On Saturday, many Jewish people around the world will fast for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is an excellent way to increase awareness of those who fast not by choice, but by necessity. By increasing our compassion for others, such a fast can move us one step closer to angels who never eat at all.
Fasting, even for one day, is a high calling, however everyone, no matter what faith or level of observance we practice, could benefit from the awareness that a little restraint, however brief, can bring.
When I first became enamored with all things Jewish, I was concerned about how to maintain a kosher diet while living on an island without kosher restaurants, butchers or other Jewish businesses. I found the easiest way to “keep kosher” was to become a vegetarian. Our eldest son assisted us in this venture by declaring as a child that he did not want to eat animals anymore.
So this is what, for the most part, we did and still do, relying mostly on fruits and vegetables, with meals featuring kosher fish or chicken as a special treat.
Kosher rules include not mixing meat with milk and only eating fish that have scales and fins (ie: not shellfish) or meat from animals with cloven hoofs that chew their cud. Meat from kosher animals (which also includes domestic fowl) must be slaughtered in a highly regulated way. By eliminating or reducing meat consumption, it becomes much easier and less expensive to thrive in a small Jewish community with few kosher resources.
In Victoria, kosher meat can only be purchased from a small specialty grocery store called Aubergines in Fernwood. Owner, Leon Zetler, stocks frozen chicken, meat and gefilte (ground white) fish from Ontario or Eastern United States which increases the price considerably. While we can afford this as an occasional treat, most budget conscious kosher carnivores buy or order east coast meat from stores in Vancouver or Seattle. You can’t “buy local” or follow a “one hundred mile diet” while consuming kosher meat in Victoria.
Refraining from eating meat, or consuming as little as possible, is a much more compassionate, sustainable way to live no matter what dietary habits or laws you follow. Some of our most distinguished commentators point us in this holy direction.
Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki), a medieval, French Torah scholar and vintner who wrote some of our most cited commentaries, hints that we follow all these detailed instructions around the slaughter and consumption of meat in order to make it more difficult for us to take the lives of other living creatures.
The line from Torah on which the laws concerning meat consumption are based states that we should “…not cook a kid (baby goat) in its mother’s milk.” Even though the hamburger you consume probably did not have a familial relationship with the cheese melted on top of it, this concept of separation and distinction encourages us to take extra care as we choose and eat our food.
As a Jewish Victorian I’ve been rewarded with many meaningful ways to follow the ways of our ancestors including blessing and enjoying kosher food whenever possible. Through all this I am learning to be a more compassionate human being.
It’s not so much what or how we eat, it’s what we say and even more important, what we do to make this world better for all of us that matters most, no matter how many legs we use to walk upon or wings to fly.
Shoshana Litman is Canada's first ordained Maggidah (a female Jewish storyteller), an administrator for the Mussar Institute of Vancouver B.C., and a tour guide for Congregation Emanu-El, Canada’s oldest synagogue in Victoria, B.C.