Not Kosher Enough

So I DO have a half written post about Class in my “Drafts” and I will do my best to finish it tonight; BUT there’s something on my mind I’d really love to start a discussion about because I haven’t been able to shake it all day.

I often think about the boundaries that exist within the Jewish community itself.  There are conflicts with other religions and communities that we all know about and hear on the news.  However there can be conflict within our own community that always intrigues me. (This will also come up in the classes we’re having right now too).  It intrigues me, but also saddens me sometimes.  With all the trouble in the world, and all the war and hard times we have had throughout history, it always pains me to read about it among Jews.  I won’t go into details because that would be for a separate post.

as for me myself

I am not Orthodox.  I was not raised Orthodox and don’t claim to be Orthodox.  Technically, I am considered a “Conservative” Jew.  This is the synagogue environment I grew up in and am affiliated with now.  However, within this community I might be considered more “religious” or more “observant” than the average.  I am a lover of Torah and completely in love with Judaism.  In love with the old, the modern, the traditional, the history, the customs, the Orthodox & all aspects alike.  What I do with this love is attempt to find a balance that works.  It’s a tricky (& usually lonely) path that I walk.  I cover my hair but only part time, I keep kosher, I pray in the morning and night, I read Parshah every week, I light candles every Shabbat and “do Shabbat” – except I drive to shul for services, I still use electricity. Get it?  Anyway, I also spend time in an Orthodox shul as well.  Usually for Saturday services and some holidays.  I have always enjoyed having Orthodox friends and acquaintances because I just love it.  I learn from the community and am inspired.  I’ll even admit that sometimes I actually wish I WAS Orthodox (but that’s for another post too).  So having that in mind and a rough idea about my practice, here’s what happened to me today.

One of my daughters is having a birthday  this week.  I make my kids a fun cake for their birthdays and depending on what’s happening with my work schedule, the day it falls on, and how much cash is in the bank I will choose how to celebrate accordingly.  I am working right now on a project but I am able to take the day off for her day (BH) so I decided on a smaller gathering, dinner-time pizza party with cake for a few friends & family. I sent out an email to the selected about the event.  Now I always write a Kosher note in my invites because some folks are Jewish, some not, some keep Kosher, some don’t, some I don’t even know – so because I can’t always keep track of everyone’s diets, I write a note along the lines of “For our Kosher friends – this event will be K-Dairy…” so that if it matters to you, you can plan accordingly.  So for this week’s event, I wanted to make a Dairy cake because my Pareve cake is not perfected yet and I don’t have time to fuss.  Hence, the pizza party.  I stated in the note the Kosher restaurant where the pizza was coming from, and that cake would be homemade.

When typing up the email and deciding who to invite, it really felt natural to invite the family we’ve gotten to know from the Orthodox shul.  I have gone to their home numerous times for Shabbos, for Sukkot, for Pesach and they are lovely people to be around.  My kids love their kids.  You get the picture.

Mind you, they are the Rebbe’s family – so, I don’t know, maybe some frum folk out there can tell me, do you ever invite the Rebbetzin to your house for a birthday?  Do you keep that relationship to shul, Shabbos, etc?  Are they kind of like the “superstars” of the shul?

For me, it just felt natural to invite them.  So I did.  Then afterwards, I couldn’t help but think that she may not feel comfortable coming to my “non Orthodox” home.  She may not want to expose her children to my marriage to a non Jew or see lots of women in pants, etc.  What if I put her in an awkward position where she didn’t feel comfortable coming but didn’t want to have to tell me? I felt bad, of course.  So I emailed her AGAIN (annoying, right?) telling her that I don’t want her to feel bad, that she can be honest with me, on and on.  She writes back that she is okay with coming with her kids and adds “obviously, they can’t eat anything but…” Obviously.  Obviously my kitchen is not Kosher enough.

Listen, I know the deal.  I know, for a fact, she is way stricter than I am in the kitchen.  I know that we can still have a friendship that doesn’t involve my cooking.    But this really stung today.  I want to express why this hurt EVEN THOUGH I UNDERSTAND THE ISSUE HERE.  I am actually really proud about keeping Kosher.  It makes me feel good for many reasons.  It makes people look at me crooked, too, but makes me feel good nonetheless.  I won’t explain this right now.

HERE IS WHY I THINK MY CAKE IS KOSHER DAIRY: I use only Kosher ingredients (milk, flour, eggs, etc).  I keep separate pans in my house (Meat, Dairy, Pareve/neutral) The pans for my cakes were purchased specifically to make these dairy cakes and have never been used for anything else.  The utensils I use are also separated in separate containers with labels that say Meat Dairy Pareve.  I have a Dairy drawer, a Meat drawer, etc etc.

HERE IS WHY AN ORTHODOX WOULD NOT CONSIDER MY CAKE KOSHER:  (I think, please help me out folks) I only have one oven (pretty sure Orthodox homes have 2) I don’t take my pans or utensils to the Mikveh. My kitchen is not strictly Kosher thus making everything that comes out of it NOT Kosher.  Right?

HERE IS SOME OF MY KOSHERNESS:  (again, I can’t explain all the reasons right now. please look it up if you don’t know) I don’t mix meat and dairy in what I eat or cook.  I wait a few hours before eating one or the other.  Again, my kitchen has separate pots pans utensils and lots of disposable plates & forks for when I just can’t think about it.  I don’t eat pork or shellfish.  I buy Kosher products and ingredients. I have a 2-sink system with a middle “mini” sink where the garbage disposal is – so one is Dairy and one is Meat.  I try.

