Hello! My name is Delaney Williams and I, along with Louisa Gille, will be one of the new youth bloggers. As many of you know, I have been a member of Grace Episcopal Church since before I can remember, and I am delighted with the opportunity to be able to share my thoughts with you. In my journey to adulthood, I am constantly searching for answers, for new ways of understanding the world we live in, and many of my blog posts will reflect upon this curiosity. And through my own exploration, I hope to inspire you to look deeper into your own understanding of the world.
Recently, Grace Episcopal Church held their first Interfaith Symposium on Mindful Faith and Practice, Judaism, Christianity and Human Wholeness, on October 23 and 24, 2015. The keynote speaker – Rabbi Mark Biller of Congregation Beth Ahm, Verona, New Jersey – keeps Kosher, and in an act of hospitality Grace Church went through a process that allowed every meal that was served during the symposium to be “Kosher.” As Fr. Alan said, “Hospitality isn’t just opening the door, but making the room ready.”
In order for food to be considered “Kosher,” it must meet the standards of Kashrut, which is the body of Jewish Law that deals with dietary restrictions and preparations. The word “Kashrut” comes from the Hebrew root Kaf-Shin-Reish, meaning fit, proper, or correct. I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with the Rabbi’s wife, Ellen Biller, about some of the basics of keeping Kashrut.
“Being kosher is [about] which animals you can eat and basic preparation. It is written in the Old Testament of the bible what you can eat are animals that both chew their cud and have a split hoof [cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and bison], fish that have both fins and scales, [tilapia, salmon, tuna, etc.], any vegetables, any fruits, kind of anything that grows from the ground, is okay. Now fowl is kind of interesting, [people who keep kosher may not eat] scavengers [or] birds that eat other birds or dead things – and they are listed – so mostly we have chicken and turkey. And it as prescribed in the Torah, the Bible.”
The second standard of Kashrut that must be met is the physical death of the animal and the preparation in the kitchen.
“There are a lot of details, but the philosophy of it is as quickly and cleanly and humanely as possible. Because of a phrase in the Bible, [Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk. – Exodus 23:19] you don’t cook a baby animal in the milk of its mother. It just philosophically is a cruelty, so because of this [verse] it’s been extended to not cooking a baby goat, meat, in milk. It’s talking about in a humane approach to living. We all eat… The idea is the recognition that we are all animals to some extent – even if it’s a higher level – but we are not animals that [tear apart another animal to eat it]. We are thinking. We can think before we capture that animal; we don’t catch as many as we can, we catch as many as we need to eat… That’s exactly what [Kashrut] is; mindful ways of behavior in terms of our animal instincts. Before we eat we take – and this isn’t just Jewish – but we take a minute and we say a blessing. In Jewish customs there are all kinds of blessings: for fruit, bread, all sorts of things. It not that different from saying grace before a meal… We are stopping for a minute and saying thank you for making this possible.”
This particular understanding of life caught my attention because as humans, we can sometimes lose sight of the blessings God has given us. In my own understanding, Kashrut is a daily reminder of those blessings, a little voice in your head at every meal that allows you to connect at a deeper level with God and His creations.
“The blessings don’t make it kosher, what makes it Kosher is the kind of meat and the way it was killed. But there are blessings, [and] I’ll give you the bread one for example, it’s thanking God for making bread. Now in fact who makes bread? God doesn’t make bread. Now if you [so] believe – there has been rain – so the blessing is [that] we as humans can take what God has given us and create bread.”
This form of thankfulness is universal, not only in various religions but in various cultures as well. One popular example – Thanksgiving – is just around the corner. This American holiday is literally a day for giving thanks for the blessings we, as individuals, have received in life – whether those blessings are religious or not; and in essence, that is what I believe following Kashrut is about: being thankful for and respectful of the gifts God has given us.
I would like to give a special thanks to Ellen Biller for taking the time to talk to me about her faith. If you would like more information about Kashrut I found both of these websites to be particularly helpful!
Thank you to Fr. Alan and to Tina Chopin for these photos of the “koshering” of our Grace Church kitchen: