I am planning to return home for the summer after an amazing year of study and travel in Israel on a gap-year program, where I have developed a deeper love of Judaism and taken on more traditional ritual observances. Not only do I now feel comfortable keeping kashrut and Shabbat, I could hardly imagine doing otherwise. The issue is that my parents do not keep a kosher home, and I worry that they will be insulted if I suggest that we buy a second set of dishes or make other ritual changes in our home. Among the most meaningful values I have learned during my year in Israel is “kibud av va’em” — honoring one’s father and mother. Do you have a suggestion for how I might honor my parents and my new religious commitments?
Rabbi Daniel Landes says…
Kindness: “Do not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19) says it all.
Consideration: Kosher slaughter by “s’chitah” enables the bird or beast to die quietly.
Restraint: The many laws and restrictions are paradigmatic of not putting our hedonistic impulses first, but of learning to control our desires to please ourselves.
Compromise: Ultimately, these Jewish concerns should lead to a vegetarian orientation, but as Rav Kook pointed out many years ago, it is a difficult public policy to maintain. Kashrut is the next best thing, though as he stated, “the covering of the blood” after s’chitah with dirt is the equivalent of a “murder confession.”
Restoration: Your reclaiming of kashrut is a form of restoration of a sacred practice of your ancestors.
The values of kindness, consideration, restraint, compromise and restoration (tikkun) should guide your observance of kashrut in your parents’ home. Practical steps: First, seek out an appointment with a local talmid chacham (Jewish scholar) who can avail you of leniencies in the law. There are many. While you may properly wish to adhere strictly to kashrut when you establish your own home, in this case inclusion of your family necessitates leniencies.
Second, go to Crate & Barrel and buy a few cheap but decent dishes on sale; this will help provide you with a sense of dignity. Further, buy some metalware, two good knives and a few plastic pads, for the sink and for drying. Aluminum foil will be a godsend for covering and double-wrapping food in a nonkosher oven.
Transparency is also crucial in this situation. Talk the matter over with your parents and siblings and ask them for a small corner of the kitchen work area, to prepare food; a shelf on which to store your stuff; and designated space in the refrigerator for your perishables. Shop with your family and prepare a Shabbat meal for them. In addition to all of these virtues, a sense of humor is crucial here, as is the knowledge that something will go wrong!
Rabbi Daniel Landes has been Director of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem for the past eighteen years. Before that he was founding faculty member of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Yeshiva of Los Angeles, and rabbi at B’nai David–Judea Congregation. Rabbi Landes blogs at The Times of Israel. Click here to read more.
Rabbi Marcia Prager says…
Rabbi Landes, as always, offers thoughtful, practical and respectful guidance. One would be hard-pressed to be clearer or kinder. So what to add? Rabbi Landes closes his remarks by urging you to talk this over with your parents, saying transparency is crucial. He is so right.
I invite you to consider that a companion to transparency is humility. The Torah readings of these weeks bring us deep into the saga of Moses’s leadership, and we learn that Moses was the most “anav” of any human on the planet (Numbers 12:3). Anavah, usually translated as “humility,” is an essential — even primary — quality of effective leadership.
Anavah can also be understood as openness and transparency. By speaking with your parents, you are exercising Jewish leadership and sharing the core Jewish values you have learned, and modeling their merit. You can offer your parents pride and delight in discovering what a kind, compassionate, thoughtful and respectful person you are becoming, for those are the values they cherish and this is the kind of person they wish for you to become.
So, exercise leadership and begin with anavah. How can you build your commitment to kibud av va’em into your relationship with your parents and elevate your Jewish commitment in their eyes? Sit with them and tell them what wonderful parents they have been; be clear about what you have learned from them and give examples. Thank them. Let them know you are working hard to live out these values.
Share from your heart some of the great experiences you had during your time in Israel, what these meant to you and what inspired you. Tell them about how the people you met and the ideas you encountered have led you to experiment with bringing more traditional Jewish forms into your life, because these give concrete shape to the values that you are cultivating.
