Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Semi-Conservative": 4 levels of kashrut

i'm not observant enuf 2 meet the rabbinical standards 4 a Conservative Jew, but i'm within hailing range, and i don't think that my 4-level approach to kashrut (the jewish religious dietary laws) is particularly atypical of conservative jewish laypeople:

1. what i eat "out"

i used 2 observe what's sometimes been described as "biblical kashrut," meaning that i wouldn't eat any animal forbidden in the bible itself, but would politely ignore the many rabbinic laws regarding plates, pots, cooking methods, & kosher slaughter. the only thing that's changed is that i no longer eat non-kosher meat--i gave it up about a decade ago as a farewell present 2 a departing rabbi.

hints 4 those who eat in non-kosher restaurants (which, 4 the record, is against official conservative rabbinic standards) but wish 2 avoid major errors--this is what i learned the hard way:

  • avoid egg foo young in a non-kosher restaurant, even if it's supposedly vegetarian--just because it doesn't have meat in it doesn't necessarily mean that it doesn't contain every imaginable variety of (treif/non-kosher) shellfish.
  • if u don't eat non-kosher meat, avoid tuna salad in salad bars, because it can b difficult 2 tell the difference between tuna & chicken salad just by looking.
2. what i eat "in"

we no longer bring home treif chinese food & eat it from paper plates, but, occasionally, we'll bring home something (non-meat) without a hechsher (rabbinical seal indicating that a product is kosher), usually either by accident or because some1 gave it 2 us. i've been known 2 check the ingredients & eat it anyway, but we keep such items separate from hechshered food.

3. what i heat "in"

i've gotten stricter about this over the yrs. i will no longer cook or reheat anything that doesn't have a hechsher. i've even switched to hechshered cheese, tho the conservative rabbinate doesn't require it. (my understanding is that the conservative rabbinate considers any cheese produced in the U.S. kosher, trusting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that we don't get pig's milk in our cheese.) since we live in new york city, we can buy hechshered cheese reasonably easily, tho we have 2 leave the neighborhood 2 do so.

4. what kashrut standards i expect in a synagogue

i think everything served in a synagogue should be under rabbinical supervision, period. i don't think that pot-luck meals are appropriate for a synagogue, because people have different standards of kashrut &/or different levels of knowledge of what the dietary laws require.

pls pardon poor typing--2 broken wrists


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shira, I think that in a mere four paragraphs you did an excellent job of explaining the practical approach to kashrut adopted by the vast majority of conservative jews who intentionally keep kosher (which, unfortunately, is a small minority of jews affiliated with conservative shuls).

Check out the shefa yahoo forum for a lengthy discussion on this topic not too long ago., in which someone claims a survey revealed that a majority of CJ rabbis will eat hot dairy in a non-kosher restaurant. I suspect this is prevalent mostly among those living outside the major metropolitan jewish areas on the coasts, where it is probably not necessary.

I think many of the small details (heckshered cheese, etc. vs. non-heckshered are often dictated by your community and social relationships. Many of the kids friends and their parents are more strict than we are (many attend the local MO congs) so we tend to lean toward the heckshered stuff so folks are comfortable.

Nu, what do you do about wine?

Sun Jan 11, 08:40:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steve, thanks.

Booze has always put me to sleep, so, since we rarely buy any, we stick to kosher wine, as we feel it's important to use kosher wine when reciting kiddush.

It's a good thing I copy all my posts and comments into Word archives, because I've learned through experience that a search on the blog itself will not reveal anything that's posted in the comments. I see from my archives that you mentioned the shefa forum in a comment all the way back in Sept. So I snooped around online & found this:


The mission of the Shefa Network is two-fold: To bring together dreamers from within the Conservative Movement, and to give their Dreams an audible voice.

We are part of the Conservative Movement
and commit ourselves to work towards its health.
Be a part of our community of builders and dreamers.

To join the conversation, email

I decided to take my chances on getting flooded with e-mails, & subscribed. I joined under my blog pseudonym/blogger name, since I post a bit about Jewish law & Conservative Judaism here, & would like to be able to refer people to my posts without worrying about revealing my real identity. I also set up a separate e-mail address, to keep my Shefa e-mail separate from my blogger e-mail. Stay tuned.

