So far we have looked at theological, religious, and practical reasons people give not to keep kosher. The most difficult challenge of them all, however, is social.
Keeping kosher would separate me from other people. It would make it impossible to accept other people’s hospitality. How could I tell the sweet old lady next door that I don’t want the cookies that she brings over to my house? What would I do at the company holiday party? If I kept kosher, my family would think I have gone crazy. My mother would never forgive me if I didn’t eat her Thanksgiving dinner. My dad would think I have denied Messiah and that I am becoming Orthodox. Everyone would look at me and think I am acting snobby and pretentious and think I am “holier than thou.” I will not sacrifice table fellowship on account of what I eat.
This is an area where it pays to be sensitive. Our Master taught us to place a high priority on our inter-personal relationships. The social dimension of kashrut—especially for those who are newly observant in that area—is probably the hardest part to navigate.
On one hand, it is necessary in every aspect of observance for me to be sensitive to others and to be as caring and accommodating as possible. But on the other hand, surely I can’t limit our Torah observance only to things that won’t offend other people, because practically everything will offend somebody. Keeping kosher on any level whatsoever is going to make somebody mad. A person will find out that I don’t eat pork, and then they will infer from that that I think they are bad people because they haven’t made that particular decision themselves.
While it is true that keeping kosher can add some complexity to shared meals, we have to get away from the idea that keeping kosher is incompatible with table fellowship. Keeping kosher does not mean that I can’t eat with someone who doesn’t keep kosher; it just means that there has to be some kosher food on the table where I’m fellowshipping.
Family issues are going to be a case-by-case situation. Sometimes there is no easy answer.
Food is a Social Issue
But let’s turn this around for a second. The fact that keeping kosher raises all kinds of social issues highlights the fact that it is not just about eating.
A Jew who keeps kosher is unable to escape his or her Jewish identity. If my children keep kosher, it doesn’t mean they can’t be friends with Gentiles or with non-observant Jews. But it does mean that if they are going to eat together (anything beyond maybe some pre-packaged kosher popsicles or something) they’re going to be at my place. Extended trips and activities away from home are going to be with Jewish groups. Yes, this will limit their social interaction by automatically making it more complicated to be outside of a Jewish circle. Any time they go outside that circle, that may be OK, but they will be immediately confronted with their Jewish identity.
When they grow up and are seeking a spouse, they are going to seek a spouse who keeps kosher. A spouse who keeps kosher will be more likely to feel close to his or her Jewish identity. As a result, Jewishness will be a key component of their family life.
So regarding social issues, we can definitively say that keeping kosher creates social boundaries. Some of those boundaries are undesirable and require extreme sensitivity to navigate. But without social boundaries, we cannot expect Jewish identity in the Messianic world to be preserved and passed on.
Image via NancyKay Shapiro. By the way, the picture was not taken at Walmart as is commonly claimed, but at Balducci's in New York.