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04/06/2015 07:17:00 AM


Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17
by Rabbi Edward Feinstein

"Why does your God object to cheeseburgers?" a friend asked over lunch one day, "Why does He care?" A very good question. Why does a tradition so concerned with ultimate issues concern itself so earnestly with, of all things, cheeseburgers? First, please understand that it has nothing to do with health. The laws of Kashrut -- the food restrictions imposed upon Jews by the Bible and the Talmud -- were not intended to keep us healthy. Trust me, you can eat very Kosher but very unhealthy. Kashrut is a symbol system. The question is not: What does it do for me? but rather: What does it say to me?

"You are what you eat," observed the philosopher Feuerbach. The way we confront nature and make a living in the world determines our values. And eating is the most direct way we confront nature. Because the way we eat speaks for the values we hold, Judaism impresses its most fundamental values into the daily act of preparing and eating food. All of Kashrut says: Choose Life.

The Bible envisioned man and woman in the Garden of Eden as vegetarians. The perfect world -- without conflict, violence, fear -- is a world of vegetarianism. It is a world of oneness with nature. When we hunger for animal products, especially meat, we break the oneness. At that point, the laws of Kashrut apply.

Kashrut is a compromise. Choosing to eat meat puts us at the end of a process of killing -- making us the end cause, the reason, for the entire process, and therefore, morally responsible. No matter how careful and clean, this is a matter of aggression and violence. We often forget this when meat appears in the supermarket, all sanitized and freezer-wrapped: This was once a living, breathing being, whose life we have taken by force. Kashrut is a compromise between the nonviolent ideal of vegetarianism and the human craving for meat. You may eat meat. But only with certain restrictions.

There are four basic laws of eating meat: (1) Only certain animals may be eaten, so that killing is not indiscriminate. (2) The animal is killed in the most painless way. (3) All blood must be removed because blood symbolizes life, and all life belongs to God. You may eat the animal, but you must not imagine yourself to be the master of life and death. (4) Foods made from milk and foods made from meat must be prepared, served and eaten separately. Because meat symbolizes the taking of life, and milk symbolizes the giving of life, and the two must never be confused in our lives. This week's Torah portion teaches this ideal: "You are a people consecrated to the Lord your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk." (Deuteronomy 14:21)

What's wrong with a cheeseburger? It bespeaks a culture, no longer shocked by violence, that casually mixes up life and death. We are surrounded by a culture that celebrates violence as a source of vigor and vitality, and mixes violence into the fabric of daily life. Consider Arnold Schwartenegger. One of the most successful and highly paid actors in Hollywood. For what? Certainly not for his portrayal of character. Olivier he's not! But with superb panache and elegant style, Schwartenegger hurts people. He kills. And we love it. That's entertainment!

This is a culture that sells weapons as toys. Visit any toy shop. The LAPD should be as well armed my neighborhood Toys-R-Us! We give weapons to children as playthings, and then we wonder where they get the idea to bring guns to school!

What will you change by refusing a cheeseburger? Will it make a difference? Maybe not in the world at large, but certainly within you. You will be different. You will make a statement about your values and about the world you choose to live in. You will be a little more conscious, a little more sensitive, a little closer to oneness, a little more Godly. Shabbat Shalom.

* This document, or any portion thereof, may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.


Tue, August 11 2020 21 Av 5780