Parshat Re’eh: Finding meaning in the laws of kashrut


By Jonah Reisner

What I found most interesting about the laws of kashrut found in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Re’eh, are the rules for birds.

(Irvin Simon Photographers)

Kashrut with birds is complicated because the Torah doesn’t give any guidance on why we cannot eat certain birds. When I first read this, I felt like the list of birds that aren’t kosher was kind of random. According to the OU website, all kosher birds must have a crop, a gizzard and an extra toe. There are also some reasons that we don’t want to eat non-kosher birds, like if a bird is a scavenger or a bird of prey. We don’t want to eat scavengers or birds of prey because the saying “You are what you eat” can apply, and we don’t want to act like those kinds of birds.

In my opinion, kashrut rules are meant to help us make our homes into our own little temple. We don’t bring non-kosher food into our house just like non-kosher foods were kept out of the Temple, which was the dwelling place of God. A home, being like the Temple, comes up in the Talmud.

“Rabbi Yohanan and Rabbi Elazar both say: As long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel’s transgressions. Now that it is destroyed, a person’s table atones for his transgressions” (Brachot 55a).

A custom that comes from this is putting salt on challah to simulate the salting of the sacrifices. Our house took on the role of the Temple in connecting us to God, ourselves and our community. The Temple was built as a place for focusing and praying, and your house can be like the Temple because it’s also set away from the outside world. When you are at home, you can focus on yourself, the blessings you have been given and the morals in your life.

Kashrut can help us make moral decisions. For example, if you decide to eat chicken for dinner, that means a chicken had to die. If that chicken was kosher, that means it was at least slaughtered in a humane way.

I think that kashrut should be passed down as a tradition. Passing down traditions lets our ancestors’ teachings continue on in new situations and inspires more people to find meaning in what initially feels like random laws, like the kashrut of birds.

Jonah Reisner is an eighth-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School in Pikesville, Md.
This portion was meant to run in an earlier edition, but instead will round out the weekly reading cycle before Simchat Torah and the start all over again.

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