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Food Policy

“These are the instructions concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water, and all creatures that swarm on earth, for distinguishing between the impure and the pure, between the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten.”
- Leviticus 11: 46-47
In the Book of Leviticus chapter 11, we are provided with the laws dealing with kashrut (i.e. keeping kosher). Since “Kosher” literally means “fit,” these laws pertain to foods that are fit for consumption for Jews. Land animals that have clefts in their hooves AND chew their cud are permissible, while animals that do not meet both of these requirements (e.g. camels, swine) are prohibited as “impure.” Any creatures that walk on paws, crawl on their belly, or have more than four legs may not be consumed. Sea creatures that do not have fins and scales are prohibited (e.g. shellfish), and a list of forbidden birds is also provided in detail.
In the Torah, God tells Moses explicitly: “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” – three times! (Exodus 23:19 and 34:26, Deuteronomy 14:21) This became the foundation for the prohibition of eating dairy and meat products in the same meal (later expanded to include chicken and turkey).
Through the years, there have been many theories posited as to why Jews were tasked with limiting their food consumption to certain foods. Perhaps it was to distinguish Jews from other people, or a sign of devotion to God. Maybe originally it was a way of showing kindness and compassion to animals that was not a part of other local cultures. (For example, archeological evidence seems to prove that it was the practice of the inhabitants of the ancient city of Ugarit in Syria to boil a kid in its mother’s milk to bring about good luck.)
Classical Reform Jews eschewed the practice of keeping kosher, claiming it was a vestige of the past and as such, no longer necessary. However, today, the Union of Reform Judaism takes a more spiritual approach when considering these laws:
“The laws of kashrut offer a Jewish spiritual discipline that is rooted in the concrete choices and details of daily life – to be practiced in an area that seems most ‘mundane.’ … Kashrut reminds us again and again that Jewish spirituality is inseparable from what one might term ‘physical.’ It teaches us that Jewish spiritual practice is about taking the most ordinary of experiences – in all aspects of our lives – and transforming them into moments of meaning, moments of connection.” (
I believe that the observance of any of the laws of kashrut is a personal decision. Each of us must reflect on whether there is intrinsic value to our lives today in following any of these dietary laws. As a community that serves a wide scope of people from a variety of Jewish backgrounds, however, I believe that we should be cognizant of the fact that there are those among our members who do observe at least some of the basic laws of kashrut. As we are now celebrating Shabbat and holidays with food offerings from our members (and for that I am SO GRATEFUL!), it seems only fair that we allow each person to make a decision as to whether they will eat, for example, dairy and meat together. While we have requested that people write down the ingredients of their dishes, that does not always happen, or the list gets moved away from the food.
Therefore, I request that the following rules be observed at Temple Emanu-El:
1. No pork or shellfish dishes of any kind be brought into Temple. (This is a longstanding rule from before my arrival, and I do not wish to change it.)
2. No single dish may contain dairy products AND meat/chicken/turkey products. NOTE: You may bring a meat/chicken/turkey dish and place a dairy product NEXT TO IT. This way, each individual may make the decision as to whether to combine dairy and meat products. (This is a practice common in Reform congregations.)
3. Please DO continue to write the ingredients on a card and place next to your dish. This will help those with allergies and food sensitivities to identify foods that they cannot eat.
It is truly a blessing that we have so many people in our midst who bring their traditions and sensibilities to our congregation. Showing sensitivity and consideration for all who enter our temple – including guests visiting for the first time – is part of who we are as a people. Mahalo nui loa for joining me in making sure that everyone feels comfortable among our ‘ohana.
Rabbi Cheri Weiss
Mon, May 27 2024 19 Iyar 5784