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Eating Your Values

Jewish Farm School.

The many Jewish laws regarding food—how it gets from the ground and into our mouths in a kosher manner—are central to Jewish life. But what ethical framework underlies the system of kashrut? In Maimonides'  Guide of the Perplexed, his justifications for kashrut range from avoiding cruelty to animals and eschewing the idolatrous practices of antiquity to considerations of health.  These days, one is more likely to hear kashrut's regulatory practices invoked on behalf of workplace safety and conformity with minimum-wage laws. 

Relevant Links
Locusts, Giraffes, and the Meaning of Kashrut  Meir Soloveichik, Azure. Sifting historical and contemporary explanations, one Orthodox intellectual settles in the end on divine love and Jewish difference. (PDF)
They Were What They Ate  Susan Marks, H-Net. A new volume on the role of food in shaping ancient Jewish identity goes farther and deeper than earlier studies of the subject.
Slaughterhouse Rules  Elli Fischer, Jewish Ideas Daily. As Jewish ritual slaughter makes multiple provisions for the minimization of animal pain, it’s evident that those who seek to ban the practice often have something other than animal welfare in mind.
Going Kosher  Sue Fishkoff, JTA. Reform rabbis of late are challenging their constituents to develop a dietary practice based on such values as sustainability, morality—and, yes, kashrut.
Kosher Nation  Jenna Weissman Joselit, New Republic. The expansion of the kosher food industry has, ironically, caused kosher food to become invisible.
Yiddish Farm  Devra Ferst, The Jew and the Carrot. Where Yiddish-language immersion meets sustainable agriculture. (Interview with Naftali Ejdelman)

Here, two videos by the Israeli media agency Leadel introduce a number of North American initiatives that aim to get Jews closer to their food—both by producing food according to Jewish agricultural law and by concerning themselves with the ethical and environmental implications of how the food gets to their plates.  B'teiavon!  —The Editors

Jewish Farming

Before the Jews were exiled from the land of Israel, they were an indigenous agrarian society with a calendar and holidays centered on the agricultural cycle.

Honey, Milk, and Ethical Kashrut

"When I eat, what I do is more than just consume food."  

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Jeremiah Unterman on November 4, 2011 at 8:56 am (Reply)
The preeminent modern scholar on Biblical ritual was Jacob Milgrom, z"l, who passed away in 2010. No exposition of the ethics of kashrut can be adequate without referring to his pioneering work, starting with "The Biblical Diet Laws as an Ethical System" in Interpretation (1963) and continuing through his magisterial three-volume Anchor Bible commentary on Leviticus.
Madel on November 4, 2011 at 2:17 pm (Reply)
What is remarkable to me is that as animal-friendly as the Torah is, we don't recognize that the most demanding halacha concerning kashrut -- the separation of meat and dairy -- may merely have been another animal-friendly edict. Just as the halacha concerning a mother bird and its eggs and the seven-day moratorium on taking a calf from its mother, among others, is very similar to boiling a kid in its mother's milk, so too should we limit the breadth of the latter halacha to the exact facts at hand. When, in our desert wanderings and years before the first exilic period, a calf had a good probability of being cooked in its mother's milk, today in an urban setting that possibilty is nonexistent. The enticement of a cheeseburger should not be allowed today to bring down Jewish observance of the other dietary laws, but keeping today an animal-friendly chok in its extreme earlier state should not apply to an urban environment, which then alienates cosmopolitan Jews. Leave it on the farm where it may still belong, but only in the instance where one might actually cook a kid in its mother's milk.

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