Enlist them in being part of this experiment with you. Show them that it can be fun, elevating, inspiring and not just about rules and restrictions, or about them being inadequate or wrong. Some dollar-store glass dishes and cookware will go far, and likewise, the other practical suggestions Rabbi Landes offers. But in the end, there is no greater gift you can give your parents than helping them love who you are becoming. Remember: It’s not only your food that must be kosher, it is you.
Rabbi Marcia Prager is director and dean of ordination programs for ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, and rabbi of the P’nai Or Jewish Renewal Congregation of Philadelphia. She is the author of “The Path of Blessing” (Bell Tower 1998 /Jewish Lights 2003), an exploration of the Jewish practice of brachot, and is the creator of the unique P’nai Or Siddurim for Shabbat and other innovative approaches to prayer and liturgy. Her work as a teacher of Jewish spiritual practice includes developing and co-directing the Davvenen Leadership Training Institute and teaching for the European Academy for Jewish Liturgy.
Ariel Evan Mayse says…
I teach at a gap-year yeshivah in Jerusalem and often field queries of this sort as my students prepare to return to their families after months of intense and transformative study. These are questions rather close to my heart. Beginning in my late teens, I, too, became steadily more observant; this journey took place over the course of many years. All the while I tried very hard to maintain a deep and sincere connection with my family. This included finding ways to eat together and spending Shabbat comfortably in their home. In many respects, my thoughts on these sensitive issues mirror those of Rabbis Landes and Prager.
Cultivating a relationship with your parents in light of your new spiritual practices is about more than transparency. You and your parents are embarking on a shared journey that will last a good many years, and it will not always be simple. You must be mindful that your observance of kashrut will impact them both emotionally and physically, and, depending on their reasons for not keeping a kosher home, your religious practice may seem bewildering or even frustrating. Of course, it need not be so. The more you can share your experience of these new rituals with them in an inviting and nonthreatening manner, the more they will come to understand and respect your decisions.
I would like to briefly reflect on what it will mean to keep Shabbat in your parents’ home, since you mentioned it in your message. It is unlikely (and not necessarily desirable) that your parents will immediately take on observing Shabbat in their home. You will need to navigate a great many sensitive situations — everything from finding ways to warm up food, to leaving on lights, to not cooking, traveling by car or watching movies. All of this must be done without compromising your religious values or intruding on your parents’ space and rhythm of life. As with kashrut, a discussion with a scholar whom you respect will be of great importance in this case as well.
But in addition to working with the laws of Shabbat, I would encourage you to think about what kind of experience of sacred time you can build together with your parents. Are there any Shabbat rituals to which they particularly connect? Do they like to sing, or study and think out loud, or sit quietly together and read? Might they enjoy a relaxed stroll around the neighborhood without cellphones or iPods? Underscoring these points of connection (you may find that there are many!) will minimize their feelings of restriction and help ensure that Shabbat is a unique day of rest, tranquility and time with your family.
Ariel Mayse is a doctoral candidate in Jewish studies at Harvard University, where he is working with Rabbi Arthur Green and Bernard Septimus. He has been a student of Jewish mysticism for many years, and his dissertation explores the idea of language in the teachings of the Maggid of Mezritch. He teaches Hasidic thought and Jewish theology in Jerusalem, where he lives with his wife and son. Mayse is one of the co-editors of “Speaking Torah: Spiritual Teachings From Around the Maggid’s Table” (Jewish Lights, 2013) and editor of the forthcoming “From the Depth of the Well: An Anthology of Jewish Mysticism” (Paulist Press).
Now, what do YOU say?
Is any of this familiar? Would you insist your parents accommodate your new observances? Would you turn your kitchen kosher for a newly observant child? Chime in in the commenting section below.
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Ethical Jam is a project of the Center for Global Judaism of Hebrew College, Newton Centre, Massachusetts, which is working to create a rich pluralistic discourse on issues of vital concern to the Jewish community and to the world at large.