However, she is still fanatical about the fact that she has never eaten pork. It was something that she and her Muslim friends shared in common and was at the root of her obsession with asking wait-people what was actually in the food she would order.
It was also the basis of theological discussions between us as she, the fanatic, and I, the single dad, would go grocery shopping.
It all started so innocently. I had developed a taste for bacon as a small child in our kosher home because my brother’s mother did not realize that bacon was pork. By age 8 the BLTs were gone, but I still liked the flavor. So, into the shopping cart went Bacos.
You would have thought I was trying to feed her a dog or a cat. She was shocked beyond belief. Bacos? Pork? Jew? I tried to defend myself. They were made out of soy. They had the U-O Orthodox kosher certification. Come on, they are as kosher as you can get! Well, maybe, but not in her cart. I had to carry them and pay for them separately.
In truth, I was rather pleased – a bit annoyed, but pleased. I was happy to see her taking her Judaism so seriously, just as I was pleased when, as a little blond kid with a very blond mother, she explained to the Jewish Gift Shop in Los Angeles why some of their menorahs were not kosher.
However, the issue of kosher food looking and tasting like non-kosher has grown enormously.
Milk and meat are supposed to be separated – but that does not apply to almond milk.
Neither would it apply to a veggie burger with cheese or a kosher meat burger with non-dairy cheese. Likewise, a non-dairy frozen dessert can be eaten with a meat meal.
Mock crab (surimi) is acceptable. And on and on it goes.
Which brings us back to the core reason for observing dietary regulations.
Eating is one of the few things that we share with the entirety of the animal kingdom. By adding a sense of thoughtfulness and ritual to our consumption of food, we elevate the animal act to a holy act. Observing kashrut does not make us better Jews. But perhaps it makes us more thoughtful Jews, more aware Jews, and Jews with a keener sense of our role in the world.
Rabbi Stanley Halpern