The Sandwich

In case anyone has been engaged by or even slightly interested in my recent wrestlings with kashrut,  I do appreciate it. If you think I’m being a self involved apikorus, that’s fine too.

Update: Today I ate a sandwich consisting of non kosher products, it was delicious, and so far, I’m still alive. I was really afraid of what would happen when I put said sandwich in my mouth-would I freak out? Would I instantaneously regret my decision? Would I be able to sleep that night? The answers seem to be no, no, and probably not, but I’m an insomniac, anyway.

What led up to the eating of the sandwich were several very long and circuitous conversations with myself and others, and finally deciding that just because I ate this sandwich today did not mean I would eat it, or even something similar to it, tomorrow. I will not conduct my life in absolutes, which, to be honest, is the way I’d conceived of kashrut up until now: If I don’t keep kosher, I’m not Jewish anymore, and if I’m not Jewish, what am I?

I also realized something rather obvious: this whole argument I’m having with myself is not about Judaism. It’s about food and my relationship to it, and kashrut was a way to control what I ate. It’s about Jewish identity, certainly, in that Judaism was/is the filter through which I do/did that, but in the end, I realized that it was about controlling my body. Kashrut equals boundaries, assertion, discipline. No kashrut equals gluttony, a culinary free for all, lack of control…fat.

Recently, a friend of mine and I were talking about how it feels to know that, as not skinny ladies, other women were evaluating us based on what we put in our mouths, to have our food choices judged via someone’s internal (or external, in the form of“I hope that’s not your dinner!” ) conversation. How can she eat what she’s eating? Is she going to go to the gym later? What if I look like that someday? I know that these conversations happen because I’ve had them with myself and other people. At least I’m not as big as her, at least I have some self control…

I’m not arguing that there aren’t good reasons for keeping kosher, or trying to assert that kashrut is the cause of or leads to disordered eating or is innately oppressive to women. I’m not even saying that I’m done keeping kosher. This is very likely a blip in my blah blah Jewish journey blah blah. But right now, I can’t construct a good reason to place the boundaries of kashrut around me. Halacha isn’t enough anymore. “Because that’s what Jews do” isn’t either, because it’s what some Jews do, it isn’t all encompassing, this isn’t everything that you are. Of course, there is a part of me that feels guilty, like a quitter. And then there’s the part of me that says, “Shut up. It’s just a sandwich.”

15 thoughts on “The Sandwich

  1. No, you were right. *Any* traditional diet is better than the fattening, heart-disease inducing, cancer-causing regular Western diet. Being Jewish is a perfect legitimate reason to use kashrut to fight against that. But if you put it up on a “falling off the wagon” kind of circumstance, the stakes of occasional failure are so high, that for some people it’s too much pressure.
    I haven’t eaten mammal in years. I have had a speck of chicken. But the next time I have one of these (kosher or not), I’m not going to give myself lashes, and neither should you.
    Even letting thinking about the ethics and health of food (even if it doesn’t stop you) puts you ahead of 90% of the people out there.

  2. check out Jacob Milgrom’s work on Kashrut as an ethical dietary system. He wrote numerous articles published in numerous places on the topic over a span of three decades. It is interesting insight and might provide you with a bridge between your concerns.

  3. There’s only one rationale for Kashrus (it’s a G-d given set of commandments) — it has nothing to do with dieting, self-image, or Jewish identity.
    Not sure why someone who didn’t accept that would care abt keeping Kosher in a traditional, halachic sense.

    1. curious writes:
      There’s only one rationale for Kashrus (it’s a G-d given set of commandments)
      Rambam, Ramban, and others would disagree with you.

  4. it has nothing to do with … Jewish identity
    and history would disagree with you–it shouldn’t be taken as a coincidence that Bedouin still eat goat kefta in labneh (quite literally a kid in its mothers milk…) Many of the signifiers of Israelite culture appear to be in opposition to the cultural norms of their neighbors. Other examples include prohibition of pork, one of the more common meat sources for neighbors to the south, north and east; pe’ot are sometimes thought of as an alternative to the single lock of hair thought to be sported by “Canaanites”; a strict adherence to keeping facial hair is thought by some as a rejection of the Egyptian practice to remove all body hair. This is just to name a few.

  5. I’d have to add to this that seeing Kashrut as a way to stay thin… is bizarre. It’s perfectly possible to eat kosher and still eat too much, or things that are terrible for you, or eat badly – perhaps one could even think of it as a variety of naval b’reshut (being a scoundrel within the boundaries of Torah).
    Also, what, exactly, is wrong with maintaining control over oneself? Sure, secular culture judges women not only by how they look, but by what they eat; it’s sexist, it’s limiting, etc. But keeping kosher could just as easily be taken as a way to say, “my body is holy because it is joined with my soul. I restrict what I eat because God wants me to be aware of my soul and that my relationship with food just as much as with money or things impacts the state of my soul. God commanded kashrut to be thankful for what I have and to remember that what I eat impacts not only myself, but others (both in the sense of maintaining a Jewish community, but also in the sense that meat kills other beings, and even eating grains and veggies has an impact on the earth itself that God made, and on the people who raise the crops).”
    You say that halacha isn’t a good enough reason for keeping kosher any more. I’m curious what you mean by that. What does halacha mean to you? To some it might mean God’s commandments as interpreted by human agents, others divine justice, others a system that teaches us to be aware of the holiness of things besides ourselves, to some it could be the foundation for building a relationship with God (like one might not eat anchovies in the house, despite really liking them, because one’s partner thinks the smell is revolting and stinks up the house) – I presume there can be lots of other meanings too… Which of them is the one that’s not good enough anymore?

  6. I miss bacon. If anyone says is snarky about my Jewish practice, I think about all those years of no bacon. Sigh. In heaven, can Jews eat bacon?

  7. BZ – If you’re referring to Rambam’s premise that Kashrus is merely G-d’s guide to the signs of healthy and unhealthy species (i.e., food that is good for your body), I would point you to Sefer HaChinukh, which basically says that regardless of the current state of science in any human epoch, and the current human understanding of which foods are un/healthy, Kashrus is based on a superior and infallible source (G-d).
    In other words, while current 21st century conventional wisdom holds that chazer is as “healthy” as beef, Kashrus (a divine commandment from G-d) is above human reason and holds a deeper truth as to why chazer is “unhealthy.”
    So even if people *think* they have discovered that chazer is in fact healthy, Jews know that it is not, by virtue of the fact that it is a prohibited food in the Torah.

  8. From this Gentile’s apikorus’ perspective, I’d have to agree with “curious”. Since you acknowledge that you don’t see it as essential to your identity as a Jew (or am I wrong, do you?) then why worry about it at all? I suspect that you are worried that if you give up being kosher then you will fall into some sort of self-indulgent chocolate binge ne’er to return again. Were I you, I would consider how important kosher is to your identity, which aspects of it you consider beneficial and/or mandatory and those which you do not. I would go through the reasons for my decisions and remember them. Then I would stop rattling myself with guilt, worry and self-doubt. Good luck.

  9. thanks for sharing your thoughts and blah blah journeys! i have found that my thoughts on ethical eating have gotten all tangled up in the mix of health, jewish practice, sustainability, and fair labor practice which i have spent lots of time talking about, but less time thinking about the connection to body image issues.

  10. Chanel,
    I am going through exactly what you are. I’ve eaten shrimp 3 times in the past few weeks when I hadn’t in over a decade. I don’t know what it means yet. I suspect though that if I do return to the type of kashrut I was following In will be more committed to it having tested the waters outside.

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