Tag Archives: kashrut


by Rita Plush (New York, NY)

A short muscular man, Adler elevator shoes his footwear of choice, my father liked to have the last word. Actually, he liked to have every word, not only with my mother and me, but with the world at large; he dispensed his unsolicited opinions at will and with abandon. Boundaries? My father? 

It gets around that a relative is contemplating a divorce. He’s on the phone in a heartbeat speechifying that marriage takes work (ask my mother about that!). A neighbor is trying for a baby. He holds forth on everything from birth deformities to breastfeeding. Doesn’t matter who, give him half a chance to interfere, he’s on it like a smile on Liberace. 

Enter his mother, my grandmotherthe only person who could zip his lip, the one he took advice from, instead of giving to. 

Short like my father, feet so small she bought her shoes in the children’s department. A pint-sized woman, she spoke mostly Yiddish, and when she talked to my father in that furious pitch and rhythm of the mother tongue, she was an Amazon in Mary Janes. Yes, mommy; yes, mommy, to whatever she said, my father became a six-year old boy. 

That six-year old was worried big-time when my brother was getting married and my father learned shrimp was on the wedding menu (shell fish is verboten under Jewish law). My grandmother kept kosher in her home and outside of it; if she got wind her grandson’s wedding was serving non-kosher food, Oy vey! wouldn’t begin to tell it. 

His solution: hightail it to the caterer and offer him money on the sly to make the big event kosher. It did not occur to my father that his visit was unseemly, and that the caterer would refuse his bribe, and the in-laws who were hosting the affair would find out. 

The big day arrived. Some fancy footwork was in order.  

“Let’s dance, Ma,” he said, and waltzed her tiny feet far from the seafood table. One-two-three, one-two-three. “Vau iz der lox,” she said. Where’s the lox? “Later, Ma.” One-two-threeBut try as he might to shift her away from the crustaceous creatures, he was no match for my grandmother. 

“Dos iz nisht keyn kehshr.” This is not a kosher affair, she said and pulled a knowing face. 

“It isn’t?!” my father said, all innocence, sweating in his rented tuxedo. 

Rita Plush is the author of the novels, Lily Steps Out and Feminine Products, and the short story collection, Alterations. She is the book reviewer for Fire Island News, and teaches memoir, Continuing Education, Queensborough Community College. If you’d like to learn more about Rita and her work, visit: https://ritaplush.com

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Filed under American Jewry, Family history, Jewish, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, Judaism

Barriers to Breaking Bread

by Pamela Jay Gottfried (Atlanta, GA)

There was a flurry of emails — back and forth, over several days– with the host insisting that nothing was too much trouble.  She wrote, “I make menu changes for everyone. I once had a dinner with 7 major religions and 2 extreme allergies.  No one died or had to go to confession afterward. What can’t you eat?” I thought that my response was clear, but I discovered later that it was not explicit enough.

You see, I keep kosher and I adhere to pretty strict rules within the system of Kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws that originate in the Hebrew Bible as part of a holiness code.  Their original context is important: this code created definitive boundaries for eating, along with other daily activities, to draw a distinction between the Israelites and their neighbors.  The earliest Jews were not permitted to break bread with “others,” the inhabitants of the land, whose practices and customs were different and deemed — in many cases– abhorrent.

Kashrut is not necessarily about eating a healthy diet, which I also strive to do. But like my healthy diet, it does restrict me from eating certain foods altogether, eating some foods together with others, and eating certain foods at certain times.  This system of eating gives my everyday life tremendous meaning, as it helps govern my food choices.  At the same time, it also affects where and with whom I can eat.

The night of the dinner meeting I arrived a few minutes early, the Imam walking in just after me and the Pastor, and the Pastor’s wife. The host led us all into the kitchen, letting me and the Imam know immediately that she had cooked the beef roast before the pork roast, using different utensils.  The Imam, a generally easy-going fellow, smiled and thanked her.  The rabbi, a more intense personality, felt a panic triggered in the brain begin to seep into her stomach.

Softly, but deeply, I exhaled a long and steady breath.  The nausea subsided.  I told my host that I couldn’t eat the meat, only salad and vegetables.  I explained that although she had gone to the trouble of using separate utensils, the meat itself was not kosher, not ritually slaughtered.  I thought to myself that I was already bending the rules by eating rice and vegetables cooked in her non-kosher kitchen, but I didn’t get into those particulars with her. I had made a conscious decision to enjoy a meal of fellowship with others, whom I no longer considered to be “others.” I had chosen to compromise my personal observance of ritual law in pursuit of fulfilling an ethical imperative to love my neighbors.

In the face of such warm hospitality and genuine friendship, Kashrut seemed to me exposed as a divisive barrier to establishing community, rather than an enlightening channel to practicing holiness. I exhaled gently a second time, smiled and complimented my host for preparing a bountiful array of side dishes in the manner of a true Jewish mother.  The Imam led us in a prayer, in the kitchen, inviting God’s grace to our gathering. My Lutheran sister poured me a glass of wine, and invited us all to the table, where we sat down to break bread.

Pamela Jay Gottfried is a rabbi, parent, teacher, artist, and the author of Found in Translation: Common Words of Uncommon Wisdom.  A New York City native and graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Gottfried teaches students of all ages in churches, colleges, community centers, schools, and synagogues. She strives for balance in her life by spending as much time writing at the computer as she does working at the pottery wheel.

You can read more of her work on her blog, Pamela’s Pekele (http://rabbipjg.blogspot.com/), where this piece first appeared. It’s reprinted here with the author’s kind permission.

And for more information about Gottfried, visit her website: http://www.pamelagottfried.com/

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Filed under American Jewry, Jewish identity