Sunday, November 28, 2010

teaching and kashrut...

Hey World,

So the last couple of days have been pretty crazy and all over the place. I'm going to start with the positive...

1. I'm coming home to America for part of my vacation yayayayay. I was trying not to come home, but for my sanity I think this is the best choice. Also I found cheap tickets. I'm super pumped to go home, see friends and family and also stuff my face. mmmm America.

2. For my community service project I am teaching a Talmud class to kids in a gap year program (after high school). I had my first class today, and I was super duper nervous but I think it went really well. We had some great discussions and everyone was engaged and energetic. It was funny because almost all of them were British, so I started talking a little strangely.

My lesson was about embarrassment in the Talmud. I wanted to pick something that the kids (students? they aren't so much younger than I am) could relate to. My goal (or one of them) is to make the Talmud more approachable and more relevant to these students. There is a lot of good stuff in there and I want to show them as much as I can/try and get them interested to continue to study it. We started with going around and talking about embarrassing moments which we had, it was a nice way to open people up and get them laughing. Then we looked at a text (bava metzia 58a) about how the rabbis say that shaming/embarrassing a fellow is as if you spilled his blood. Def had an interesting conversation about that.

It was a great class and really got me energized. The kids were also happy (or at least displayed emotions of being happy) that I will be coming back to teach them every week, so I think that's a good sign. I guess we will see. It's exciting because this is part of what I want to do with my life and it is cool that I get to start now. woot.

3. So I have had an interesting past couple of days in regards to some choices made about thanksgiving. Background: I am the chair of the social committee which was in charge of planning a thanksgiving meal. Since thanksgiving is so centered around Turkey HUC buys the Turkeys for the students and then the students provide all the side dishes. This makes for a difficult situation because of the presence of meat in regards to kashrut (keeping kosher, not mixing milk and meat). Usually the group HUC meals are vegetarian, so the possibility of mixing meat and milk is not an issue, but now that we had meat in this dinner we had to make a decision in regards to what we would do about the side dishes.

So as a social committee we had a meeting to decide what we were going to do about this issue. There was a possibility of having both dairy and meat side dishes on separate tables or just doing no dairy at all. As a group we ended up deciding to just have no dairy because people had said they would not come if there was dairy, and really there isn't a good way to keep the two separate if they are both present at a meal. We were trying to be inclusive, which sometimes means going with the more stringent opinion, but that is usually how compromise happens. If you have people who mix milk and meat and people who will not eat at a place that mixes the two you include the most people by only having milk or only having meat. Which is usually why events are vegetarian because you don't have to worry about it and then the vegetarians in the group are also able to have a wide variety of food.

Anyways we made the decision and then some people got upset because they felt like their right to choose (which is something we take very seriously in reform Judaism) was not respected. There were some people who did not come because we did not have dairy. While I understand the importance of choice, after all that is why I am a reform Jew, I think that in big community settings you have to make compromises. You can do whatever you want as an individual and make whatever choices you want, but sometimes in a big group that isn't possible all the time.

I struggled with the idea that people felt left out and excluded by the decision the social committee made about kashrut when we had made it to try and be the most inclusive. While it may be your preference to eat dairy and meat together (which is 100% fine), if I or anyone who keeps kosher is in a place where the food is not up to their kashrut standards that is prohibitory. I can't eat pepperoni pizza, but you can eat cheese pizza even if you prefer it with pepperoni. I know this is an extreme example, but having two tables where there would be a possibility of having stuff mixed would make me uncomfortable. I don't know what I would have done in this situation...

In addition while I think it is perfectly fine for people to make their own decisions, and have meals or shabbat meals that have both dairy and meat I think that at a Jewish institution it makes sense to have (minimal) kashrut standards. Yes even a Reform Jewish institution.

The decision making process that took place really did discuss both sides. I think the mistake was that we didn't realize how big of a deal this would become and maybe didn't handle it as carefully/delicately as we should have. As the group planning the event we felt it appropriate to make the decision on Kashrut, but it seems that maybe in regards to ritual or halachic matters we should have an official school/community policy so that people feel empowered by the decision making process and don't feel excluded.

