Why has the Jewish Community put up barriers to conversion in the past?

What happens when we are welcoming?

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Rabbi Copnick  is a Governor of the multi-denominational Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din (rabbinic court) in Los Angeles and serves as a Dayan (rabbinic judge)) for conversion.

Image credit: https://www.chabad.org/library

Once the growing number of those who express the desire to convert to Judaism have taken this life-changing step, they are no longer called converts. They are simply Jews, often referenced with the honorific “Jews-by-choice.” During the conversion process, they take Hebrew names, sometimes commemorating known Jewish ancestors in previous generations.  Since its inception in 2002, California’s Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din (a rabbinic court using the awe-inspiring facilities of American Jewish University’s mikveh  (ritual immersion) in Los Angeles), has celebrated 500 conversions.

Traditionally, the Jewish religion has not sought converts. In fact, through the ages, a prospective convert has usually been required to ask a rabbi three times before being admitted to the conversion process, and the course of study is long and difficult. What is so remarkable about the Sandra Caplan Bet Din is its welcoming attitude to would-be Jews. Why put obstacles in their way? Jews-by-choice strengthen our community.

Who are these Jews-by-choice?

If we take a look at only seven profiles of people who became Jews-by-choice between 2002 -2017, their occupations range from a communicator for tribal government to a television producer, a graduate student in clinical psychology, a health educator, a woman in the fashion industry, an advertising and marketing professional, and a stay-at-home mom of two young boys.  They come from different backgrounds and cover a range of ages, including infants. But they all have one thing in common: a strong desire to join the Jewish people, spiritually, religiously, and with their own communal efforts. They are willing to dedicate themselves to studying Jewish history, religion, tradition, festivals, customs and, finally, sponsored by a rabbi familiar with their personal journey, an interview by three designated Dayans (rabbinic judges). Once they show that they are determined to undertake Jewish life, and, to make a Jewish home for themselves, their children or for those in their care, they are invited to make a Statement of Commitment to Judaism, to immerse themselves in the sanctified waters of a mikveh, and then be welcomed as Jews. Today, these seven people, represented by initials here, whose families are not Jewish, are all Jews-by-choice.

Usually, their birth families are not Jewish. It’s a huge decision to convert, even if they are planning to marry a Jewish person. Why do they do it? Is it the need for connection, the pull of the community, the sense of belonging, the social action focus? Most don’t anticipate the mystical power of the mikveh experience. Sometimes there are unexpected happenings.

C.B. explains that she had always felt a strong connection to what she calls “my Jewish soul.” It had always been a part of me, she says. “When I converted, when I emerged from the mikveh, “I was no different from the way I had always been.” Still, the road to becoming a Jew took different forms – studying with a rabbi one-to-one, participating in small study groups with others who wanted to become Jews, just thinking it through. Even then, it took a couple of years before she felt “ready” to enter the mikveh with her young daughter. The experience was “as indescribably exciting as the day I gave birth to her,” she remembers.

For C.R., a political and non-profit consultant, who is married with two children, a son and daughter, it was also “a peak life moment” when she entered the mikveh with her twelve-year-old daughter who wanted to have a Bat Mitzvah, the ceremonial moment of accepting adult responsibility for following the tenets of Jewish life.  “She needed to be a Jew,” C.R., says simply. As for herself, she experienced “an immediate and powerful sense of belonging” when she converted to Judaism. She was already active at her Temple, serving on its Board.

The mikveh experience was also especially important to J.H., who runs a fashionable clothing boutique for women. She claims that, although she really didn’t know what to expect, it turned out to be “the most spiritual, uplifting moment of my life. Without a doubt, the high point of my conversion process was my experience of the mikveh. I came away feeling renewed and grounded. For the first time in a long while, I finally felt all the pieces of my life fit together perfectly.” She has taken the Hebrew name of her great-grandmother, who was Jewish. And, for J.H., the biggest surprise of all has been the “warm reception” she has been receiving from the Jewish community.

