Recently I started to pay more attention to how many conversations I have each day about food. This isn’t because I’m a foodie—someone who loves to seek-out and share new food experiences—it’s because so many of my family, friends and acquaintances have dietary restrictions due to religion, allergies and personal preferences.
A personal preference we are all familiar with now is vegetarianism. I remember not too long ago that if you announced that you were a vegetarian in a restaurant, you were met with confused and often apologetic looks from your waiter or waitress. Now, almost every restaurant highlights their vegetarian items, along with vegan, dairy-free and gluten free options.
For physical health that’s great, but one option you won’t see in any restaurant in Victoria has little to do with physical health. It’s the kosher option, which is important for Jewish spiritual health.
Now you might ask, “Isn’t vegetarian and vegan food kosher?”
The answer is, “Not necessarily.” If the food is prepared alongside non-kosher foods, and/or is served in dishes that have had non-kosher foods in them, then the food is not kosher.
You read that correctly: even the dishes have to be kosher.
But, you say, “I have Jewish friends and acquaintances who choose vegan and vegetarian options at restaurants all the time.” You may even have Jewish friends who are happy to choose anything from the menu, except pork, ham and bacon. You see it’s not what we eat that makes us Jewish; we are all free to choose yet many Jews draw the line at pork. They just won’t eat it.
If you ask them why, they may say, “Because I’m Jewish. We don’t eat pig-meat.” But beyond that explanation, they may not know why they don’t eat pork products.
They may know that in the Torah G-d told the Hebrews what they could and couldn’t eat, and although your friends may eat other non-kosher animals (such as shellfish and clams), for some reason they just can’t bring themselves to knowingly eat pork.
Recently, I learned an explanation as to why the pig is so repugnant to many Jewish people and I’d like to share that with you here.
To recap briefly, the rule concerning mammals is that we may eat animals that have a split hoof AND chew their cud. The AND is very important. Cow, goats, sheep and deer have split hooves and chew their cud. Horses chew their cud but don’t have split hooves. Pigs have split hooves but do not chew their cud.
And therein lies one reason why the pig is so reviled as a food for Jewish people. All the other animals show their feet and say, “See, I am not kosher; you may not eat me.” But the pig shows its split hooves as if to say, “I am kosher; you may eat me.” It is this outward show that is deceitful and hypocritical.
We have all heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” In this case, we do not want to take on the attributes of the pig, and therefore we are forbidden to eat it. This doesn’t mean that other people can’t or shouldn’t eat pork. If you aren’t allergic to gluten or peanuts, then you are free to eat them. It’s the same with kosher foods. If you’re not Jewish, then you don’t need to worry about them.
I like to look at kosher food as healthy for my soul; if it’s not kosher, my soul will have an allergic reaction. And an allergy is something everyone understands.
Fiona Prince, MA is a coach, facilitator and teacher who provides fundamental communication and writing skills to help people succeed in their professional and academic lives. She worships at the Chabad Family Shul where she volunteers teaching children and adults how to read Hebrew. Sign-up for weekly communication tips at www.princeheron.com. To learn to read Hebrew, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Morah means teacher and Faiga is her Hebrew name).
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
*This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, April 16 2016