I’ve been thinking about Jewish identity as relates to food the last few weeks. Two factors play into this:
2. We have a chef-friend who is very into the pig, and also into the Jewish. He and his wife are great friends of ours, and they seem to be able to combine prosciutto and Shabbat with impunity.
Last year I read Kosher Nation and found it to be helpful really only in one regard: it left me feeling that Kosherization by organization is a racket, especially with regards to meats. The 1970′s idea that perhaps local, fresh, humanely raised, potentially organic meats and produce may be the “new Kosher” very much appeals to me. I think it’s fair to say Sue Fishkoff somewhat takes that stance in her book as well.
That at least left me feeling clear on where I stand with regards to certification of foods. But it didn’t leave me any less confused about kosher prohibitions in general.
A saying I find very useful is “Take what you need and leave the rest.” The problem with that is, with Jewish law, where do I draw the line? And if the answer is that everyone’s line is drawn at different points that happen to work best for them, then where is the boundary of Jewish identity?
These are questions most Jews (er, well, at least most Reform rabbis) deal with on the daily. Is it okay to be a Cafeteria-style Jew?
The other question is, how much of my desire to bend the pork-and-shellfish rule is really out of cultural and peer pressure? No one is actually pressuring me, but I have this internal struggle of wanting very much to fit in with my Italian family and my pig-loving friends, and to share fully with them in foodie delights.
Food is a really big deal for me. Earlier in life it was a big deal because my relationship with it was disordered, so I spent many years selfishly imposing dietary restrictions on myself and those around me. Now that my eating and self-image are largely healthy, I feel a sense of responsibility to not impose unnecessary restrictions on myself or those I love. I consider food central to personal relations, so I have a real desire to remove barriers to bonding.
On the other hand, some restrictions are more important than bonds, or even forge bonds themselves. To wit: alcohol is an absolute no-go for me in any form. This is so crucial that if it were difficult for me to bond with someone in the absence of alcohol, I would let them fade away. Likewise, there are many people I have gotten to know well and now cherish because we have this alcohol-free commonality.
My husband lies in between, just like my Judaism. We share some crucial restrictions, as well as a love of our faith. We also share a love of most foods, but he comes with a desire to avoid, at minimum, pork-and-shellfish, and sometimes the meat-with-dairy issue as well. He’s welcome to do that, and up to now I have happily done the same. I worry that should I ultimately decide otherwise, it would cause a rift in our bond, which is the most important personal bond I have.
Which brings me back to Matisyahu. My first thought when I saw his new look was “I wonder how his wife took this.” Obviously this would have been a dialogue – you don’t spring that shit on your spouse if your relationship is solid – so she was probably really supportive. But if you’ve been married to someone who’s been frum for a decade, likely since you met them, it could be an adjustment.
Let’s assume she’s awesome and they’re awesome and it’s all good. The same could be said of my husband and my marriage, so what do I have to lose? On the other hand, do I actually have anything to gain – even just my own food-related pleasure – by going fully treif?
I think this is really more about me learning to please myself rather than others. I want to please my husband by remaining kosher-style, I want to please my family and friends by being treif, and I want to please god and I don’t really know how. So in the final analysis, it looks like I’m going to have to trust my gut. (And to answer your question, of course the pun is intended.)