I'm making the transition into observant Judaism. I've already incorporated many different aspects of Jewish life and practice in my own. The one thing that is most difficult for me is finding kosher meats in my area, specially lamb and red meat, which are meats I love to eat from time to time. Can I purchase organic meats instead, which are more accessible in my area and in this way observe Kashrut? Thanks!
The answer would depend upon what observant means to you. There are companies that ship kosher meat and organic kosher meat to your home (or at a discount to a central location of your choosing if you create a group of buyers). Some considerations for your process of deliberation:
Meats that are simply organic but not slaughtered by a shochet (trained professional) with the appropriate health check, method, blessing and heksher (certification) are not considered kosher in accord with the real meaning of the word inside of traditional Judaism. And, those who keep kosher inside and outside their homes will not be able to eat in your home should you elect this approach. Community is a very important component of a meaningful Jewish life, where our practices come most fully alive. What are the community norms where you live and among those with whom will you pray and socialize? These are important considerations at this point in your journey.
Meats that are kosher but not organic, do not have supervision of the animal's quality of life, or safe food intake (such as concerns about agrochemicals, antibiotics, etc).
A third level of concern is are the laborers are paid appropriately and on-time (a separate mitzvah in Judaism from kosher). Recent events show that some kosher businesses also require ethical supervision, along with the technical certification given by a mashgiach (kosher supervisor).
Can the packaging be recycled? (yet a different mitzvah, care for the environment).
Does the company have an honorable business record?
Does the company practice inclusive ahavas yisroel / ahavat yisrael? From my perspective as a woman rabbi, a final concern is whether charity given by the firm's earnings reflect inclusive support for all Jewish people and care for those of other nations, or will donations and vendors only be given to those who support and are involved in only a small segment's views and practices and voting patterns -- including discrimination against people like myself who are barred from holding inclusive prayer services in our own normal ways at the Kotel, with a Torah, while wearing our taleisim (prayer shawls) and serving equally as rabbis and Jews in Israel and world-wide.
You might start your meat-seeking adventure at http://www.ecoglatt.com/ and a key word search should reveal additional options. Another helpful project is the Tav HaYosher (a seal that certifies workers are properly treated in kosher restaurants).
For more of the meaning of keeping kosher and other mitzvot mentioned in this article, please see my book Meaning & Mitzvah: Daily Practices for Reclaiming Judaism through Prayer, God, Torah, Hebrew, Mitzvot and Peoplehood (Jewish Lights Publishing)
Blessings on your life and may your path towards a mitzvah-centered Jewish life be blessed.
I am delighted to hear that you have connected with Jewish observance and that you are working to incorporate more of our traditional practices into your life. The transition from not keeping kosher to keeping kosher is very difficult (at least that is what I hear—to be fair, I’ve always kept kosher so I don’t really know). As you say, in many places it is difficult to get kosher food, especially meat, which is certainly discouraging. Let me try to answer your question on a number of levels.
If you are asking a halakhic question, i.e. whether it would be permitted according to Jewish Law, classically defined, to substitute kosher meat for organic meat, the answer is no. Kosher and organic are not the same thing. Kosher meat is about what animal it is, how it was killed, and what was done with the blood, the forbidden fat and the sciatic nerve. It is a very technical matter. Organic meat has to do with how the animal was treated, what it was fed in its lifetime, whether antibiotics or other interventions were used, etc. Both, in my mind at least, are valuable but they are neither coterminous with each other nor interchangeable.
Insofar as getting kosher meat, as I don’t know where you live, I don’t know what to advise you. I suggest that if there are observant Jews in your area, or an Orthodox, Chabad or Conservative rabbi or shul, you should call them and ask them where they get their meat. It may be that certain meats or cuts are unavailable in your area, and that is disheartening. For those who keep kosher, that means that such meat will not be eaten. If you are just beginning your journey and are not ready for this, that is understandable. I suggest you make this an exception for the time being with the hopes that you will arrive at keeping kosher fully when you feel you can make that move. If the meat is available but expensive, I can only say that I am sorry for that as well. Sometimes our values come at a premium, but meat is rarely so prohibitively expensive as to require a second mortgage, so it will generally be a question of frequency. I apologize that I cannot be of more help in this regard, but kashrut is what it is.
On the matter of organic meat, I am very glad that this sort of issue speaks to you. There are many fellow travelers who are disturbed by the way animals are treated by certain companies, whether it be with regard to living conditions, or forced feeding, food that causes ulcers and other medical complications, and the flooding of animals with antibiotics which adversely affect us humans in the long run. There are actually kashrut organizations that specialize in supervision of organic meat. You can find a number of their websites online; perhaps you can order from them and get kosher and organic. (Personally, we try to order bison when we can in my family, as their meat is healthier and they are generally treated better than cattle.)