Sun Jan 11, 10:31:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I decided to join the Shefa Network because I find that, as a member in good standing of the Jewish blogosphere, I tend to read a good deal of writing by the Orthodox community, & not enough from my own Conservative community. (Where are all the Conservative bloggers hiding?) I thought it might help me gain a bit more perspective if I balanced my online reading a bit.

Sun Jan 11, 10:38:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out

You don't need to sign up to read the messages, and if you do, you can control how or if you receive them from the yahoo control panel. Its an easy thing to do; I don't get the messages via mail, I just check in on them periodically, but I also see the latest postings via RSS

Keep in mind, the link above is the forum for the same group whose link you mentioned in your comment to my comment.

Mon Jan 12, 10:38:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steve, thanks for the info. I'd like to get in on the action, though, & will shortly send my 1st message to Shefa.

Mon Jan 12, 11:48:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Oh, I see that I can post messages directly on the Shefa Network website. I'm still waiting for the message that I e-mailed to make its appearance there. Hope I get a response or 2.

Mon Jan 12, 12:28:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Welcome to the Shefa yahoo group (No need to spam the whole group with a simple hello.) There are a number of interesting posters who don't blog, and the few O bloggers are very respectful of the integrity of the C movement.

Another low volume C group is

Tue Jan 13, 10:12:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sorry, Larry, I guess my judgment is a bit off--I didn't think that what I sent was spam.

Thanks for referring me to the livejournal C group. I'll check it out.

Tue Jan 13, 10:33:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

No, no, no. I meant that my simply saying 'welcome aboard' to the entire Shefa group would have been spam. Your introduction was just fine.

Tue Jan 13, 10:45:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

OK, I must admit that I was hoping that my 1st message would attract more Conservative readers & commenters to my blog. I like to keep things balanced.

Wow, I checked out, and found your link to that kashrut discussion on the Shefa Network. (Warning: It’s a 29-page PDF file.) Thanks!

So Shefa publishes an annual journal? If the sample to which you linked is any indication, that would make interesting reading.

Tue Jan 13, 02:14:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Oh, thanks for your welcome, Larry. I didn't see your clarification earlier because I was busy reading the kashrut PDF. (Not a bad way for a temporarily-disabled person to spend her time.)

Tue Jan 13, 02:19:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

So let me know what you think about the kashrut issue either here on the shefa group.

I have a theory that by and large C Jews consider Judaism to be one aspect among many of their lives, while many O Jews regard it as the center. Thus you wind up with many more O than C bloggers since many would be C bloggers are instead involved with knitting blogs, science fiction blogs, sports blogs, etc. (*)

I have another theory that C Jews are simply more prone to focus on their jobs while at work while O Jews are constantly goofing off (or if you prefer, more O Jews are in entrepreneurial positions where their time can be freely allocated between work and play.)


(*) examples chosen with malice aforethought, since they are all topics that some O bloggers have a great deal of interest in.

Tue Jan 13, 02:29:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I'm Conservative & I'm still guilty as charged--I enjoyed several years of posting on a sci-fi message board before I discovered blogging.

As for my sometime daytime blogging, I describe my current position as a "feast or famine" job--sometimes I'm doing (unpaid :( ) overtime to complete a major project, but there are also times when I have so little to do that I spend most of the day surfing the 'Net. It's fortunate for me--not to mention for my boss--that I did overtime & completed a major project just hours before I fell & broke both wrists. Once I go back to work, my blogging time will be limited because another major project that I had in the works still awaits me.

"I have a theory that by and large C Jews consider Judaism to be one aspect among many of their lives, while many O Jews regard it as the center." You may have a point, there. A former rabbi of ours once complained that many C Jews focus on synagogue prayer & ritual because they consider shul the center of Jewish life, whereas that's really not (supposed to) be the case--there's plenty of traditional Jewish observance that's supposed to take place outside the synagogue & in addition to the morning (Shacharit), afternoon (Minchah), and evening (Arvit/Maariv) services. Brachot/blessings praising HaShem/G-d for food are prime examples--and how many C Jews make a brachah before eating a bag of nuts and raisins?

