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95 (Kosher Part 1 | カーシェール1)

February 25, 2011

Meat section in a supermarket | スーパーのお肉売り場

This entry is the second of a new weekly series called Food Fridays.
Every Friday I will post an entry related to food or cooking.
この記事は毎週更新予定の新カテゴリー「Food Fridays(フード・フライデー)」の第二弾。

Food Fridays: Kosher (Part 1)

It is well known that Hindus don’t eat beef and Muslims don’t eat pork. This seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? But the more and more I learn about Kosher, or the Jewish dietary laws, the more complicated it seems to get.

I should note here in the beginning that I’m not going to attempt laying out the rules of Kosher here. I don’t practice it and am by no means an expert on it, and there are far better resources available online and elsewhere on the subject. Besides, I have a feeling many of my dear readers actually know more about Kosher than I do. Instead, I would like to share my personal experiences and relationship with Kosher here in Israel.

First of all, I still have a hard time getting used to the fact that Kosher laws are based on the Bible. In other words, rules determined by God. I grew up in a non-religious household and my native Japanese culture is in most part a non-religious society. It was rare if at all for religious literature or a “God” of any kind to be referenced in daily life, let alone influence what we ate.

I was more exposed to the presence and idea of religion when my family lived in the United States for 6 years, and therefore became more familiar with the existence of the Bible (although in the Michigan suburb I lived in the “Bible” mostly meant the New Testament). But to me, the Bible back then to until recently, was a book people read in churches or at home when they wanted to be “religious”. Not a book that influences my daily life like say, the dinner table, the supermarket, or wedding receptions. Never were my decisions on what I wanted to eat influenced by any God and what he/she deemed right or wrong.

We currently live in a secular kibbutz, so it’s actually rare to meet anyone that strictly follows Kosher around here. But even the most secular people can tell you the Kosher rules and the reasons behind them. It’s not unusual for their answer to a Kosher-related question of mine to be, “Because God said so.” This never fails to throw me off. A big culture shock, I must say.

So, which influences of what “God said” have I noticed in Israel? The first was the absence of pork in supermarkets, meat shops, and most restaurants. For those of you new to Kosher, pork is not only banned from the Muslim diet (as I mentioned in the beginning) but from the Jewish diet too. (And to be fair, as Yuval always likes to remind me, the Old Testament came much earlier than the Koran!) It is deemed a foul animal in the bible and therefore not kosher. Ham, bacon, pepperoni, prosciutto, pork cutlets… I’ve never seen them here to this day. They apparently aren’t completely unavailable in Israel, but as my old neighbor Ilan once said to me, “You have to know where to go.”

God also says more than once in the bible that “you should not cook a fawn in its mother’s milk”. Apparently, in the beginning this was literally taken as a decree but over the years have come to be interpreted more as a metaphor. Still all beasts (mammals such as cows, goats, lambs) were determined not to be eaten with dairy, and in the modern day today, all meat including chicken are not to be mixed with dairy to avoid confusion.

The more obvious consequences of this rule sunk in pretty quickly. I’ve never been to a McDonald’s in Israel but I imagine there are no cheeseburgers on the menu, no sausage McMuffins. Pepperoni or bacon that were common toppings on pizza back home are probably rare here. No meat with cream sauce, and I guess no bacon with ice cream if I ever have such a craving. There are probably many other things I am missing out on, but it’s probably a good thing that I can’t remember them. 🙂

The less obvious consequences of this milk and dairy rule took longer for me to realize. For example, it took me five weddings in Israel before I realized that food at weddings have to be either “meat” or “dairy”. The more common choice seems to be “meat”, and the most serious consequence of this, in my opinion, is that the desserts are all Kosher Parve. Parve is food without any meat or dairy ingredients. This means no butter used in dessert. No real milk for the cappuccino you request with it. They use a substitute for milk that even most of the Israelis at my table avoided drinking. With butter-free desserts and mysterious white fluff topped coffee, the world suddenly becomes a sad, sad, place, let me tell you.

I hate to leave you on a sad note but this entry is already very long and my mind feels like it’s about to explode with Kosher information overload. The thing is, I’ve barely chipped off the Kosher iceberg! I will pick it up again next Friday, and probably many other Fridays but hopefully with some breaks in between. Until then, have a great weekend my friends. I hope you’re having a wonderful culinary experience, under whatever laws it may be.











Much love,

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