Last spring after Passover I had lunch with two friends: a convert to Judaism and a Reform rabbi. I know this sounds like the start of a joke that goes something like, “three women, a rabbi, a former-Christian, and an Israeli-American went out to lunch…” But this was no joke.
My former-Christian friend eyed the menu and announced with a sheepish grin that she craved a BLT, but didn’t want to offend our rabbi friend. The rabbi’s response? “You enjoy your lunch. I don’t look into other people’s plates, and I hope they don’t look into mine.” As it should be.
When I grew up in Israel in the 1970s there were two options: kosher and not kosher. My family fell into the latter category. We knew how to behave in our friends’ kosher homes and knew how to make them comfortable in ours. But all these years later, the new kosher-style or, make-it-up-as-you-go-along rules, have left me confused.
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One of my dear friends keeps a “kosher” home. She has separate drawers and shelves labeled “milk” and “meat,” but allows Chinese takeout, as long as paper plates and utensils are used. Another friend doesn’t allow treyf (non-kosher food) into her house at all–but considers her patio fair game (on paper plates of course) because after all, the remnants are thrown directly into the garbage bins in the garage. Apparently the garage is a non-kosher zone as well.
What about the baking dishes that host artery-hardening brisket one night and dairy noodle kugel the next? And as long as I’m dishing, how does my friend–who claims he doesn’t eat any pork–make exceptions for “quality” sausage? Is he kosher or not? And the friend who is kosher and vegetarian in front of his wife, but takes a break when she’s not looking–what is going on?
For years I was irked by these seemingly hypocritical practices, but maturity and a close hard look at myself reveal that I’m no different–and perhaps with good reason. When my son was in kindergarten, he reported that his best friend’s Jewish mother sent him to school with ham and cheese sandwiches. I was horrified, yet packed turkey and cheese for my son’s daily school lunch, employing the logic that mixing turkey lunch meat and dairy was somehow “cleaner” than mixing dairy and pork. So if I’m picking and choosing what makes me comfortable, how am I any better than the “kosher-lite” friends I’ve criticized?
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What is all this hypocritical pomp and circumstance really about? Can kashrut be a Chinese menu with options from columns A, B, and C? My cohorts run the gamut from Orthodox to atheist, with secular and “Jewish-lite” friends falling somewhere in the middle. Here’s what I’ve come to believe: Do what’s right for you. Connect with God in the way that makes most sense to you spiritually. No one has the right to judge. If keeping a “properly” kosher home or a “kosher-style” home helps connect you and your family spiritually, go for it and God bless.
But if I catch you eating bacon on your matzah, and you give me a hard time for not keeping Passover, I’ll have to draw the line.