I know I am definitely one of the most conservative (yes small c) members of my class in regards to these issues, but I will say it again: I support your right to choose, but I support HUC having a minimum level of kashrut at group events. Maybe a better way to do this is to just not have meat at these events, but at an event sponsored by HUC I don't think there should be both meat and milk. You can disagree with me and I respect your opinion, and I ask you to respect mine. (and this is just mine, it is totally separate from the social committee and that decision making process). As a Reform Jew who keeps kosher I have felt that not my choices are not being tolerated, because if people are insisting on having dairy and meat together that does not give me a space within the community.

Eat a cheeseburger while sitting next to me at lunch, eat a turkey sandwich and a yogurt, but let me also eat my turkey sandwich WITHOUT cheese, or my hummus and pita or whatever. When we bring our own food and only eat our own food we don't have this problem, but when we all eat together and share food as a community we need to ask ourselves how to do so in the best way possible that gives a place to everyone within the community.

As a community at HUC this issue definitely has gotten us talking, which I think is a positive thing, and we are working on moving on from this and learning from this situation. I think at some point there will be some kind of wider community forum to discuss all of this, and hopefully we will be able to work out a policy or something. I have learned a lot from this situation already, and I think that learning from things like this is the only way to make something positive happen out of a negative situation.

Wow that got long. This is just something I feel very strongly about...

I do pick my battles, and this is something I feel very strongly about which is why I am voicing my opinion. I also think this will be interesting to look back on later. As I said in my email to my class, I do want to have this discussion. Let's talk about it. If you disagree with me let me know. That's the great thing about Judaism, is we have this tradition based on arguments and disagreements. This is a continuation of that. People in the Talmud fought/disagreed all the time, this is nothing new...I think both sides can learn from this discussion.

If you actually got to the end of this, wow. Kol hacavod!

I guess I will see how much heat I get for this...

I should get back to homework.

Peace (and respectful differences of opinions),


ps (edit) a classmate, in light of this whole discussion, sent us an article. It appears the whole Reform movement is struggling with this idea of Kashrut...I feel tapped in to the Reform struggle, or something.


  1. Becca,
    Your talmud class sounds great. I wish I could take it! If need be, I could try to talk with a British accent.
    I also liked reading your thoughts on the kosher controversy. One thing kept coming into mind. If we make choices based on the most stringent standards, aren't we recreating a situation like we have in Jerusalem that angers us. Example: if the very Orthodox can only go to the Wall when men and women are separated no women read Torah, do we do it their way so that "the most" people can use it?
    At some point, and I don't know when, the standard of taking the most strict view to accommodate people doesn't work and excludes people. I'm not sure how to approach making a decision like this but there have to be other ways of thnking about it. We need to find these ways if Reform Judaism is to move forward. It can't be the lowest common denominator on either side that steers the dialogue. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

  2. Interesting point April. My gut reaction is to totally deny this comparison between this decision and the way that we are treated as Reform Jews in Israel. I would like to consider myself more flexible than the ultra-orthodox at the wall, because while I do have my halachic preferences I don't claim that they are the only way to do things (or that they are the only RIGHT way to do things).

    The decision we made about Kashrut wasn't even the strictest that could have happened. I know a lot of times at my old school we would have group dinners that could only have food cooked in a hecsher kosher kitchen (meaning that even my kosher kitchen was not kosher enough). There is still a range.

    I definitely like your point. I think the major difference is the decision making process. The fact that all sides (within the social committee) were included and respected. Or at least that is what I tried to make happen, and that is something that should be worked on in the future.

    I also think that the example of women of the wall is an extreme case and a bit different. Women of the wall is NOT halachically against Judaism. While women are not obligated to read from the Torah or pray three times a day (lo hayav) we are NOT forbidden (assur) from doing so. While some people do not view themselves as forbidden from eating milk and meat together in the Reform world, some people do and that is what makes compromise on this issue so difficult.

    I'm definitely going to keep thinking about this, but these are my first thoughts...