Finally, there is one other issue worth considering, which is the treatment of workers; this applies to all business, but I mean specifically in kosher companies. I have a number of colleagues who were so concerned with making sure that workers in kosher facilities were treated properly that they created the Tav ha-Yosher. If you are the activist type, you might want to get in touch with them and bring the Tav into any local kosher establishments you might have (meat or dairy). You can then have kosher and social justice at the same time (maybe even organic as well.)
I hope this was helpful, and I wish you the best of luck on your spiritual journey. Ours is a wonderful tradition and I am glad that you are deepening your connection.
I want to wish you a hearty yasher koach (“More power to you!”) for embarking on the path of Jewish observance. As many Talmudic and medieval Jewish authorities put it, living a life of mitzvot (Jewish observance) has the power to refine human beings. I believe that. Jewish observance can be spiritually uplifting, a source of deep joy, and can help you feel more connected to the Jewish people and the Jewish way of life. I hope it achieves these goals for you.
Rabbi Bradley Artson, in his helpful book, It’s a Mitzvah! Step-By-Step to Jewish Living, suggests a gradual approach to Jewish observance. I agree with him. It is far better to pursue a path of moderation, even while one is growing in observance, lest “people flee from excessively high standards to total abandonment.”
This cautionary note is certainly apt when it comes to embracing kashrut (the Jewish dietary laws and traditions). Rabbi Artson sets forth twelve stages in becoming fully kosher. These include abstaining from all pig products, refraining from eating shellfish, separating milk products from meat products, eating only biblically permitted meat, etc. Interestingly, the commitment to eat only kosher meat is number ten on his list. That’s pretty far down the line. As Rabbi Artson puts it, “For many people this is a difficult step.”
It sounds like it may be a difficult step for you. And so I would urge you to take it slowly. I like the idea of your taking the step to refrain from eating all but organic meat. Choosing to limit your diet in this way sensitizes you to the dangers (to animals, humans, and the entire planet) posed by pesticides. It also requires you to check what you’re buying and distinguish between what is permitted and what is forbidden – a process that is intrinsic to keeping kosher.
So I would urge you, at this stage, to purchase and eat only organic meat. But you shouldn’t be under the illusion that having the “organic” label renders such meat kosher. It doesn’t. Yes, organic meat may come from an animal that is theoretically suitable for consumption by Jews, but without rabbinical certification, the meat is not kosher. There is no reason to believe that the animal was slaughtered in the proper way, the blood drained properly, and the meat salted and rinsed to remove even more blood. So, although I support your preference for organic meat, and believe that this is for you a step in the right direction, be aware that organic meat is not a substitute for meat whose preparation has been properly supervised by rabbinical authorities and deemed kosher for consumption.
Given the increasing availability of kosher meat in this country, I am hopeful that eventually you will be able to find adequate supplies of kosher meat in your area. In the meantime, I want to wish you well as you continue to transition into Jewish observance. I hope that you continue to find it inviting and appealing.
I wish you much success as you make the journey into a more observant practice of Judaism. Your question prompts two thoughts in particular – how does one choose their path as they enter a more observant lifestyle and how does one mesh one's own practice with that of a community. They are different questions and yield different responses.
A community maintains its own standards and they are not subject to individual modification. The orthodox community has an expectation of what it means to observe the kosher laws, including that the animal will have been slaughtered and prepared in accord with standard practice. It is worth noting that there is some variance between orthodox communities. Differences also exist between the Orthodox and Conservative understandings of many traditions, including some regarding kashrut.
If you are asking whether your local circumstances would allow for organic meat to be considered kosher in the eyes of the traditional community, the answer is no.
The second question, however, yields a different response. I believe Jewish observance is a life-long journey, meaning we don't get to the end in one jump. Our ideas develop, we gain new understandings, and we adopt different practices as our life journey proceeds.
It may be that you currently are looking for a way to adopt a way of eating that is grounded in Jewish tradition and offers you a spiritual understanding and experience of eating. If that is true, then you may best fulfill your current goals by adopting some of the practices of kashrut while also choosing to eat organic rather than kosher-certified meat. You would not have a community endorsement of your choice, but it would serve your religious and spiritual needs at this moment.
It is worth noting that there are a number of people seeking to develop a new understanding of kashrut that is responsive to our contemporary circumstances. Eco-kosher, a term coined in the 1970's, “connects modern ecology (such as concerns about industrial agriculture, global warming and fair treatment of workers) with kosher, ancient Jewish dietary laws about food production, preparation and eating (such as ritual slaughter, separation of meat and milk, and tithing of fruit).” (About.com) It may be that you will find common ground in this effort to blend our spiritual tradition with modern concerns.
However you proceed, I wish you much success on your journey.
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