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Debatable: Should Reform Congregations Have Kosher Kitchens?

Rabbi David M. Frank

Our temple is a laboratory of Jewish practice.

Increasingly, Reform Jews are discovering kashrut as a compelling mitzvah in their religious lives. Accordingly, our Movement has shifted dramatically from the disparagement of kashrut voiced in the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform to its reconsideration as an elevating option for individual Reform Jews.

Our temple installed a Reform kosher kitchen in 2005 for several reasons.

First, we see our synagogue as a living laboratory where members can experiment with different Jewish practices in order to discover which ones work, or don’t work, for them. If kashrut is a mitzvah for Reform Jews to consider, but there is no way to experience it within the synagogue, we would fail in fulfilling our institutional responsibility to help our members grow Jewishly.

Second, we want our congregation to be a welcoming, inclusive community for our members, as well as the greater Jewish community in our city. Many members observe kashrut in their homes and appreciate being able to eat comfortably at their synagogue, too. When they hold celebrations at the temple, they are pleased that kashrut -observant guests can eat the food we serve. In addition, our kosher kitchen allows us to host many Jewish community-wide events that require a kosher venue.

Third, we wish to go a step further and reframe kashrut for our age, instituting kosher practices that also encompass eating foods produced with care for the environment, humane treatment of the animals being consumed, and fair conditions for laborers on farms and in food-processing plants.

Temple Solel’s kosher kitchen does not limit individual autonomy, but, in the highest spirit of Reform Judaism, expands it, by encouraging knowledgeable choices for every Reform Jew. If our Movement truly considers kashrut a viable option for individual Reform Jewish observance, then our synagogues might indeed provide a means to experience it.

Rabbi David M. Frank is spiritual leader of Temple Solel, Cardiff by the Sea, California.

Rabbi Jeff Marx

A kosher kitchen would be a step back in time.

A kosher kitchen in our temple! For whom? Certainly not for my congregants who freely mix milk and meat at their meals. And certainly not for the rare kosher-observing guests at a family’s bar or bat mitzvah reception. Why should we invest expense and effort to make occasional visitors feel more at home when they can be easily served fruit, salad, and fish on paper plates? What’s next—separate seating for men and women in our sanctuary so that those with Orthodox sensibilities might feel more comfortable worshiping with us?

Though a case can be made for the ethical benefits of observing traditional kosher practices (i.e., inculcating a sensitivity to the shedding of blood), my congregants are more drawn to environmental health, and other ethical issues involving eating. They want our temple to serve food from local sources (to reduce fossil fuel consumption) on recyclable paper goods (to reduce waste). They complain when only sugary foods are served at the oneg, insist that artificially colored punch be replaced by healthy alternatives, and (sensitive to those abstaining from alcohol) keep plenty of grape juice on hand.

Reform Jews should keep kosher, but not the kashrut of the past. Kashrut for our time needs to be concerned with food quality (real foods free from harmful chemicals and additives), meat consumption (weighing the environmental and personal health implications associated with eating red meat), humane treatment of animals (when we do eat them), organic foods (to avert health risks associated with pesticide spraying), and employment practices (fair wages and safety for those involved in food production and distribution).

To provide a traditional kosher kitchen in our temple would be to step back in time. Our congregants and I are looking ahead to our future.

Rabbi Jeff Marx, a fourth-generation Reform Jew, is spiritual leader of Santa Monica Synagogue, Santa Monica, California.


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