Identity Through Kashrut

Kashrut has contributed very significantly to our survival as a distinct nation. Jews all over the world have common dietary patterns, we have been identified in some countries by our diet, and we tend to live in close proximity to each other. I can be confident that the curried hamin of the Calcutta Jews has no milk and meat mixed together in its ingredients. When I eat kosher French cuisine I know that the meat is not pork and that the animals have been slaughtered according to Jewish law. Jews meet each other at the local kosher bakery; they shop at the same grocery and patronize kosher butchers and restaurants. In the location of the old Jewish ghetto of Rome today there are kosher bakeries, cafes and restaurants. At the center of the Jewish community in Melbourne, Australia, is Carlisle St. with bakeries, restaurants, kosher groceries and wine stores, all packed every Friday. The laws of kashrut are a major force in maintaining Jewish identity and act as a barrier against assimilation by creating a feeling of community among the Jewish people. This effect of the dietary laws, is, in fact, alluded to in the Torah portion this week: “You shall distinguish between the clean animal and the unclean and between the clean bird and the unclean… You shall be holy for Me, for I, G-d, am Holy; and I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:25-26). These two verses suggest that there is a link between observing the laws of kashrut and maintaining our identity as a distinct, unique people among the nations of the world (Or Hachaim, ad loc.).

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