Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ki Teitzei

Ki Teitzei is always the alarm clock that means my life is going back into full active mode from summer.  The High Holy Days and the start of Religious School are on the way.  Time to write will obviously be a little more difficult for a week or two but I will try to keep up.  So here is an attempt at a bit of Torah.

This Torah portion is a dense one.  It contains 74 of the 613 mitzvot in the Torah.  There is a variety of laws here and many due with everyday life.  The Torah does that.  It gives us rules that define without question those things we can and cannot do.  So I was thinking of this the other day when I got into a discussion about a particular violation of Torah.

In discussion about what is Jewish I stated that all things Jews do are Jewish, which was immediately responded to with "what about eating pork".  I thought about that and well I am not sure that eating pork is completely non-Jewish.  At least not for some Jews.

Before I explain that let me be clear that I do not eat pork.  While I try hard to keep kosher and do so in my home.  Even if I have make some concessions when outside of my home, I keep a form of kosher that means I don't eat non-kosher animals, shellfish etc.  For me pork itself is a big one.  I can't eat it. Quoting Rabbi Richard Hirsh on a Reconstructionist approach to Kashrut I read this:

I was enticed by the meaning inherent in the surrender of former favorite foods. A verse from The God of Daniel S., an introduction to Reconstructionism written by Rabbi Alan Miller, resonated strongly:

". . . He had simply woken up one day to find that he could no longer eat with impunity an animal whose flesh his ancestors had resisted eating to the point of death."

The other thing that strikes me is that eating is an essential act for life, and when eating animals, takes a life with feelings and emotions.  An animal must die for us to eat it.  Knowing the rules of Kashrut helps me understand the importance of how the animal is respected when raised as kosher food.  It also makes the act of eating holy and frankly the the Torah's laws are designed to make our actions all holy.

So how can I argue a blatant violation of Jewish law is a Jewish act?  I would argue the blinding following a commandment is not Jewish.  Judaism has always been about making meaning out of life and understanding that meaning through Torah.  If not eating pork has no meaning to someone, following that law is not more Jewish than not following it.  In fact consciously saying that a Torah prohibition, that hurts no one else, can be violated with a serious argument that it might allow for Judaism to survive and be integrated into the greater society.  This was the argument that drove the development of the Reform movement.  For me, people who eat bacon are no less Jewish.  In fact some are proud that their brand of Judaism allows them to enjoy pork as the for them prohibition no longer makes sense.

When I think of this I think of two anecdotes that happened several times from tour guides while on the   New York trip with our 10th graders.  In the Bialystoker synagogue, the zodiac is painted on the ceiling   and instead of a crab for Cancer there is a lobster.  The guide says, the Jews of the shul were so Kosher they didn't know the difference between a crab and a lobster.  At Temple Emanu-El, a large Reform synagogue and one time center of Reform Judaism.  It clings to  Classical Reform ideology and service.  In the back, the granite floor of the main sanctuary has an apparent fossil of a lobster looking ancient creature.  The guide is proud that the shul has this there as a single that their Judaism is not attached to the ancient dietary laws.  Both places are Jewish, both are not my kind of Judaism and both value their own "lobsters" for very different reasons.  Who is to say that those aren't Jewish?  

I think we have to be careful when we say something is not Jewish.  Judaism, while governed by the wisdom of the Torah, is about our understanding of what the Torah means to us.  People make meaning out of what they can and that is the essence of Judaism.  When we don't think about what the Torah means to us then we risk giving up on Judaism all together.  

No comments:

Post a Comment