respect that they will show Eric in any questions they may have.

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10 Responses to “Food Connections: How Kosher Connects Me to the World”

  1. Really great post, Eric. Thanks for sharing. I’m from the Midwest and did not grow up around Jewish people. Since then I have met quite a few, but none who were kosher.

    As someone who just started a totally new way of eating myself, I’ve noticed how people have an opinion on everything, including how others eat. I think everyone should respect each others’ diets.

    As someone who was not very familiar to Judaism, it was quite an experience for me to visit the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest. What an amazing place! The museum is still with me.

    This is perfect for the Food Connections series.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Eric. I am not kosher, but we do have several intolerances that limit what we can eat; going out to eat is almost out of the question now. Even though we have no control over our intolerances, people still get offended that we can’t eat their food. I imagine it must be worse when you have chosen to only eat kosher food and those around you can’t understand why you are still doing it.

  3. Dr Dean says:

    Very good reading. I live in a community with a fair number of people of the Jewish faith. Even so, I know very little about kosher eating and am always interested to learn why people choose this path. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  4. Crazy that I come across this post the same week that the show, “Two Broke Girls,” on CBS dealt with this same issue. I knew very little about kosher until I watched that episode and now have read this post.

    The way you relate your eating habits to your feelings of connectivity to other believers of your faith sounds very familiar. I grew up Catholic, and the only time of the year that we had to alter our eating habits was during lent, which started yesterday (Ash Wednesday) ironically. On Ash Wednesday, and every Friday during lent, we weren’t aloud to eat meat, but fish was OK. Thus the tradition of fish fry’s at Catholic churches on Friday’s during lent all across the nation. I chose not to continue the Catholic faith during my adult life, but still follow their lent traditions. The feeling of connectivity rings so true for me during this time.

  5. I read a book on Kosher practices during my first job out of college at a food manufacturer. It was fascinating! I had no idea what was involved in making foods “kosher”.

    • Andi B. says:

      I was actually just at the Tillamook Cheese Factory and they had a display on the work and process that goes into making their cheese kosher. It’s impressive that they go that extra mile.

  6. Fascinating read. It’s quite unusual for a child not raised Kosher to adopt it as an adult, yet I totally get it. Although my mom occasionally snuck bacon into the house (without my dad’s knowledge), I have yet to sample a pork chop.

    • Andi B. says:

      I think there’s a resurgence of people returning to their roots and stories like this may become less rare. I have met more than a few people who have adopted stricter religious standards than their parents raised them with.

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