In one of our many conversations about religious practice and observance, a former spouse made the most fascinating comment. The gist of her observation is this:
The irony of modern American Jews living surrounded by a "porky" culture may be also thought of as a purposeful irony. Here we are, Jews, commanded to not eat pork, shellfish, and so many other foods that are primary components of contemporary diets (even more so in the South.) Is this accident of history, or deliberate challenge to us on the part of Gd?
Being a part of am "am kadosh," a holy people has never been easy. (Actually, there are many who remain totally uncomfortable with the idea that we are an "am kadosh." Even in Xtianity, the liberals strive to expunge exclusivist concepts. I think the solution to the problem of exclusivity is not to abandon totally the roots of exclusivism, but to find ways to restate them as "we have A truth" rather than "we have THE ONLY truth." But that is a discussion for another time. For now, let's just work with the premise that some Jews do still feel called to be an "am kadosh.")
It is not uncommon for Gd to place human in situations of choice that are difficult. Often, in fact, those things that we desire most are the ones with the greatest number of roadblocks placed in our way. (I promised myself this year I wouldn't talk about those two "crispy critters" Nadav and Avihu, as I have in my last two Shemini musings, but I simply can't resist suggesting that what happened to them may bolster my viewpoint: their greatest desire was to make an offering to Gd. But Gd had placed roadblocks in their way with specific instructions on how offerings were to be made. Nadav and Avihu were probably driving real fast when they hit this particular roadblock, and the result was fatal. OK, OK, it's a stretch, but I just had to work my "crispy critters" into this musing somehow.)
So, here we are, thinking, rational, intelligent people, and Jews, with a tradition that asks us to observe a set of dietary restrictions in order to be kadosh. Here we are, thinking, rational, intelligent people, and Jews, living in a world that routinely and regularly confronts us with a majority culture that adores the very foods we are commanded to not eat. (It's such a big thrill to find a place that, when it says it has "ribs" also has beef ribs on the menu!)
So we live in a society that makes it easier than ever to be tempted to be non-observant of the dietary laws. Might not that be all the more reason to observe them?
They don't make sense anymore. They no longer apply. They were just ancient tribal wisdom on food poisoning and medicine. We're Reform, we don't do that. We deliberately flaunt our non-observance. (I've been to Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties where shrimp cocktails are served. Non-observant of the dietary laws or not, it seems a rude thing to do because it excludes some members of the Jewish community from participating.)
(In eretz Israel, it can be different. One solution to the dilemma of living in the "porky" American culture is to make aliyah and live someplace where kashrut is largely a norm. That is one way of getting round the roadblock. But not the only way.)
I believe in choice. Two people can read the same text of Shemini and come up with different interpretations. They can come to different conclusions about observance of these commandments. The various "streams" within Judaism are just that: differing interpretations, each with a solid grounding in the tradition (despite what others might say - if studying religion has taught me anything, it is that one can derive many valid meanings from the same text. That is scripture's prime weakness, but also its sublime brilliance.)
For some people kashrut is not a choice. And living in a "porky" society like we do, it's not an easy thing to do all the time. For others, choice is involved. In this case, I would suggest that, in evaluating the data for this choice, on considers the ironic situation in which Gd has placed us, and include it in their decision making process.
This Shabbat, whether or not you are observant of kashrut, I urge you to think about the cosmic irony of our situation as Jews in a porcine-loving, shellfish-adoring society.
© 1999 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some Other Musings on the same parasha:
Shemini 5765-It All Matters
Shemini 5764-Playing Before Gd
Shemini 5763 - Belly of the Beast
Shemini 5762-Crispy Critters
Shemini 5761-Lessons From Our Students
Shemini 5760-Calm in a Crisis
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