HERE IS WHERE MY KOSHER GETS SHADY:  I eat at Non Kosher restaurants,  I don’t order meat because I just can’t do non Kosher meat but I’m not ready to give up the restaurants completely.  I eat in non Kosher/non Jewish friends’ homes (again, avoiding meat – I act Vegetarian for the most part) OH, really important factor – MY HUSBAND IS NOT JEWISH.  He doesn’t get it AT ALL.  So I let him take me out to dinner!  Sometimes dairy dishes end up on the meat side of the sink area.  I only have one dishwasher and maybe a dairy knife got into a meat wash the other day. Not sure.  If something gets “tainted” – a lot of times I throw it out, but if it’s metal I may put it in some boiling water and whisper something to the heavens and consider it “kashered”.  My rabbi told me you can kasher metal, I’m pretty sure.

my point is that i KNOW my Kosher gets Shady…

you know what though? I am really proud of my Kosherness.  I work hard at it.  I spend extra money that I don’t have trying to keep things straight in the kitchen.  I fight with my HUSBAND over it! On many occasions, there’s been a fight over using the wrong plate or serving spoon.  I’m teaching myself to stay calm about it and remember how badly I want Shalom Bayis.  When a Modern Orthodox woman at the Preschool said “I love when you make stuff because I know we can eat it!” (I made a bunch of cakes for an event) that made me feel incredible.  It may sound cheezy but when you are really conscious about making an effort in your way of life – these things matter.  Maybe this “new friend” doesn’t know me well enough yet, but there WILL be individually wrapped kosher snacks and juice boxes that one could SEE is kosher.  The pizza is coming from a Kosher restaurant that anyone can look up online and going from the box to the plastic plate.  I’m making Oreo pops – (kosher) Oreos on lollipop sticks dipped in KOSHER candy made for melting – sounds Kosher to me.  No? They can’t eat ANYTHING?

So now someone is saying to their children “Don’t eat her food.  It’s not Kosher”.  How does that child look at me now? Does he think there’s something wrong with me? Does he think I’m not really Jewish?  I love being surrounded by children so this hit me hard too. I don’t know, honestly, I’m asking because I couldn’t stop asking myself these questions today. Can I really be friends with the Ultra Orthodox?  Many of my friends know me as the one that’s always cooking and entertaining at her home.  I love making my home a sanctuary of sorts, that you can come and feel welcome, loved, FED, and listened to.  I invite people to my home for Shabbat dinner and feel so good about serving a Kosher meal, even if it’s to my best friends who  think they’re Jewish but aren’t.  It is a big deal for me. 

I am not judging by any means.  I know a good amount about Orthodox life and I appreciate more than people know.  There was a time in my life where I was pretty sure I was going that route and like I’ve said – I love having it in my life, I just wonder if we’ll ever be regular friends.  The kind that invite each other over for dinner, coffee, or kids’ birthdays.  Will I get over feeling that the relationship isn’t fair, or that it’s one-sided? Do you just get used to a group of people not eating anything at your house? If I bump into you and I’m in jeans with my hair uncovered because it’s Tuesday and I’m at the supermarket – will YOU judge ME? Or will she just feel I’m not Jewish enough? or Kosher enough? or Tznius enough?

No one likes to think that way.  At least, not on purpose.  The Torah teaches ALL OF US to be good.  To not judge others.   We thank Gd every morning for the breath we take and ask for forgiveness at night time.  Forgiveness not just for ourselves but for EVERYONE.  So I don’t think anyone is BAD here.  We’re just different.  But I had to share because after I read her email, I literally frowned, shed a tear, and thought to myself “oh no, I’m not Kosher enough?” and then driving home, I hit traffic, sat thinking,  and cried again!  Even though, I theoretically and academically understand – but my emotions couldn’t take the separation, the boundary.

I’m fine now incase anyone is worried 🙂  But I would LOVE some feedback.  I would love to know what both sides think and feel.  Feel free to share the post and get other opinions and answers for me.  Even if just to answer my questions on Orthodox Kosherness (the ovens, the mikveh?) because I don’t know everything here.  You can also tell me to shut up and get over it too.  I didn’t mean to go on such a long, unorganized rant.  

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3 comments

  1. Paulina · · Reply

    Not being Jewish myself, there is not much I can say about this matter. I grew up in a Christian family, and I was taught that laws are important, but that faith is more than just laws. Sorry, if I sound somewhat frivolous, but there are so many different paths a human being can walk towards true faith and G-d, so who of us can tell which path is the right one? Should a perfectly kosher kitchen really be more important that kindness? I think if G-d really looks into our souls he will like what he sees in yours, even if your way of life is not perfectly kosher yet. (Sorry, my English is bad tonight. This always happens, when I try to write about a topic which is important to me.)

    1. Thank you for the comment, Paulina…and for reading that whole entry (I just realized how long it is!) I don’t want to get into who’s good and bad at all. I definitely think both paths are true to faith and are both respectable. If you knew this woman, you’d see she IS actually very kind 🙂
      Honestly, the more I thought about it and talked about it with others – I realize it’s just the way it is. I don’t think she meant to be so blunt with me, just that she is fully committed to the laws and it is probably very common for her to respond in such a way. If you take the Laws of Kashrut 100% – then you don’t eat anything that isn’t and neither do your children. Punto. Even though I came to understand and felt good about myself and my practice; I still felt sad about the fact that our friendship will always be somewhat limited. It will always remain on her “turf” so to speak (or…”grounds”) I suppose it’s just something to accept. Thank you for reading!

  2. Paulina · · Reply

    I like long entries. Actually, I read it more than once, there was a lot of food for thought. I have friends who cannot eat at my house for religious or other reasons. I just had not realized before that it can happen between people who belong to the same religion.

    As I grow older I realize that friendships often are limited. I guess, the best thing might be to accept our friends as they are, and hope we will be accepted as we are, too.

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