Marissa Young, West Hempstead, NY – Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, Grade 8

Is keeping kosher more than just a way of eating? It is a question that can be pondered for an extensive amount of time. The simple answer is, no; it is merely just a way that orthodox Jewish people eat. However, once you take a deeper look, you can find that, yes, keeping kosher really is much more than just a way of eating.

When glancing at the topic of Kashrut, it seems that it is merely a list of laws of every aspect pertaining to food. Well, at first that is exactly what it is. Kashrut dictates what we eat, when we eat, where we eat, and how we eat. We plan our daily lives based on kosher food. When planning a vacation, we check for kosher restaurants or bring along our own food. The same goes for when we are choosing where to live. If you keep kosher, you must choose your community based upon the kosher recourses that can be found there. When we go to the supermarket, we can’t just buy any food. We must check every item we buy to make sure it is properly certified. Not only that, but there are countless food items that look absolutely delectable, but for those who keep kosher, they are off limits. It seems hard, stressful, and possibly even unreasonable. But that is just at first glance. In truth, Kashrut is something that goes way beyond what we can eat. We learn from it, how to live our lives. That is exactly what Kashrut is – a way of life. Looking back at the facts, without even knowing much, one can tell that Kashrut dictates how we live our daily lives. Almost every single thing we do has Kashrut as a main component. So, even without knowing all the other wonderful things that it brings, you can tell that to Jews, Kashrut is a very big deal.

For those of us who have kept kosher from birth, it is hard to imagine any other way. We just grew up knowing that there are certain things we can’t eat. It was never even a thought in our minds to eat something not kosher, because that’s how we were brought up. Even when I was very little, I would never have thought about going into a non-kosher restaurant and ordering a cheeseburger. It was just plainly out of the question. We can learn a very important lesson from that. In the same way that we would never even think of eating something that wasn’t kosher, we also shouldn’t give the smallest thought about whether or not to follow the other mitzvoth. They shouldn’t be any different. Every mitzvah is equal and we have to follow all of them with equal care. Kashrut is, therefore, a single mitzvah in the Torah which teaches us to flow every other.

As you grow up and have various experiences involving non-Jews, you realize that you are different. While they may talk of eating cheeseburgers and such foods, you have absolutely nothing to add to the conversation. That is when you realize that while every other religion ha something in common, the Jews are seat apart. The laws are very different and some people may question that. They might say “why?” Certain mitzvot in the Torah are ones to which the reasons are unknown. They are a way of proving to ourselves that we are willing to follow the laws of Hashem, even if we don’t know the reason. Since Kashrut is one such law, it proves exactly that. Kashrut is a prime example of the dedication and determination it takes to be a loyal, Torah observing Jew. However, that really doesn’t answer their question of why. As Jews, we may understand, but others may not. Even though we don’t have a direct answer we can reply that it is what G-d told us to do and we have enough belief in him to comply with his requests. Although one might expect that this questioning would weaken your beliefs, in truth it only makes them stronger.

Kashrut also teaches the very important quality of self-control. It starts out with just food. You can stop yourself from eating something you know isn’t good for you. But, we must also apply that to everything we do. Before we act, we must think. We must think if whether what we are about to do or say is something that will have a positive effect on your or anybody else. When we get made, we learn to pause and weight our options before reacting. You cant react right away if you know you’ll look back later and regret it.

This leads to how we should treat others; something that can also be learned from kashrut. Even though we don’t know all the reasons for this mitzvah, there are certain aspects we can guess. The process of slaughtering the animal, shechitah, has very specific requirements. The way in which we kill the animal must be in the most humane way possible. The obvious reason for this is that Hashem wants us to treat all of his creations with the utmost care. So if we have to treat animals in such a thoughtful way, even more so, we should treat even the lowliest of people with an extreme amount of respect.

So, some might conclude that Kashrut really is just a way of eating, while others will beg to differ. They will reason, that in essence, keeping kosher is a way of life. To those who keep kosher and know much more than an outsider, it is just that. Because only they know that embedded in the outer details of Kashurt, are deep lessons that encompass what Judaism is all about.

OU Kosher Staff