But, for P.D., a former teacher, there was no single moment that defined her conversion experience. Every single step along the way was important, she explains, helping her to reframe her past and contributing to the whole: from her initial decision to convert, to the classes she took with a rabbi, to the conversational encounter with three rabbis composing the “court” of the Bet Din. The rabbis asked why she wanted to convert and determined her motivation and educational and emotional readiness to take this big step. And afterwards? “It’s amazing,” she told us, “how attached I feel to Israel.” P.D. is already active in a number of Jewish organizations, among them AIPAC, JNF, and David Adom.

Among the Jews-by-choice – as among the Jewish people — are those of varied races, such as K.S., who is Japanese by birth but was adopted by a Jewish, Caucasian mother. K.S. particularly appreciates Judaism’s focus on education, history, and culture. The call to right action resonates deeply with him. He claims that, although his own self-introspection led to his eventual conversion, he loves “the focus on action” in Judaism, along with “the way of being.”

For B.D., the busy television producer, the restfulness of Shabbat was the determining factor in his decision to convert. Just to leave the work week behind and transition into Shabbat was bliss for him. Although his spiritual path has been very personal, he claims, he also loves the community aspect of Judaism. With his outgoing personality, he thoroughly enjoys hosting Passover Seders, for example, and, with his regular attendance at Shabbat services, he looks forward to greeting familiar faces.

The communal aspect of Jewish life is a big thing for many Jews-by-choice. J.S. calls it “experiencing the unspoken community,” something he had been looking forward to for a long time because he knew he had Jewish ancestors. It felt like he had finally come to his “true community.” He also values receiving his Certificate of conversion because “it was the culmination of all my striving.”

There were also some unexpected surprises for some of the Jews-by-Choice. J.L., who is a health educator, did not expect her birth family to be so accepting of her choice. “They were so happy and excited about my connection to God and spirituality. It rekindled their own connection to a spiritual path.” It was so wonderful to have her family with her all the way. J.L. loved sharing with them the studies of history and literature that preceded her conversion. In particular, she appreciated the emphasis on Social Justice. She has become an active member of her congregation.

As Shavuot approaches this weekend, when Jews everywhere stand symbolically on Mount Sinai together, as if receiving the Ten Commandmens in the present tense, we are also connecting to the preceding generations, And as Jews-by—chioice stand with us, they strengthen our community. Welcome!

 ©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

BE-MIDBAR, 2018 (Numbers 1:1- 4: 20)

BE-MIDBAR, 2018

(Numbers 1:1- 4: 20)

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

There has been much public discussion, unfortunately acrimonious in the last few years, about the value of every human life.  Yet the assertion that every single life matters, every single life counts — whether white, black, brown, yellow, or red, or shades in between — has been an essential Jewish value for thousands of years. Every life has been created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. It is one of the lessons of Be-midbar, from which our Torah portion for this week is taken.

Image credit: http://discoversinai.net/english/places-of-interest/egypt-sinai-desert

The Torah portion takes place in the desert, in the wilderness of Sinai, after the Exodus has already taken place. At God’s instruction, Moses is preparing for the future by taking a census of all young men over twenty able to bear arms. The immediate purpose is to determine the strength of the Israeli community – as well as potential tax revenues, since the Jewish people are always practical – so that they will be able to defend themselves against any foes.  And in doing so, every life counts. Every life has value.

But taking a census in biblical times was not so easy because of a general, deep-seated ambivalence toward counting. The plague had decimated so many people that the Jews superstitiously avoided being counted so that the plague wouldn’t find them.  They also believed that knowing the numbers set limits on growth and blessing, and that it was better not to know. Only God knows whose days are numbered. Therefore, a census had to have divine sanction, as it does in this passage, or there would be dire consequences.

According to medieval commentators Sforno and Abarbanel, since men of that biblical generation were usually identified by a name that expressed their personal character, God told Moses to count the names rather than the men so that he need not fear incurring a plague or other consequences in retribution. In that way, every life was counted.

* * * *

Here is a story I like to tell: I learned that every life counts long before I read this Torah portion. I learned this value when I was eleven years old from an animal, from my pet cat, Buttons. She was a beautiful Persian cat with piercing green eyes and fur so glossy and black it seemed to have purple highlights. Naturally she attracted the attention of some of the neighborhood Toms, and soon we noticed that Buttons seemed heavier around her middle.

