Monday, September 1, 2008

Kosher: current issues

Most people have a strong preference for laws that make sense. While religious rules may start with a different set of assumptions than secular rules, they still, generally, have a reasoned explanation much beyond, "because God said so." One exception in Judaism is the laws about kosher food. As one commentator explains:

The historical origin of the Jewish dietary laws is obscure and so is their rationale... the kashrut of the Bible belongs to that corpus of law we term "hukkim" (statutes) and for which no rationale is apparent. Biblical commentators have suggested hygiene, or religious separateness, or discipline as possible reasons for the enactment and observance of kashrut, but these and other equally plausible suggestions are not sufficiently supported by historical evidence to emerge from the realm of conjecture.
The lack of obvious rationales is a big reason practicing kosher is optional in Reform Judaism. However, many people the rules were at least partially ordered toward being humane. For example, the Biblical command, "You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk" is repeated three times. From the Union for Reform Judaism:
Any kosher animals must also be slaughtered in a kosher way, which is an ancient slaughtering process that is believed to be less painful for the animal.
The recent issues in Postville have highlighted how the traditional rules not only fail at accomplishing humane treatment for animals, but don't address the equally (if not more) important issue of humane treatment for human workers at kosher slaughterhouses. The Conservative Jewish movement recently started a new committee: it is tasked with creating a new certifying process for kosher foods. This certification will takes into account ethical considerations for workers and animals in addition to ritual laws. The Reform movement just passed a resolution to support this new certification process.

The partner and I, like most members of Reform congregations, do not keep kosher. But we will definitely be looking for products certified under the new regulations: improving the ethics of our food purchasing speaks to how we want to practice religion.

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