Nota Bene, especially for goyim readers: Yes, I am aware that this letter deals almost entirely with meat and dairy and that many of my exasperation can be met with such arguments that vegetarians and vegans make even greater sacrifices. This is true.
But the vast majority of Jewish dietary law has to do with the eating and preparation of animals and their milk and eggs. Therefore, I’m proceeding under the assumption that Jews who keep Kosher do eat meat and dairy and enjoy them, which I have found to be nearly universally true in my experience. This letter, as should be apparent, comes only from a place of love.
My name is Taran. Yes, it’s a goyishe name. You’re not the first to point it out, and you won’t be the last. But I’m a Yid, through and through. Okay, sure, your average shabbos goy does more for the Jewish community than I do. And sure, I’m more likely to eat matzo in lieu of bread as a snack after Pesach concludes than buckle down and deprive myself like a good Jew. I’m Reform, okay?
I’m not Kosher. I never have been, and I doubt I ever will be. Nobody in my immediate or close extended family adheres to Kosher law. We’re inconsistent Yom Kippur Jews—that’s the only time you’ll see us in synagogue, and you might not see us there every year. My clearest memory of a service is from when I was around ten. It was towards the end of the day—the more observant members of the congregation hadn’t had a thing to eat or drink in close to 24 hours.
The Rabbi kept losing his place in the text. Stomachs were groaning. Eyes were flicking shut. Thumbs were twiddled. In the midst of this sea of desperately hungry Jews, I who had eaten just as I always did, leaned into my father’s ear in a lull, and, unintentionally channeling my great-grandpa Harry (he would have done this with a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his lips), I whispered, entirely too loudly, “What are we doing for dinner?” My father was mortified, and I’m sure I got looks, but I didn’t notice until my father—half-amused, half-embarrassed—pointed out my folly in the car on the way to get Thai food. Such antics do not amuse Jews.
But enough about me. This is about you, the chosen people of Hashem who have stuck to His meal plan. How do you do it? That’s my first question. One I’ve had on my mind for a long time. How do you see a steaming, cheesy, perfect pepperoni pizza and think, “Nope?” What’s it like never to have had a burger and a shake? Have you really never had Pad Thai, a lobster roll, an egg roll? I know you’re not supposed to have meat with it’s mother’s milk, but:
a. Chickens don’t make milk; why can’t you eat that with dairy? Lox and cream cheese is a proven success—so too, it turns out, is chicken parm.
b. In this day and age, the likelihood that a piece of meat and dairy with it came from animals that were related is so small as to be nearly impossible.
c. Seriously. You’ve never had a pepperoni pizza, or bolognese, or virtually anything Italian? Or Mexican? Or Indian?
And of course, there’s the big one. Pork. You’re telling me that you’re a frequent visitor to Chinese restaurants and you have never, ever had a pork dumpling? You’ve never had a pulled pork sandwich, ribs, bacon, sausage, pork chops, pork belly?
Sorry, I had to step out for a second; I drooled all over myself. Anyway, I’m not trying to decry you or ridicule you. In fact, I’m fascinated and humbled by your dedication and your self-control, especially with the temptation and ability to break Kosher at virtually every corner, on every menu, in every home.
And yes, plenty of amazing food is Kosher—I could live off lox and eggs—and I’m not even a huge fan of things like lobster and bacon. But the idea that they’re off limits would just tempt me to no end. Now, this might have something to do with the fact that I am a child with no self-control, but I like to believe that being Kosher is just really hard.
But what’s more impressive to me than your run-of-the-mill Kosher adherent is the college-aged observer. Young people, thrust into an environment where food is expensive, and cheap food is often greasy, easy, and patently un-Kosher, you don’t look the other way and hope Hashem wipes your slate clean come Yom Kippur. No. You stick to your guns.
Your late-night eats are considered and follow the rules, while your friends around you order double bacon cheeseburgers with eggs and shakes, popcorn shrimp, and wipe their faces with pages of the Talmud. You don’t take the easy way out. And this isn’t the sort of sacrifice a vegetarian or a vegan or adherent of the Paleo-Neo-Raw-Adkins-Juice diet makes. No. You aren’t simply giving something up. You uphold your heritage, sacrificing the ability to be truly carefree and spontaneous in the world of college-aged social eating. Your morals hold precedence over ease. And for that, I applaud you.
Keep on keepin’ Kosher, mishpoche. As for me, I’ll suffer the temptation so you don’t have to.