Tue Jan 13, 03:50:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

". . .let me know what you think about the kashrut issue . . ." 29 pages, standing on 1 foot? :)

Tue Jan 13, 05:50:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Actually, I was particularly struck by this comment by Gella Solomon on pages 18-19:

“General practice is more often than not informed by ignorance and I don't see value in legitimizing mistaken practice based on ignorance. I understand the position that many of the stringencies of kashrut are fences that not all see as necessary, and that their removal does not necessarily in and of itself constitute the violation of a negative mitzvah, but I don't think that the institutionalization of the fences' removal is a good idea. Most Conservative Jews I know seem to think that The Conservative Movement permits driving on Shabbat. This is what I grew up believing. They don't know that the ruling specified only driving to and from shul and only if they couldn't get to *A SHUL* otherwise. And while I am not, chas v'chalila, suggesting that Rabbi Leff's proposed teshuva, as I understand it, is along similar lines halachically to the driving teshuva (I agree that it is closer to nidda d'oraita) I fear that the result might be the same: that it will validate ignorant conclusions on the part of the less observant and alienate the more observant. The former point is not my primary concern in and of itself, but rather an exacerbating factor of the second. We young frum Conservative Jews fighting for recognition and legitimacy of our position in the world both within our movement and among our Modern Orthodox peers with whom we often feel we have more in common, wish not to be associated with the (we hope) mistaken notions of the mass of Conservative laity as regards the Conservative approach to halacha.

What will come of this is that it will be said among the laity that it is fine to eat hot dairy out. Inquiry into ingredients and especially preparation will go out the window. Those of us who observe strictly will feel more and more pressure either to cave to leniency or to leave the movement.”

As someone who has complained, on this blog, about the lack of observance among Conservative Jews--& I, myself, am not as observant as a Conservative Jew should be--I must admit that there's something to be said for supporting official standards, even when not all of us choose to or are able to obey them.

Tue Jan 13, 06:06:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Re Gella's comment that "“General practice is more often than not informed by ignorance," I'm sorry to say that I must agree--see the post to which I linked at the very end of this post ("different levels of knowledge of what the dietary laws require").

Tue Jan 13, 06:39:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

When I grew up in the C movement in the late 60s and early 70s the movement seemed almost hostile to the idea of educating the adult laity. For many years teshuvot of the CJLS were only available to rabbis. If a congregant wanted to read the teshuvah on drinking non-kosher wines, they had to ask their rabbi to ask the CJLS for a copy of the teshuvah. (I got the impression, which might be mistaken that in that era teshuvot were not automatically mailed out but had to be requested on an individual basis).

Similarly, in my Hebrew High School(*) all the classes were about theology, literature, history, and the influence of religion on politics. There were no classes offered in the laws of the Sabbath, on how to keep kosher, and so forth.

From what I can tell the first collection of CJLS teshuvot to be published was a 3 volume set costing about $75 - not exactly an approach designed to encourage the congregant with an mild interest in halacha to start reading it.

As recently as 1999, when my then-fiance asked a C cantor at Ramah to recommend a book on Shabbat "for someone who already does candlelighting, eating the meals and saying the bracha, and attends shul in the morning but wants to learn more" she was told her best bet was Artscroll. That isn't the case any longer - Ron Wolfson's The Shabbat Seder and the USCJ Shabbat CD-ROM are now available, but this change was a long time coming. Too long in the case of my wife and I.
(*)an extension of afternoon Hebrew School offered on two weeknight evenings for post bar mitzvah pre-college kids - not a full time day school.

Wed Jan 14, 09:25:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sorry, should have post this sooner--it's from p. 21 of that Shefa kashrut PDF:

"Part of my concern here, and I direct this to Barry and to the members of the law committee who are listening, is that I think the movement and the Jewish public at large (through the press, which is not the best venue for teaching halacha) will only hear the conclusions, and not the restrictive details, which are critical in this case. In this vein, let me make a constructive
suggestion to Barry and CJLS which is to change the format of the paper from a conclusive teshuva to an instructive letter. Such a letter would recognize that eating hot dairy out is a common practice that has questionable halachic
legitimacy but that is not likely to subside among many otherwise highly observant Jews. Then you could enter into a discussion of warnings about particular issues surrounding eat out. This way you could actually RAISE THE BAR for
those folks among the more observant, even rabbis, who do eat HD out, without pronouncing a heter for others. I think this kind of approach would strike the right balance: it would not seek to absolutely forbid what is widely
practiced, but it would seek to warn people about the greatest halachic pitfalls of eating out. . . ."

. . . Rabbi Bill Plevan

I've complained before about the seeming necessity of relying on the Orthodox for information concerning observance. Like you, I don't remember learning any of this in (supplementary) Hebrew High School. And it's only been in recent years that the Conservative rabbinate has made an effort to inform the public of its t'shuvot. Why should this information ever have been secret? Can't any Jew pick up a Shulchan Aruch?

Wed Jan 14, 10:15:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

As I was saying, I've complained before: See my Fed up with Conservative Judaism's attitude toward Observant Conservative Jews. Even the new Conservative/Masorti “portal” website leaves a lot to be desired. The Conservative Movement needs to do a much better job of informing &/or teaching its members how to observe traditional Judaism/what we need to do to be observant. I shouldn't have to go to an Orthodox website to find out what's the latest time that one may say the Sh'ma on a given morning--the time changes daily, just as Shabbat candle-lighting time changes weekly--& still be within the rabbinically-ordained proper time.

Wed Jan 14, 10:41:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am regularly amazed by (and sometimes admire) the effort of [some] Orthodox to perform certain mitzvot with such uncompromising exactitude. If I didn't understand that this is "life" for such folks, it would be hard not to mutter "get a life" after reading so many of the comments on a particularly contentious posting by R' Student over at Hirhurim. This is why I could never be orthodox myself, regardless of the level of observance I ultimately achieve. As a lawyer, the concept of "substantial compliance" is now ingrained in my personality. Thus, I find adherence to exact times, or performance of a particular action in a specific way, like Franklin's "foolish consistency", the hobgoblin of little minds. To me, such concern for the "way" something is done begins to interfere with the "why" something is done, or its purpose. It seems to invite a loss of kavanah.

Now, please don't flame me. I understand all the reasons why one might choose to observe mitzvot in the fashion I just challenged, and as I noted above, I sincerely admire the ability to approach observance in this fashion. But for me, divorcing observance just a little from the punctilliousness of it permits me to not only observe, but live the principals I believe we are commanded to live.

In this spirit, Shira (whose spirit and questioning I greatly admire)let me suggest that you not be so angry at the short-comings of the Conservative Movement. Instead, take your learning where you find it; don't reject it (as I know you don't) simply because you are unsatisfied with the source. As I think I have said in comments here before, discussions like this really demonstrate that the "movements" are not black/white institutions. The movements owe us nothing. We are all Jews, with a huge spectrum of practices among those who do practice. Some of us attend C synagogues, some Reform, still others Recon and still others, some of the many flavors of Orthodoxy. The small-minded among each of those groups will characterize all the others as insufficiently jewish. The rest recognize the truth, at times celebrate it, and don't hold you responsible for the ultimate demise of all they hold sacred.

Wed Jan 14, 11:21:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Re Rabbi Student, as JDub once commented on my "How practical is Jewish practice?" post (too lazy to link), "I find many of Gil's halachic posts . . . [have] forgotten the fifth volume of the Shulchan Aruch called "Common Sense." It is a problem when, as you said, " . . . the "way" something is done begins to interfere with the "why" something is done, or its purpose. It seems to invite a loss of kavanah. . . . .for me, divorcing observance just a little from the punctilliousness of it permits me to not only observe, but live the principals I believe we are commanded to live."

Yes, but (a) *I* want to decide how I'm going to observe, (b) I need to have the information available so that I can make an informed decision, & (c) I think it's a shame that I so often have to seek that information from Orthodox sources because the Conservative ones don't make it easily available. If the Conservative Movement expects its members to be observant, they should be providing us with information to enable us to do so. But I'll certainly take my info where I can get it. However, I disagree that "the movements owe us nothing." Call me crass, if you wish, but I don't see why any synagogue should bother paying synagogue-organization dues (be the organization the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Young Israel, Orthodox Union, Union for Reform Judaism, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Aleph, Agudah, or whichever) if we expect nothing in return.

On the other hand, you could make a legitimate case that, at 59, I'm entirely too used to thinking in denominational terms & should consider breaking myself of the habit.

Thu Jan 15, 11:46:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

More livejournal discussion of Rabbi Leff's kashrut teshvuah archived at

Thu Jan 15, 05:13:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Wow, Larry, you're just a fount of information. Thanks!

Thu Jan 15, 09:15:00 PM 2009  

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