Passover, which begins at sundown Monday, comes with plenty of dietary rules. No bagels, for instance.
Well, a new book published by the Reform movement takes a fresh look at Jewish eating in general. It’s called “The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic.”
The Reform movement has traditionally rejected Kosher laws — or at least made them very optional. But the book (published by the Reform Rabbis association) explores the meaning of Kosher (or Kashrut) for liberal Jews in the modern world.
A press release says: “Does Kashrut represent a facade of religiosity, hiding immorality and abuse, or is it, in its purest form, a summons to raise the ethical standards of food production? How does Kashrut enrich spiritual practice by teaching intentionality and gratitude? Can paying attention to our own eating practices raise our awareness of the hungry? Can Kashrut inspire us to eat healthfully? Can these laws draw us around the same table, thus creating community?”
One essay in the book is by Rabbi Mark Sameth of Pleasantville Community Synagogue (which is a non-denominational congregation). Sameth is a vegetarian and suggests that the Reform movement adopt vegetarianism as a formal dietary standard.
He writes: “Over one billion people on the planet are either starving or are chronically undernourished. Animal agriculture is inefficient in the extreme… You’ve got to invest eight to twelve pounds of grain for every one pound of edible beef you get back. Unbelievably inefficient. If we gave up our meat-based diets, simply stopped raising animals for food, all of those crops we are now raising to feed those animals would be sufficient to feed every starving man, woman, and child on the planet.”
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has a nice feature about whether the book and other rumblings suggest that the Reform world is considering/suggesting/mulling over some sort of more formal kosher observance.
The article includes this:
Some Reform leaders, including the book’s editor, Rabbi Mary Zamore of Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, N.J., want to play down the trendiness aspect.
“This is part of a continuum within Reform Judaism,” said Zamore, who pushed the project along for 13 years. “It’s not liberal Judaism becoming something different; it’s that we continue to evolve. Here is a topic which for many Reform Jews was taboo or a non-starter. Now everywhere I go, people are talking about these topics as Reform Jews.”
“The Sacred Table” opens with a discussion of the historical Reform approach to kashrut and includes an overview of traditional kosher laws — a first for an official Reform publication, according to Zamore.
It also includes chapters on each of the Jewish values that proponents of ethical kashrut embrace as they seek to broaden the traditional definition of the Jewish diet, from the ban on “tzaar baalei chayim,” or cruelty to animals, to preventing “oshek,” or oppression of workers. It includes the results of a 2005 survey that showed increasing numbers of Reform synagogues, clergy and lay leaders are keeping kosher, partially or entirely. And it ends with a guide that Reform congregations can use to develop their own communal dietary practice, which may or may not include kashrut.