Then one evening as I was taking a bath, I heard sounds behind the tile bathroom walls, faint sounds, mice? No, they seemed to be mewing sounds…behind the wall. Wrapping my towel around me, I rushed to the cupboard just outside our bathroom. Sure enough, the cover to the opening of the wide pipe that ran behind the bathroom wall had been chewed off. I put my ear to the pipe and listened. Yes, those sounds were alive, and, oh, the heated air was warm in there. With eleven-year-old valor, I reached my hand in as far as I could and touched…wet fur.  That is how I lifted out, first one, then two little kittens. But I could still hear a faint mewing. Stretching my arm to the limit, I reached in once more and lifted out a third kitten. Jubilant, I carried them all downstairs to our warm kitchen and settled them comfortably in a basket lined with soft towels. My little sister instantly named them Spic, Span, and Rainbow. Spic was white, Span was black, and Rainbow was multi-colored.

I thought Buttons would be so pleased to see her kittens safe and sound in the basket. But she was not pleased. She was frantic as she touched each of them on the nose and paused. And then again, she counted noses. Then she rushed up the stairs to the bathroom closet and squeezed into the pipe. She soon emerged with one kitten, and then with another. She carried them down one by one to the basket, and when all five of them were settled, she counted their noses with her own nose. ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR-FIVE.  And then again to make sure. That’s how she took her own census. I didn’t know that cats could count. Finally, she settled contentedly into the basket with her kittens.

* * * *

That is how I learned from one of God’s small creatures that every life counts. The medieval commentator, Rashi, a wealthy wine merchant in France, who had more accurate biblical texts than most of his contemporaries, certainly thinks so. Why do we need a census, Rashi asks? And then he answers his own question (or the question may have been posed by one of his students).

Because God loves each of his children, he suggests. That’s why God wants us to count. “He is continually counting them,” Rashi adds. “He counted them at the time of the Exodus; again after so many died at the time of the Golden Calf incident, He counted them to find out how many were left; and now when He was going to rest His Shekhinah upon them, He counted them again” on the first of the Hebrew month Iyar.

Some say God counts us every hour. Remember that God promised Abraham, several times, that he would make his seed as numberless as the sand and the stars – “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).

Perhaps, as Nachmanides suggests – and Nechama Liebowitz reminds us — the census is taken – apart from the military purpose – to remind us of just that miracle. The Jews went down to Egypt with only 70 people, and despite their vicissitudes, they grew to be a large number. The Bible says that some 600,000 people left Egypt in the Exodus.  Six hundred thousand grains of sand.

As the mystical poet, William Blake (1757-1857), a non-Jew writing from mid- eighteenth to mid- nineteenth century, reminds us so eloquently, we can see the whole world in a single grain of sand. “To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour.” Perhaps we can see the whole world in a single name.

So, as Moses sets up a military camp in the desert, it is important to remember that the life of each man, each grain of sand in which we can symbolically see the whole world, matters. His possible death or injury matters. And that the purpose behind military preparedness has to be worth the strategic military formation that Moses initiates.

What does he do? First he appoints tribal chieftains from the descendants of Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, from the descendants of the sons of Joseph, and the rest of the 12 tribes. And then he sets up a strategic, square military camp, divided along ancestral lines and intended to be a mobile force. In the middle of this square, protected on all sides, is the Tent of Meeting, guarded by the Levites, who will not be obliged to fight, and thus are not numbered. Their special job is to protect the sacred objects in the Tabernacle.

I have read this Torah portion in Be-midbar many times over the years. I have given Divrei Torah on various aspects. Every time you read a Torah portion, you find something new. This time, I realized, in a flash of insight, that the most essential purpose of the military formation as the Israelites prepared for their march into the land of Canaan, was to protect what is sacred.  To protect the Tabernacle and the Holy of Holies inside. Especially since they were moving to what has proved to be a very dangerous neighborhood.

