A Bar Mitzvah Boy’s Connection Between Kashrut and Food Justice

While it may seem hard to relate the current issues of food policy with the long history of Jewish law, one Bar Mitzvah boy at the age of 13 made this connection easily. While studying his Torah portion, Parsha Shemini, he couldn’t help but question many of the laws of Kashrut.

But Noah, the Bar Mitzvah boy, did not simply accept these laws as is, but instead chose to explore the meaning of Kashrut and redefine what it means to him to be a “holy eater” today. By creating a personalized version of Kashrut laws, Noah is now able to incorporate his values into what he eats and take full responsibility for his actions, which truly is the meaning of becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

Below is an excerpt from his speech:

Today, the choices we have to make in choosing our food often show that the laws of traditional kashrut don’t always help us make the right decision. There are farm workers in Florida that get paid 1.2 cents per pound of tomatoes they pick.  They work 10-12 hours per day under armed guard in a field sprayed with harmful chemicals.  To get paid $25 per day, they would have to pick over 2,000 pounds of tomatoes daily.  The laws of kashrut say these tomatoes are kosher, and therefore holy, but would any actual person say that?  A chicken raised in a cage no bigger than itself with its beak clipped is kosher, but a pig that wallows free every day isn’t?  What would the laws of kashrut say about genetically modified crops that produce larger, brighter fruit, but can take over an ecosystem in days?   What do the rules of kashrut say about sodium acid pyrophosphate and propylene glycol alginate?  Are those holy?  You can find both of those in “edible foodlike substances”, and one in antifreeze. Now, supermarkets are a dangerous place to be, with many high-fructose, pink slime products jumping into your cart while produce cowers in the corner.  Doesn’t sound so holy to me!

I see keeping kosher as a way to incorporate holiness into eating, not just to follow a few  rules about milk and meat.  Restraining yourself from eating everything available to you is a way to be thankful for your food, as well as being mindful about what you eat.    When food is important, values and morals are displayed, and decisions can make a difference.  By personalizing your food choices, you can show your priorities on how to make the world a better place.  Issues like social justice, environmental protection, humane practices, nutrition, and world hunger can all be fought or supported, forgotten or publicized through the choices that are made concerning food.  If you want to preserve the environment, you can choose organic produce grown without ecosystem-damaging pesticides. If you are concerned about world poverty, you can drink fair trade coffee that maximizes the farmer’s wages by cutting out the middleman.  If you are a supporter of animal rights, you can choose free-range, grass fed beef from cows that lived a healthy, wholesome life.  For every person’s different set of values, there is a holy diet that would serve them best.

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