Thursday, November 23, 2006


Two reasons I love being a Reform Jew: Emphasis on Tikkun Olam and Social Justice.

Some Jews today are making dietary laws even stricter: But is it kosher?
by Sue Fishkoff
JTA news service
Printed in the November 10 - 23, 2006 issue of The Jewish Press of Tampa.

San Francisco - Reform rabbis are talking their own board of kashrut.

Alternative minyans are offering vegetarian or kosher-approved vegetarian meal options. Synagogues are contracting with organic farms in the name of Jewish Values.

Something is going on in the world of Jewish dietary practice. But is it kosher?

That depends on what you mean by the word. In addition to following more kosher laws, many Jews have changed their notion of what constitutes food that is "fit to eat."

Even as the kosher food industry continues its explosive growth - it's now a $10 billion market, showing 15 percent growth over last year, according to Lubicom Marketing, which runs Manhattan's annual Kosherfest - some individuals and groups are exploring creative approaches to kashrut in the name of pluralism, holiness and social justice.

Eco-kashrut, which includes notions of sustainable agriculture, fair labor practices and ethical treatment of animals in its definition of what is kosher, or fit to eat, has been a staple of Jewish Renewal since Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi began promoting the term decades ago.

As environmentalism itself entered the American mainstream, eco-kashrut gained currency in more Jewish circles.

Tu B'Shevat, which marks the new growing season, is commonly observed by such activities as tree plantings, beach or park clean-ups and recycling projects. Jewish schools and camps promote recycling in the dining hall as a Jewish value.

The "green synagogue" movement, which encourages congregations to build and maintain their shuls according to sound ecological practices, is based on the same notion, that Jews can find support for contemporary sensibilities within Jewish tradition.

Now a handful of Jewish groups are poised to take eco-kashrut to the next step, creating a symbiotic food-production chain whereby synagogues and other Jewish institutions buy their food from local organic farms.

This growing season, five synagogues and Jewish community centers [JCCs] in New York, New Jersey, Washington and Texas contracted with local farmers for all or a significant part of their harvest, giving the farmers financial support while encouraging their own members to eat locally grown, organic produce. Five more cities will be added to the program next year.

"We want to reframe the question of kashrut, not to abandon it, but to ask what it means to keep kosher in the 21st century," project coordinator Leah Koenig says. "Is it kosher to eat food sprayed with chemicals? Is it kosher to eat eggs from chickens kept in tiny, cramped cages?"

The project is the perhaps first Jewish entree into the world of CSA, community-sustained agriculture.

Synagogue or JCC members pay in advance for produce boxes, which they pick up at the institution on a weekly basis.

"It's pretty radical," Koenig says. "The synagogue becomes not just a place to pray or drop off your children, but where you pick up your organic produce. It gives people the opportunity to see the synagogue in a new way."

Next spring, a new organic farm just outside Baltimore will begin growing produce for a conference center owned by the Baltimore Jewish Federation. The 1.5 acre Pearlstone Farm is projected as "a model for small family farms trying to stay in business," says director Yaqir Manela, 24.

There has been "a groundswell of energy" these past two years in the field of eco-kashrut, Manela says.

"People realize it's a way of supporting Israel and ourselves, to not be energy-dependent. The halachah is right there: Don't reap the corners of your field, share your harvest. In Judaism you create social justice by the way you take care of the earth. This is kashrut in a big way."

Not everyone is buying in, however.

"The Orthodox Union has had this discussion, in terms of animal welfare and healthful foods," but ultimately decided that its mandate is simply to provide certification of what's kosher according to halachah, not decide what's "healthy" or "ethical" food, says Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of the organization's kashrut division.

Jack Wertheimer, provost of the Conservative Movement's Jewish Theological Seminary, agrees.

"As a Jew who believes kashrut is a part of the discipline of Judaism, kashrut is kashrut. Eco-kashrut is something different," Wertheimer says. "Not that I'm opposed to eco-kashrut, but's it's something else."


Me again - to explain what that was all about for anyone who might be confused.

vocabulary - "halachah" is Jewish law. "kashrut" - the proper name for the body of dietary laws - is really just another term for "kosher" - which comes from the Hebrew for "fit."

Reform Jews don't really keep Kosher, as it is traditionally understood. Some do, and the number who do, from what I understand, is growing all the time. But as with most things in Judaism, we believe that it is up to the individual to decide whether or not something like keeping dietary (and other ancient Temple and Israelite) laws is something we need to do. As we see it, Judaism has evolved as the understanding of Jews has evolved. This is not how everyone sees it. Orthodox Jews are like the keepers of the old ways, which are not always good, though they are to them. They do what's traditional for the sake of it being traditional, with no or little thought as to why it's traditional, how it became traditional or its original purpose. Conservatives... well... to me they are like fence-sitters. Most, if not all, keep Kosher and do other obligatory traditional things because they are traditional, as a matter of course, but they let the women sit with the men as equals in the synagogue. I see leaders of both the Orthodox and Conservative movements as being sticks-in-the-mud on this issue. They tend to not like the things the Reform movement comes up with, the religious justifications we find for things like the above described are really quite radical to them, when we see them as self-evident.

