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Do-It-Yourself Kosher

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A little over a month ago, the Israeli Supreme court made an important decision in regards to kashrut in Israel. For years, it was illegal for a restaurant to advertise or even imply that they upheld kosher standards unless they went through the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. This meant that the Rabbinate had a complete monopoly over the Israeli kashrut market, allowing them to charge a hefty sum for their services and rendering all other organizations powerless.

The latest decision now allows restaurants to bring in other kashrut organizations and, while they cannot use the term “kosher”, they can write that they are under “rabbinic supervision” and other similar phrases. For those who are following the various debates regarding the role of the Rabbinate within Israeli government and law, this is certainly a push towards a greater separation of Israeli church and state.
Now, kashrut is a topic that is very seldom understood. Perhaps it is because teaching kashrut is almost never a focus of any Jewish day school or yeshiva, and sadly the only individuals who ever delve into this topic are future rabbis. Or maybe it is because we have become so accustomed to relying on kashrut symbols that people see no reason to study this topic on their own.
Furthermore, there seems to be ubiquitous attitude across halachic practicing Jews where individuals feel powerless to decide halachic matters for themselves and instead search out a rabbi to do all of the thinking for them. Given that people have become so accustomed to running to their rabbi with every slight decision, they don’t actually feel the need to learn the laws for themselves, thereby worsening the cycle.
There is some evidence, however that this trend is beginning to change. People want to be more informed and are feeling increasingly less obliged to turn to rabbinic authority for every minor question. Just in terms of the frequency of questions I receive about Judaism, kashrut ranks pretty high on the list.
While a full analysis of kashrut is way beyond the scope of this article, I wanted to share a few thoughts about the overall topic. In the last generation or two, kashrut has seemingly turned into a contest of who can add more stringencies one on top of the other - and the problem only seems to be getting worse.

When one learns the relevant Talmudic passages and subsequent medieval commentaries that discuss kashrut, they will quickly realize that our current conception of kashrut is dozens of times stricter than its Talmudic base. At first glance, this is completely fine and normal, as (contrary to the thinking of Orthodox revisionists) all areas of halacha have undergone major evolution in the last 2,000 years. However, the modern iteration of kashrut causes an extremely unnecessary strain both financially and practically on Jews who do not know any better.
It is also important to recognize that the mainstream kashrut organizations in America are businesses. If there is an opportunity to make money putting a kosher symbol on water or tin foil - they will. While I am sure that people who work for these organizations (like the OU or Kaf K) have good intentions, at the end of the day their job is not to educate, it is to profit. Furthermore, these organizations tend to rule according to the strictest opinion possible deeming anything else not kosher, when, in reality, nothing can be further from the truth. Kashrut is a lot more dynamic and potentially lenient than any of these organizations are willing to admit, and the only way to alleviate this problem is through education.
Given that keeping kosher is a staple of many individual's Jewish practice, it is truly a shame that widespread ignorance still persists. Learning Torah does not require being in yeshiva, sitting with a rabbi, or spending any money. There are ample free resources, in multiple languages online and it has never been easier to educate one’s self on any Jewish topic. Even if one dedicates 15 minutes a day for a few weeks, they would be able to learn all of the foundational laws and basics of kashrut, allowing them to enter into the greater conversation.
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