Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
May 10, 2004 – Number 5764-27
Kashrut VI: Controversies in Kashrut: When the Rules Are Not Clear
Chicken – The separation between milk and meat should not apply to chicken since one can not boil a chicken in its mother’s milk. The law, however, is that Chicken is considered meat since it is too easy to confuse it with the meat from large, four legged mammals. One can not mix chicken with milk
Fish – Fish is not considered meat since it is so different from meat that one will not confuse the two. For some reason there is a custom not to serve fish and meat on the same plate because of “danger”. The Sages assume this danger is one of chocking on a bone. The Rabbinical Assembly’s Law and Standards Committee (LASC) has ruled that this “danger” is no longer an issue and one CAN serve fish and meat on the same plate.
Fish: Sturgeon and Swordfish – The issues with these fish is that while they are young they have both fins and scales. When they mature, the scales fall off. There is a stringent position that if there is a doubt about the status of a fish, we do not eat it. The LASC has ruled that these fish can be eaten and considered Kosher.
Wine – Of all the beverages, wine is in a class by itself. Since wine was used extensively by pagans in their rituals, it became the rule that wine could not be handled by non-Jews lest they pour out a libation to their pagan gods. By extension, it also applies to vinegar. Kosher wine is either certified that it has not been handled by non-Jews or that it is “Mevushal” or “cooked”. Wine that is “mevushal” is forbidden to be offered to a pagan god so it is always considered Kosher. Until recently, it was impossible to get Kosher wine that was not “mevushal”. Wine experts have long insisted that this cooking took all the flavor out of Kosher wines. It is now possible, however, to get Kosher wine that is NOT “mevushal” and such wine can not be poured by non-Jews. The question is can Jews drink wine that is not certified Kosher. The LASC has ruled that while wine that is not certified can be consumed by Jews, one SHOULD use a Kosher wine if it will be used when a blessing is to be recited. Please note that wine shows up in lots of places, including many liquors. The blessing for wine involves grapes so the blessing should only be recited over Kosher grape wines.
Cheese – While the cheese itself is almost always Kosher, the process of making it becomes an issue. Rennet, a chemical that is not part of the cheese but part of the processing that makes the cheese, is usually derived from animals and these animals are assumed to be not Kosher. Kosher cheese does not use rennet or uses an acceptable form of rennet (the study of Kashrut often will make a person a vegetarian). The LASC has ruled that rennet, no matter where it comes from, is now a chemical that is distinct from what it came from. Thus all cheeses can be eaten. This is a very controversial ruling and there are many Conservative Jews who do NOT hold by it.
Turkey – Birds must appear on the list in the book of Leviticus to be considered Kosher. The turkey can not appear on this list since it only exists in N. America and was unknown in Europe and the middle East. By the usual rules, it should not be Kosher but it is, in all cases, Kosher when slaughtered by a shochet. Pheasant is also not on the list and there are authorities that permit it (when slaughtered by a shochet) and those who do not accept it as a Kosher bird. In any event, it can not be hunted for food.
Eco-Kosher – There are some who maintain that since one of the reasons for Kashrut is to teach us ethical behavior, we should withhold Kosher certification from products that are grown and harvested using mistreated farm workers or not eating meat that has been “abused” by the farmers and slaughterers. My feeling is that Kashrut is complicated enough without the addition of these ethical issues. If I don’t agree with the way workers are treated or that animals are mistreated before they are killed, I should not buy such products. But it would not be accurate to declare such things “treif”. Kashrut is not about ethical behavior, it is about doing the will of our Creator. Refusing to eat veal or non-Union lettuce may be an important statement to corporate America, but it should not be attached to the laws of Kashrut.
Please remember: Just because there are some controversies over Kashrut, it does not mean that the whole issue has been overturned. These are only some issues that, when we bring Kashrut into our lives, we have to confront eventually and we have to know what the rules are.
Next week: Shavuot: The Forgotten Holiday