Kashrut aka eating Kosher is an act of autonomy within the Reform movement of Judaism, as it can be expressed in many ways that might seem alien to some of our Jewish ancestors (and not to others). Recent findings show our most ancient Jewish ancestors didn’t follow kosher eating habits, see here, but the Torah does mention some Kashrut elements, which were later expounded in the Talmud. In the Reform branch of Judaism, Kashrut is seen as malleable, that is you can choose how, when, and why you express this element of Jewish life.
The Reform approach to Kashrut is to find what brings you closer spiritually to the Jewish traditions and to G-D, by looking at and adapting the food laws of old to your own life. This is not to say that some Reform Jews do not fully embrace Kashrut, many in fact do, but not all will in the same exact way adopt the dietary laws. As mentioned several times, Reform Judaism works alongside autonomy and allows a deep personal connection to the traditions, to the ceremonies, and to G-D. In understanding this, Kashrut becomes a highly individualized experience that lends to one’s identity as a Jew, builds on the connection to Jewish life, and helps bridge the gap between the mundane (eating) and the spiritual.
I hope to touch on a few observations I’ve made and some things I have learned about how Reform Jews celebrate Kashrut in their lives, and how it is made a holy Mitzvot in many cases. So let’s get into it and learn more about the Reform view of Kashrut and how some choose to apply it to their lives.
As stated, some Reform Jews uphold Kashrut dietary laws as strictly as any orthodox Jew might, but there are others who take another route to it. Other Reformers might uphold Kashrut only when in the home, opting to eat whatever they desire when outside of the home, some only eat Kashrut when they’re out to publicly identify as Jewish. Some only take on parts of Kashrut due to dietary concerns, or just out of preference. So as you can plainly see, Kashrut runs the gamut within the Reform movement.
Some opt into going vegetarian or vegan, which maintains Kashrut, as well as helping to maintain health, which is a mitzvah. Anything done to improve health is a mitzvah, as you’ll see in the following passages;
“Take heed to thyself and take care of your lives.” (Deuteronomy 4:9)
”Be extremely protective of your lives.” (Deuteronomy 4:15)
…also one of the most prominent Jewish thinkers Maimonides said;
“A person should aim to maintain physical health and vigor, in order that their soul may be upright, in a condition to know God. For it is impossible for one to understand sciences and meditate upon them when he is hungry or sick, or when any of his limbs is aching.”
This also means that Kashrut and Mitzvot should also apply to eating healthier and cleaner and watching what we eat, when we eat, and accompanying such with exercise and a healthy lifestyle. To understand more fully other ways in which we can apply Kashrut to our diets, through scripture and even in the Talmud we can look at the companies we buy from themselves. One way is to only buy food from ethical sources, which do not mistreat workers or animals, take for instance the following quotes from the Torah on workers;
“Don’t withhold (ta’ashok ) the wages of the poor and the needy, or the stranger in your land in your gates” (Deuteronomy 24:14)
“Don’t cheat the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, and don’t spill innocent blood in this place; and don’t go after strange gods to your own harm” (Jeremiah 7:6)
Kashrut thus can be only buying from sources who are fair and honest in their practices with employees and who pay a fair wage and refuse to price gouge during times of need or distress. Kashrut also applies to only buying meat from sources that you know treat animals humanely, this fact can be seen many times in the Torah, from forbidding animals to work on the Shabbat to G-D creating all of the animals and says “very good” (Genesis 1:31) and in many ways, this can be seen as the JEws inventing animals rights close to 4,000 years ago. Look at the following quotes from the Torah;
“The righteous person regards the life of his beast.” (Proverbs 12:10)
“And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” (Genesis 9: 1-3)
“His tender mercies are over all His creatures” (Psalm 145:9)
“A person must feed his animals before himself” (Deuteronomy 11:15)
“An animal’s suffering must be relieved” (Deuteronomy 12:4)
…also of note, is that hunting solely for sport is seen as shameful to Jews, as well as animals who are killed for food must be killed as fast and humanely as possible to restrict suffering. Kashrut and also the Mitzvot thus apply when one mindfully finds and supports companies killing their meat in a humane fashion and not buying from those who are questionable.
Kashrut in Reform Judaism is very open-ended in many ways and allows creative ways in which we can connect our food to our spirituality. While some might believe Reformers throw away this ancient set of laws, to the contrary, we just find new ways of expressing it in accordance with what works for our own individual spiritual journey.