Explaining Kashrut to an Ignoramus

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“You know I don’t eat kosher food,” my friend David responded when I asked him if he wanted to come over for fresh-baked brownies. Um, FAIL.

When I asked David (who isn’t Jewish, by the way) about his no-kosher food policy he said that he heard kosher food tastes different. He explained that he likes “regular food.” But he added, “I like bagels, though. Those are kosher, right?”
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Suddenly, I had to figure out how to explain the laws of kashrut to someone who was woefully misinformed. And though I wanted to just sit David down in front of a computer and pull up MJL’s Kashrut section, he was not interested in reading anything. It was time to see if I could condense all of Judaism’s dietary laws into a 45 second synopsis.

Here’s what I said: The Torah contains laws about the things we cannot eat, like pigs, for instance. If something doesn’t contain anything that’s not allowed, then it’s okay, or kosher. That is, kashrut is really the absence of anything problematic. When someone tells you they only eat kosher food they’re really saying they don’t eat unkosher food. Packaged food that’s marked as kosher does not contain any special ingredients, and doesn’t get blessed by a rabbi. Instead, the facilities where the food is made or packaged are checked by people trained in Jewish law to make sure that nothing non-kosher is getting into the food.

I think I did okay, in the end, but David still, of course, has a lot to learn. More than anything, I found I was really shocked at just how ignorant so many people still are about the laws of kashrut.

I was reminded of this today when Jeremy sent me a link to the Midtown Lunch blog, which this week profiles a woman who keeps kosher. The woman doesn’t seem like a very adventurous eater, but what’s really amazing are the comments on the post, which range from David’s level of ignorance, to overt anti-Semitism. Gah!

Posted on February 24, 2010

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3 thoughts on “Explaining Kashrut to an Ignoramus

  1. FaFi

    I liked your explanation and enjoyed reading, until I clicked on the Midtown Lunch profile and got a little sad inside. Even went through the trouble of registering to their site just so I could comment on how I’m kosher and not obese and constipated. *sigh* why can’t we all just get along?

  2. mTp

    It would be interesting to make a questionnaire that asks people about Jewish practices where the possible answers to each question are common stereotypes, misrepresentations and the correct answer. We could make an interesting profile of people and how they view Judaism. With small set of demographic information we could really find some interesting results.

    My personal experience:
    The first Kosher food I was introduced (I am a convert) to was plain northern European food like kasha varnishkas and sandwiches with no vegetables or condiments. I hated it. I like kasha now but still would prefer some Yemenite or Turkish flavors.

  3. Allan

    How about explaining what Jews look like to an ignoramous? A co-worker (born and bred in NYC)female working with my daughter found out that I, her father,was Jewish. She asked,”does your father have those funny curly things on his head and wear a black trench coat?

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