As more Americans announce they're signing up for the
Bible's ancient diet plan, Farbrengen decided to indulge Rebbetzin
Miriam Lieberman in a mission to sniff out that elusive ingredient that
makes kosher so kosher.
The short bald man from the IRS wants to know if your books are kosher, while Grandma Beatrice wants to know if the deli has kosher pickles. But what is kosher?
I love kosher and it seems I'm not alone. There are an estimated eight million kosher consumers that will seek out kosher labels at their local supermarkets and will collectively spend approximately $3 billion dollars this year. According to the kosher industry, the total number of consumers is growing at an annual rate of 15%, all because kosher¯ is identified with quality, health and fine preparation. As a result, more and more food companies want to get a kosher symbol clearly marked on their products.
Sure, the sages point out the various advantages of the biblical kosher laws: the health benefits, the humane treatment of animals, their unifying effect on a dispersed people, and their role as a shield against assimilation. Yet, these reasons¯ seem to be more side effects of kosher, than the primary ingredient.
Nachmanides, the great 12th Century sage and kabbalist, cut to the core of kosher when he pointed out that the birds and many of the mammals forbidden by the Torah are predators, while the permitted animals are not; we are instructed not to eat those animals, so that we should not absorb these qualities into ourselves.
The mitzvah of kosher is thus more than just a healthy diet. That's why the kosher consumer understands that a kosher hot dog can't guarantee a heartburn-free life, or that having a kosher kitchen won't replace going to the gym.
Kosher is seen as a sort of spiritual nutrition, and as a mitzvah of G-d, the science behind kosher becomes quite simple: just as there are foods that are good for the body and foods that are harmful, there are foods that nourish the Jewish soul and foods that adversely affect it.
In the end, the secret ingredient in kosher is G-d. So, for G-d's sake, keep it kosher.
CHEW ON THIS
The Talmud says: When the Holy Temple was in existence, the Altar atoned for Israel; today, a person's table atones for him.
Any Jewish mystic will tell you that kosher is that holy ingredient which transforms gourmet food into soul fuel and renovates the dinning room table into an Altar for your Divine service.
Rebbetzin Lieberman is the director of Chabad's Hebrew High in Los Alamitos, California. She enjoys cooking with her three small children.