Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is Kosher Food "Soul Food?"

Last time, I disproved the notion of HaShem implementing kashrut because it's good for the body. This time, I look into whether kashurt was implemented for a "healthy soul." This is a notion that was described by Abarbanel (Sidrah Mishpatim, sec. 73). Describing the prohibition of eating insects, he says "[f]or this reason the Almighty used the phrase, 'Do not revolt your souls with all the vermin...' rather than terming them poisonous or harmful. They were rather unclean and abominating, indicating the spiritual rather than the physical source of their prohibition." This viewpoint was [and still is] predominantly taken on by Kabbalists, and more recently, the Chassidic movement.

From this standpoint, "the digestive system extracts the nutrients while the neshama, the soul, extracts the G-dly spark in nature...The Divine energy in every molecule of food is what actually gives us life. Kosher food has a powerful energy that imparts spiritual, intellectual, and emotional strength to the Jewish neshama. The 'sparks in non-kosher food, on the other hand, are rooted in an unholy spiritual source. That is why non-kosher food has such an insidious effect [own emphasis added]." These are the words of Tzivia Emmer, writing on behalf of the Lubavitch Women's Organization. This mindset is typical amongst Jewish mystics, most notably the Chassids.

I take two issues with this mindset. The first is the state of non-kosher food.  The Zohar takes the position that some animals inherently come from the side of holiness and others from the side of contamination [of the soul], which would mean that kosher food is bad for everyone's soul, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. But that is not the conclusion of most Chassids.  As a matter of fact, this only applies to Jewish souls (Tanya, Ch. 1).  To put Jewish souls on a different plane than a non-Jewish soul is nothing short of spiritual elitism, which is patently un-Jewish. The Talmud (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5) states that the world began with Adam so nobody could say "my ancestor is better than yours." In addition, HaShem breathed life [i.e., a neshama] into the nostrils of Adam (Genesis 2:7), who, incidentally, was not Jewish.  Plus, both the Jew and the non-Jew have a share in the World to Come (Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:2).   Both the Torah and Talmud mention humanity's common ancestry to remind us of our commonalities. This is not to say that Jewishness or the particularities of Jewish nationality and identity are not important. I will actually discuss that in my next blog.

Even if, for whatever reason, they were right about non-kosher food contaminating the Jewish soul, is that really the case? Does eating kosher food make a "more kosher human being?" I know non-observant Jews who I would properly categorize as "mensch," and have come across observant Jews who are anything but compassionate or understanding. Saying that eating kosher food inherently makes you a better human being is patently false, and R. Samuel Hirsch confirms that notion: "The observance of the dietary laws does not make a man holy; however it makes him more receptive to the ennobling influences of the spirit. One has not achieved holiness simply by observing the dietary laws, but one can then achieve it more easily."

While following HaShem's precepts are of utmost importance in Traditional Judaism, eating kosher does not "guarantee a spot in Heaven." Keeping kosher is only but a portion of Judaism. Ritual is important in Judaism, but it ignores ethics, the very gift the Jewish people gave to the rest of the world. It's not coincidence that the first question that HaShem will ask upon arriving to the gates of Heaven is not "Did you keep kosher?" but rather "Were you fair in your business dealings?" (Shabbat 31a)

From a Jewish perspective, kashrut is indeed important, but we still have yet determined why. I would like to analyze kashrut from a moralistic (i.e., does kashrut refine human beings?) standpoint, but first, it is prudent to do some analytical work from a nationalistic perspective.

1 comment:

  1. In cities with smaller Jewish populations, kosher dining is often limited to just a single establishment. Some cities do not have any kosher dine-in facilities, but the small communities have other arrangements for Jewish residents to obtain ready-made kosher meals and other types of food that may be hard to obtain kosher otherwise.


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