Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How Jews Eat Affects Relationships With Others

Nadene Goldfoot
One thing that differentiates religious Jews from Christians or Muslims and others  is how they eat.  Jews who follow the laws of Kashrut do not eat meat in the same meal that they would drink milk. If you're eating a meat dish you do not add anything of a milk product to it such as cheese or milk or cream.  This also means we do not eat a cheese hamburger.  In fact, the rule for eastern European Jews is to wait 6 hours after eating meat before you can have a milk product like ice cream, but it depends on the heritage of your grandfather.  Dutch Jews wait one hour  and German Jews wait 3 hours.    The law does allow for people to have a milk dish first and then can follow it up with meat, but be sure they aren't together.  I just about cry when I see a ham and cheese sandwich on a bagel and sure don't eat it.

The reason for this is to develop empathy for life; humane feelings for animals and thus, to carry this over to people.  Picture Bossy, the cow giving milk to her farmer.  She doesn't want to envision that farmer eating her week old calf that he had just taken away from her along with drinking her milk, or knowing that her last year's daughter or son is tonight's dinner and will be mixed with her milk that had been intended for them in the first place.   The thought is repugnant to me.  That would hurt Bossy's feelings so much.  A people that do not want to hurt the very feelings of their cow by doing this certainly will have feelings for other animals and people as well.

Another part of the laws of Kashrut is in the method of killing an animal.  It must be done humanely and the most humane method adopted is for a special person, a Shekhet,  to do it who has very very sharp knives and is well trained.  Then then cuts the throat of the animal, which causes a quick death.  We do not want the animal to have pain, and this is known to be the least painful death. Also, we do not eat any blood, so blood is removed by salting and soaking.

 This also means that we don't go out hunting in the fall for deer.  Hunting is not on our list of things we do, for this means the animals hasn't been killed in the accepted humane way. We even have to say no to Col. Sander's fried chicken.   My father, being a butcher, used to take in the carcass of  hunters" animals and get them cut and packaged for them.  He said he had to throw away most of it as by the time they came in from the hunt, the animals were already decomposing and rotting.  Very little was edible.

That leads to the most important part of our food laws.  We do not eat just any old thing.  It has to be a kosher animal from the list in the bible.  That means we do not eat pigs, donkeys, camels or horses, (thank goodness). Muslims do not eat pigs, either.   There is a phylum of biology that is actually followed.  There are certain requirements that animals must have in order to be on the menu.  Fish must have scales and fins. We don't eat eels, catfish, shark, porpoise or whales.   Without one of the requirements they get to swim away.  No shellfish for Jews, either, no matter if there is a sale on crabs.

Knowing we have certain rules about eating is to also exercise control over our impulses and basic instincts of all our desires.  We have set boundaries so have have the knowledge and responsibility that we are masters of our own lives.

It used to be in the Roman days that the cooks simmered meat in milk.  It was so obvious of the connection, far more than a casserole of today.  It's a very deep psychological imprint in the mind when you are brought up this way of why we don't mix milk with meat that it does affect your associations and brings out empathy for other's pain early.  

So, for 3,000 years our ancestors have been following these food requirements that came from Moses himself.  Sometimes it even led to not becoming victims in some plague epidemic because of the sanitation rules that also go along with it.  The misunderstood part of it was that people thought Jews were being snobbish when they wouldn't eat with them.  It was just that we couldn't eat what they were most likely eating.  In the old days, people were not as understanding with each other's personal requirements and differences.

I had met a young man from a kibbutz, not orthodox but did follow the kashrut laws  who was in the states and the organization had placed him in the home of a non Jewish family.  She called me and asked what to serve him, and I told her.  She couldn't do it.  None of her recipes were so plain as to not mix meat with some milk product.  She just gave up trying to do it.  He managed to eat something from the table in this circumstance, but probably realized that our laws seem pretty difficult for others to follow.  It was a revelation for both of us.

Jews have been leaders in social political life.  Even in Russia they led the break from the Russian Tsars to free people and give them rights.  Caring for people comes from how we are brought up to treat animals and considering their feelings.  Jews have taken special steps to not injure civilians in times where they have had to go into Gaza to stop terrorists from killing them.  They have been more careful and took more precautions  than any other army group would have been.

Israel follows the laws of kashrut.  The hotels are kosher, and so are the supermarkets.  In times of Passover, the matzo products are not mixed into the other bread products.  There just aren't any other bread products around at that time, period.  Israel, surrounded by enemies that want to do her in, is still are raising their children to consider other's feelings and to be kind.  After all, Moses taught us a long time ago not to cheer when we saw the Egyptians drown in the waters when chasing us during the Exodus because they were G-d's children, too.  That was another sensitivity story we were taught by Moses.  So we're not happy when Arabs have been in the way of incoming fire and have been accidentally killed, either.  In fact, I for one cannot understand why adults have been in the line of fire with their children after being told to get under cover by pamphlets and audio systems coming from Israelis.

I want the people of the world to understand that Jews, a religious group who care about the feelings of animals also care very much for the feelings of people as well and would like better than anyone else to have an end to the warfare between the Palestinians and Israel and the the threats coming from Iran that can lead to their extinction.  Doesn't anyone care about our feelings?  One must remember that caring and having empathy  does not equate with being soft in the head or not  being resolute about defending our country.  Israel has been in a defensive mode for some time now, but will be humane in doing so.  

Resource:  The Jewish Catalog by Richard Siegel, Michael and Sharon Strassfeld p. 18-36

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