YOUR KOSHER HERITAGE [or, whatever you want to call it]

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In the Woody Allen casual, "Hassidic Tales, with A Guide to their Interpretation by the Noted Scholar",  a revered Renaissance Rabbi, a leader of the European Jewish community, is stopped on the street by an old peasant lady, who demands, "Rabbi, why are we not allowed to eat pork?"  "We're not?" replies the surprised Rabbi, "Uh-ohhh!"

Which raises a question:  why ARE we Jews not supposed to eat pork, regardless of how much we may savor it in its moo shi and barbecued sparerib forms?  Or any of the other foods prohibited by the dietary laws of Kasruth?  You know the basic drill:  no pork, no shellfish, no meat 'n' dairy, and a number of other more detailed strictures found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, like no blood, no fish without scales, no vultures.  But why?  What is the real purpose of these laws?

I know what you're thinking:  Hygiene.  Cleanliness.  In the time of Moses, thorough cooking to eliminate blood destroyed nasty Sinai germs; pork carried trichinosis, shellfish spoiled quickly, scaleless scavenger fish eat all kinds of refuse and were, well, yucky.  Sounds reasonable.  Well, guess again, bucko.  I got the REAL skinny from the young Chassidic Jew who visited our suburban New Jersey home every few months to collect the coins my mother would drop into the charity box she kept on the kitchen counter.  They'd drink tea and argue, the bearded, black-clad Chassid insisting that I should be enrolled in a Yeshiva, instead of Livingston Junior High School.  One time he turned to me and asked, do you know why we keep Kosher?  Oh, sure, I replied, full of 8th-grade worldliness, it's for hygienic reasons . . . it protected the Jews from diseases that plagued the philistines.

"NO!!!" he thundered.  "IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH HYGIENE!!  We keep Kosher because GOD TOLD US TO!!"  So there you have it.  And, when you think about it, the hygiene story really doesn't make sense:  cooking meat till it curls up as required by Kosher law would surely kill the little bugs in pork, making it safe to eat.  Ditto for shellfish.  And while the prohibited catfish (no scales) may be a skanky scavenger, so is the prized carp, consumed by the ton in the form of gefilte fish.  And, no hygiene story would begin to explain the no-meat-and-dairy rule.


So what's the problem with having meat and dairy together?  Why no gooey cheeseburgers?  Or no sour cream on your spud when you tuck into a nice juicy steak?  The fact is, the Pentateuch doesn't say anything about meat and dairy products sharing a plate.  What it DOES say, at Deuteronomy 14:21, is:  "Thou shalt not boil a kid in his mother's milk."  Huh?  That's right, it doesn't make a lot of sense.  And, it's just kind of tacked on at the end, out of place.  The Talmudic scholars didn't understand it, either, and so they went ahead and outlawed all meat-dairy contact.  Better to be safe than sorry, they figured.

Here's what it REALLY means.  This came to me a few years ago when the Washington Post food section had a feature on middle east cuisine.  One of the recipes was a classic Arabic stew, lamb simmered in yogurt, called, of all things, "Mother's Milk."  This cannot be a coincidence.  What I figure happened was that the fellow who was writing down this particular portion of the Torah (the Torah might have been inspired by God, but it was transcribed by people) had a bad experience with this dish.  Maybe he was up all night with the runs, maybe he had the stomach flu, but, bottom line, he just plain hated it.  So when they were writing down the Kosher laws, he said, "Oh, and by the way, DON'T eat the mother's milk at Abdul's Cafe!  It's terrible, terrible!  The meat is as tough as a Philistine's sandal!  And such small portions!  Ughh!  Stay away!"

So go ahead, eat that cheeseburger!  And if someone tries to get holier-than-thou on you, you just tell 'em, "Uh, EXCUSE me, but, do I look like I'm boiling a kid in his mothers milk?  No?  Well THANK you."


If you know religious Christians, ask them, why do they eat pork?  After all, it says right there in Deuteronomy and Leviticus plain as day that it's a no-no.  So how come all the delicious Easter hams, and the pork chops? (Homer Simpson's favorite food).  The Five Books of Moses -which they call the Old Testament- is part of the bible, and contain many laws that Christians are still supposed to follow.  Like, oh, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.  So why not the Kosher laws?  When did that get changed?  Where is it written, "hey, God was only kidding about the ham!  We repealed that old law, so, go ahead, pass the bacon!"  I've been asking that question for some time now, and I haven't gotten a straight answer yet.  If you find out, please, let me know!

Compliment?  Complaint? Lemme Know!!

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