Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kosher - Fish

So much can go wrong in the process of ensuring that meat is kosher. Besides being of kosher species, animals or fowl are to be slaughtered only by an expert certified shochet/slaughterer. His knife must be razor-sharp without the slightest nick, the carcass has to be carefully checked for disqualifying factors and then it needs to be properly salted to remove its blood. Therefore we only eat kosher meat when it is certified by an absolutely reliable kashrut agency.

In comparison to meat, the kosher requirements for fish seem tame. The Torah's specifications for kosher fish are fins and scales (Leviticus 11:9-10). Fish needs no ritual slaughter or salting. But it still requires kosher supervision.

If you take your kosher fish home from the market while it's still whole, then little can go wrong. But most fish today is processed in some way before it gets to you. Most fish markets use the same knives to cut both kosher and non-kosher fish, which creates kashrut problems. It's best then to buy your fresh fish from a store selling only kosher fish.

One complicating factor in kosher supervision of fish is that the Torah requires the kosher signs of each fish to be ascertained before any Jew may eat it. So proper supervision requires the constant presence of a conscientious kashrut supervisor throughout the process to check each fish before it is cut up and processed.

Canned fish, like tuna, is also a problem. Some of it is canned on-board or it is brought for canning in lands like Thailand or the Philippines. It's not easy to put a Torah-observant Jew as a supervisor there. And then before a canning plant can be certified, that plant must be made kosher too.

In other words, kosher supervision is rarely simple.

Soon, however, we will get to eat the most illustrious fish of all, the fabled Leviathan, as the Talmud says, at the great national feast after the revelation of the Mashiach. But we can be sure that that fish will have no kashrut problems, for it will be under the strict supervision of the Almighty Himself!

Monday, January 18, 2010

KOSHER - spark in everything...

The great Kabbalist, the Arizal, taught that every created thing possesses a "spark" of divine energy that constitutes its essence and soul. When a person utilizes something toward a G-dly deed, he brings to light this divine spark, thereby fulfilling the purpose for which it was created. In all physical substances, a material "peel" so to speak, encases and conceals this divine spark.

It is written: "Man does not live on bread alone, but by the utterance of G-d's mouth does man live" (Deuteronomy 8:3). Meaning, that within every created thing is an "utterance of G-d's mouth", referring to this spark of energy. When the human body hungers for a piece of physical bread, this is but a reflection of its soul's craving for the Divine utterance which is the "soul" of the bread, which the human being "redeems" /elevates by utilizing the energy he or she gains from the food, towards a G-dly purpose.

No existence is devoid of a divine spark -- indeed, nothing can exist without the pinpoint of G-dliness that imbues it with being and purpose. But not every spark can be actualized. There are certain sparks that are inaccessible to us. The fact that something is forbidden by the Torah means that its "peel" cannot be penetrated, so that its spark remains locked within it and cannot be redeemed.

Thus, one who eats a piece of kosher meat and then uses the energy he gained from this piece of meat, to perform a mitzvah, thereby elevates the spark of divinity, that is the essence of the meat; raising it to a state of fulfilled spirituality. However, if one would do the same with a piece of non-kosher meat, no such "elevation" would take place. Even if he applied the energy to positive and G-dly deeds, this would not fulfill the divine purpose of the meat’s creation, since the consumption of this meat was a violation of G-d's will.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

KOSHER - it's a chok

Although we may have some notion of why we keep kosher, ultimately its reason is still beyond us. It belongs to a category of Mitzvot called 'Chukim'.

Chukim is a category of Mitzvot that even after they were commanded, we really cannot understand them. And Kashrut is such a set of laws. What does it represent? We do not know.

Keeping the Chukim is a special part of our relationship with Hashem. If we know the reason for something, then we are doing the act because of our understanding, not because of G-d's will. Connecting with G-d because of our own understanding is not such a true relationship.

By way of example, if a wife makes a request and the husband responds that he will do it only if she explains it to him, the relationship is deficient. There is something special and intimate about doing something just because your spouse requested it. This request and the subsequent fulfilling of the request, without reason, reflects a deep harmony between the husband and wife.

When we do an act, or refrain from doing an act, because it is G-d's will, we are able to connect with Him in a special and intimate way. His will becomes the drive behind our action, not our own will and understanding. When we connect with G-d only because we understand, then we are connecting with our understanding. This is a shallow, if not strained, relationship. So, kashrut gives us an opportunity to connect with G-d in our every day life. Every time we eat we can be conscious of fulfilling G-d's will through our eating.

There are good reasons to keep Kosher. Ultimately, though, it is a plan designed by G-d for the Jewish body. And it works.