Andy Blumenthal
Leadership With Heart

Being “super duper” kosher

So maybe I grew up in different times. In those days, my parents who were orthodox, only had kosher food and Glatt Kosher meat–that was a given.

I think their parents in Europe though didn’t know anything from Glatt kosher–in those days, they were lucky to have a kosher butcher in town who wasn’t persecuted by the local anti-Semites.  Like other orthodox Jews, my grandparents and parents were Kosher–and we were proud of it!  Then over the years, something happened, and there became many more variations of what being kosher means.

Certainly, I appreciate people wanting to do hiddur mitzvah (excelling at their practice of Judaism), but at the same time, I can’t help feeling that there can also be an unholy element of people trying to be “holier than thou.”  While I am not a kashrut expert, I hear the refrain of Kosher, Glatt Kosher, Breuers Schita, Beit Yoseph, Pat Yisrael, Chalav Yisrael, Bodek, and many more nuances these days.

Of course, I am sure many good people are trying to do the right thing and genuinely practice to be better servants of Hashem.  However, this should never become an excuse to use religious practices to misguidedly “compete”–hurt or shame–and somehow “one up” their neighbor’s religiosity or status as fellow Jews.  That would be to erroneously think that G-d can’t see all His children as good and deserving in their own ways, even though the creator can certainly see what is in the heart and in the doings of all of us.

I remember years ago already, you wouldn’t be caught dead with a package of Hebrew National in your shopping cart, because while they may say, “We answer to an even higher authority,” the word about town was that it didn’t cut it by the Orthodox world.  As a child growing up, my parents would have to get special Breurs Schita meat when we had some beautiful relatives from Washington Heights visit with us–they would never eat our regular glatt kosher meat.  Now I see children that refuse to eat in Parent’s homes, and parents who bring their own plastic utensils when they eat at their children’s. Being kosher or Jewish isn’t enough if you haven’t kept up with the Cohen’s, Katz’s, and Shapiro’s.

And listen, it’s not just kosher, but celebrations too–bar mitzvah’s have become more “bar” than “mitzvah.”  It used to be the Jewish boy was called to the Torah and there was a decent kiddish after prayer services.  Then came the big Sunday celebrations with tens, then hundreds, and now even thousands of guests.  Having the affair in the Catskills for the whole weekend or in a ginormous sport’s stadium and renting Beyonce or Aerosmith to perform is now not an irregular part of the determination of who’s who in Jewish circles.

Yes, Simchas and Kashrut are different–with the latter being a mitzvah!  But the point is that while we may all be created equal, in the community, we don’t all stay that way.  From the big machar in shul who can buy all the honors on the high holidays to getting the special corner seat in the synagogue as a makom kavua (set seat), being more religious, having more money, or being able to trace better yichus is a distorted way of pulling rank instead of everyone trying their best to serve Hashem on their level.

Of course, we need to have the highest respect for our Torah scholars and people that are mesiras nefesh (self-sacrificing) for Hashem and who give generously to the needy, the community, and to Israel.  However, we shouldn’t pull the kosher-er than thou card, when the other person is perfectly kosher too or the smug holier than thou pretentiousness, when your fellow Jew is serving Hashem too at their level and in their way.  A real religious person endears his fellow Jew to Judaism and is lovingly mikarev them (bringing them closer) to Hashem.

When we act unfairly judgey of others and pull religious, wealth, and heritage rank over others, instead of humbly serving Hashem, we distort what it means to be Jewish.  Moreover, we end up alienating many of those who would one day perhaps become of our finest. Our religious and community leaders and all of us need to respect each other and see all Jews as am eched, b’lev eched–one nation with one heart (and soul) from Hashem.

About the Author
Andy Blumenthal is a dynamic, award-winning leader who writes frequently about Jewish life, culture, and security. All opinions are his own.
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