With the Reform movement, which is far from perfect (please, don't think that I mean to suggest otherwise), the emphasis is on individual choice according to individual understanding when it comes to tradition (as well as having a *huge* emphasis on democratic governance and carrying through the will of the people). So keep Kosher if you feel it's important to you, if not, don't if you don't want to, or come up with your own definition of what is "fit to eat," what is kosher. That is what the people in this article have done. They might keep kosher in the traditional sense or, like me, they might not, but in addition or in place of the traditional definition of "no pig, no shellfish, no anything that eats the dead, etc." they also want organic, local food. Which I think is all good. If you can institutionalize something like supporting local farmers and organic and ethical agricultural practices in religious teachings, I think that's the greatest thing ever. Making something so everyday a holy act makes it more likely that more people will adopt the ideals, I think. This goes along with the long time emphasis in the Reform movement on the Tikkun Olam commandment. Tikkun Olam means "repair the world." Any act which will improve, repair or help the world is a mitzvah. So picking up trash in a park, planting a tree, recycling, sending aid to Darfur, voting... all of those are religious acts for Reform Jews. They might not think of them as such, 'cause I know I don't think about it that way on a day-to-day basis, but technically, they are. There is also a major emphasis on social justice in the Reform movement that goes along with this - the whole "if one human is denied a freedom, then no one has that freedom, so we must ensure that no one is denied their rights" thing. This was, I believe, a 20th century addition to the Reform movement (and to other Jewish movements as well, because Judaism does emphasize this, it's just the Reform movement emphasizes it a bit more and above other issues, which the others do not), which manifested (if not before) in Jewish participation in the Civil Rights movements of the later half of the century, as well as in the GLBT rights movement, which continues world-wide to this day. It's the major reason that I'm so involved and concerned with the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals. Which brings me to the next article:

In precedent-setting ruling court says state must recognize gay marriage
By Yuval Yoaz, Haaretz Correspondent and Haaretz Service

In a precedent-setting ruling, the High Court of Justice on Tuesday ruled that five gay couples wedded outside of Israel can be registered as married couples. A sweeping majority of six justices to one ruled that the civil marriages of five gay couples obtained in Toronto, Canada, can appear as married on the population registry. The gay petitioners sought to force the state to give equal recognition to common law marriages of heterosexual couples to those of gay marriages, which can be performed in certain countries.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel that filed the petition on the behalf of the couples, argued before the court that the Interior Ministry's refusal to register them as married compromises their right to equality and to hold family life, and is based on "homophobe social perceptions."

The court rejected the position of the State Attorney, that states recognizing single-sex marriages cannot expect Israel to recognize such nuptial agreements drawn in these countries. The state told the High Court that "Israel lacks the appropriate legal framework for such marriages," and therefore it cannot register them.

After the ruling was issued, the Civil Rights Association said it is "all the more important in the wake of the [recent] public turmoil stirred by the gay pride parade in Jerusalem."

Itay Pinkas, a prominent member of the gay community who married his partner in Canada said in response: "This is an historical day for the [gay] community and for democracy. This is our real pride parade. We will keep battling for full equality in other areas."

The minister in charge over religious affairs, Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) said "the High Court has sunken in the gates of defilement and has torn out the last mezuzah from its doors. Marriage can only be held by the faith of Moses and Yisrael [the traditional Jewish marriage vows]. "The dam that protected the Jewish state has been burst open under the auspices of the High Court, asking for an anti-Jewish deluge clad in black capes," he said.

"We don't have a Jewish state here. We have Sodom and Gomorrah here," said Moshe Gafni, an ultra-Orthodox lawmaker, referring to two cities the Bible said was destroyed because their citizens were so sinful.

"I assume that every sane person in the State of Israel, possibly the entire Jewish world, is shocked, because the significance is... the destruction of the family unit in the State of Israel," Gafni told Army Radio.

Yossi Ben-Ari, who petitioned the court along with his partner, Loren Shuman, brushed off Gafni's comments as a continuation of the ultra-Orthodox "frenzy" against Israel's gay and lesbian community. "This is only the beginning of the battle. The courts here are very progressive... but the battle is for the face of society," Ben-Ari told Army Radio. "The battle for our rights doesn't end here, it is still very long."


Once again, as you can see, the ultra-Orthodox are being sticks-in-the-mud, but the Reform side of things goes for social justice despite it... They can throw all the rocks they want, it's not going to stop or deter the rest of us.

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