Tag Archives: kashrut

The Three-Hour Diet

by Rebecca Borison

Thanksgiving never really manages to excite me. Yes, it’s nice to be with family, but the whole feast aspect just isn’t that novel. I have that at least twice a week. It’s called Shabbat.

Judaism is deeply rooted in its attachment to the culinary arts. We like to eat. A lot.  While many Americans enjoy a piece of chicken and some broccoli for their Friday dinner, we’re working our way through challah, chicken soup, brisket, mashed potatoes, squash and brownies.

It’s no secret that food is an important aspect of our religion and culture. And sometimes this runs the risk of bolstering the “overeating epidemic.” It’s not easy to maintain healthy portions at the Shabbat table.

And yet Judaism still provides some opportunity for healthy eating. Unfortunately, it has yet to be scientifically proven that kosher food is better for you. Though some people, in the search for a path to healthy eating, choose kosher foods because they seem healthier, there’s no evidence to support the belief.

What keeping kosher does offer is the “three-hour diet.” In addition to the traditional separation of dairy and meat products, there are various customs regulating how long one should wait in between meat and milk. Some say that simply leaving the table is enough; others say that you should wait six hours after eating meat before you can eat dairy products. Many wait three hours, but you could easily adjust the title of the diet to the “six-hour diet” or even the “one-hour diet.” (Though I’m not sure an hour of no snacking would have much of an impact.)

What difference does it make if you can’t eat dairy for three hours after you eat meat products? You don’t snack. Sure, there are some flaws to this diet: not all snacks are dairy, and if you’re a vegetarian, this won’t work at all. But, if you do eat chicken or meat for lunch, and you abide by the traditional kashrut laws, that means you won’t be able to eat ice cream for three hours.

I know my biggest struggle with dieting is willpower. If I see a scrumptious-looking piece of cake in front of me, it’s just so hard to say no. But if it’s not up to me, if religious mandate dictates that I refrain, then I just can’t have the piece of cake. It’s a no-brainer.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is a panacea. If anything, it serves to balance out the ubiquity of food in Judaism. So if I eat a mind-boggling amount of food at Shabbat lunch, the next three hours are a no-snack zone, and I can give my body a little bit of rest from the eating. And if I do reach for the pareve jelly beans, they’re fat-free, so it’s no big deal, right?

What Does Kosher Mean Today?

By Scott Fox

Food is perhaps one of the “greyest” aspects of Jewish life today. The Torah instructs us to abstain from ritually impure foods—but what does this mean in the 21st century?

One could argue that keeping kosher is both easier and more difficult than ever before. Today, between one-third and one-half of food in American supermarkets is kosher-certified, an astronomical increase since previous decades. It may seem surprising that so many companies pay for kosher certification (Orthodox Union, the blue label of hekhshers requires fees between $4,000 and $10,000) since observant Jews make up such a small portion of the consumer market, but others like Muslims, vegetarians and those concerned with food allergies are also buying into the kosher market for different reasons.

“It’s easier now than ever before to keep kosher,” says Rabbi Alexander Davis, senior rabbi of Beth El, a Conservative synagogue in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. “It’s really just a question of choices. You can find practically any ingredient with a hekhsher today.”

But in a society with greater choices, many Jews no longer cling to traditional dietary rituals. This can be seen particularly in the Conservative movement, where many believe fewer Jews keep kosher than ever before. Davis infers that earlier generations of Jews were willing to do more to keep kosher, citing a congregant’s parent who grew up in North Dakota and traveled across state lines once a month in order to purchase kosher meat. But Davis estimates that only 20 percent of his congregation keeps strictly kosher in their homes today. And according to the most recent National Jewish Population survey in 2000, only 30 percent of Jews maintain kosher homes.

As an observant Convservative Jew, keeping kosher has often felt like the most essential part of my Jewish identity, probably because it requires the most continual focus. I feel like I can skip going to shul for Shabbat, but not skip out of kashrut for a lobster roll. Going to college 40 miles away from the nearest provider of kosher meat, I’ve become primarily a vegetarian in order to keep up my religious obligation. Of course, by kashrut, I mean my own internal conception of keeping kosher. That includes not asking if certain restaurant dishes contain meat and assuming that what looks like dairy is dairy. Ignorance can sometimes be bliss. I also tend to rationalize eating products without a hekhsher by looking through a food item’s ingredient list and assuring myself that none of them sound like they contain treif even if that’s not really the case. In some ways, kosher is more of a mindset that makes me feel okay about what I eat.

Cost is another factor. As food prices rise and incomes lower from years of economic turmoil, many feel that being kosher is too expensive. The price of kosher food is typically more expensive than regular food, as is buying two sets of dishes and silverware. The price difference is particularly true in communities that don’t have easy access to kosher products. Aaron Rubenstein, rabbi of Beth Shalom, a conservative synagogue in Memphis, said the high cost was definitely a reason for people to avoid keeping strictly kosher homes.

“Some people might be willing to go vegetarian to keep kosher [on a budget],” says Rubenstein. “But for others, it is hard for them to part from meat in their diet. Some people feel that they’re being price gouged and think they should not be buying into the system because someone is taking advantage of their need for Passover food or kosher meat.”

Hazon, a leading Jewish food organization, is helping to make kosher food an affordable option. The group sponsors community supported agriculture (CSA) programs in the United States, Canada and Israel. Hazon’s programs provide access to healthy, local produce to connect clients with their Jewish communities. Jewish food banks have also helped those unable to afford food. But those endeavors cannot solve the entire cost problem of kosher food.

But kashrut is about more than just food. Many feel that food is not kosher if the workers, animals or environment are mistreated in the process, even if the food meets all halachic standards. Many became aware of the terrible conditions in slaughterhouses after newspaper articles and a federal government raid exposed Agriprocessors, the largest producer of kosher meat, violating many labor laws, including the use of undocumented immigrants and child labor. Until the federal government raided their plant in Iowa in 2008, about half of the country’s kosher meat came from Agriprocessors. Since the company was forced to restructure after the scandal, their meat prices have risen even further.

The shame of Agriprocessors led the Conservative movement to sponsor the implementation of a hekhsher tzedek. Rubenstein calls the new certification more of an “ethical good housekeeping seal” than an actual determination of whether a product is halachically kosher or not.

But will our generation of Jews continue to keep up this somewhat idealistic obligation that is kashrut as they move through adulthood? Davis is optimistic. “There’s a greater awareness among that generation of the role food plays in our lives,” he says. “I think and hope that, as a Jewish expression of our identity and ideals, eating with consciousness would be more attractive than ever.”

USCJ Issues Hekhsher Tsedek Policy

The Agriprocessor, Inc., saga continues. But this time it looks like something positive has emerged from the fracas.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has announced its policy for the ethical hekhsher tsedek, which will be placed on foods deriving from companies complying with a specific set of ethical guidelines based in Judaism.

According to the USCJ website,

The commission was appointed by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly in response to published reports describing alleged unsafe working conditions and worker mistreatment at the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant, AgriProcessors, Inc., in Postville, Iowa. It set out to determine if the charges were accurate, to learn about working conditions at the plant, and to establish next steps, if needed, to help ensure workers’ dignity, safety and rights within the context of Jewish law, values and tradition.

The resulting policy was published yesterday, and the new guidelines can be found in full here. They are listed in five categories: wage and benefits, employee health and safety, product development policies, environmental impact and corporate transparency and integrity.

Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

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