And so, according to God’s explicit instructions, the sacred ritual objects are ceremoniously gathered and meticulously placed on an altar of gold and covered with a blue cloth. Since the Israelites will be travelling to an unknown destination, they are carefully covered with dolphin skins to protect them. This inner core will be guarded by the Levites and then by the external force of the carefully positioned tribes. Protected by necessity in all directions.

Interestingly, the Haftarah that accompanies this Torah portion, Hosea 2: 1-22, opens with a prophecy of national renewal as God leads the people – ammi, My people — into the desert and then back to the land. As noted modern commentator Michael Fishbane says, “Beloved of God, the nation will respond positively.” Hosea, he claims, is the first prophet to portray the covenant between God and Israel as a marriage, an idea that attained permanent spiritual status in Judaism, culminating in the beautiful, allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs as an Israel yearning for God. An Israel yearning for what is sacred.

Maybe it is only a religious myth that God counts us every hour. Maybe it’s true. But it is very comforting nonetheless to imagine a God that also cares for us, that yearns for us. And for the precious gift of our lives, we owe it to God and to ourselves to make every hour count. To use it well for ourselves in the time that we have – something we especially appreciate as we grow older — and to use it well for the rest of the lives that have been created, for humanity and for all of God’s creatures. And that is why every life counts – whether white, black, or multicolored.  Just like Spic, Span, and Rainbow.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

AHAREI MOT – KEDOSHIM (Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27)

AHAREI MOT – KEDOSHIM (Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27)

 

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

“Aaron shall take the two he-goats and let them stand before the Lord at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and he shall place lots upon the two goats, one marked for the Lord and the other marked for Azazel” (Leviticus 16: 7-8).

“You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19: 2).

“Aharei Mot,” the title of this parasha, means “after the death,” referring to “the two sons of Aaron who died when they were too close to the presence of the Lord” (JPS translation).[1] Expiation was required.  All of Leviticus 16, in fact, is devoted to the expiation of sin and consequent purification.

Scrupulous attention is paid to the priestly white linen attire and a host of other atonement rituals, including the choice of a bull for sacrifice and a pair of he-goats. Of the latter, only one is chosen by lot to be sacrificed. The second, marked for Azazel, is to carry all the sins of the Israelites into the wilderness. Like casting our bread crumbs into natural waters at Rosh Hashana, it is reminiscent of the banishment of Cain and of Hagar and Ishmael as well. Cain eventually found respite in Edom, where he and his descendants prospered. Hagar and Ishmael were comforted that God would make of the Israelites two great nations. But what of Azazel, who symbolically carried all our sins away? Did he find respite on the mountain that some think was near Mount Sinai? Different rabbis of old have different explanations. The one that I like best is that of the medieval rabbi, Ibn Ezra. “According to Saadia [Gaon],” he writes, Azazel is “the name of a mountain, so called because it was precipitous.” [2] Possibly the goat driven into the wilderness would eventually stumble on the rocky cliffs and fall to its death, but it would not be slaughtered as a sacrifice.

Other commentators explain that “Azazel” is a compound word (more common in Aramaic than in Hebrew). Thus “as azel” means “the goat went.” [3] Rashi, however, translates Azazel as meaning “to the goats;” in other words, the goat was released alive into the wilderness, presumably to dwell among the other wild goats. I am comforted by Rashi’s explanation. [4]

I was born in January, you see. My astrological sign is the goat, a designation with which I was never comfortable until I visited Arizona, where a single, dry, brown mountain – Camelback – dominated the arid landscape. As my stay there grew longer, though, I began to discern shapes, motion, on the rocky mountain. Animals, living beings of different kinds, colored to match the mountains. And the most agile among them were goats. Surprisingly beautiful to my newly opened eyes, they were mountain goats.

One of them stood high on a cliff, looking out beyond the mountain, protecting the flock below. I began to think that being a mountain goat was perhaps a wondrous thing. To me, it signified that Azazel was cast by lot to be a survivor, a goat that could withstand the barren wilderness and create a family there. Perhaps, in overcoming the sins with which it had been burdened as a form of sacrifice, the sacrificial goat had also endured.

Watching God’s creatures, the nimble goats, I was so moved at the time that I wrote a short poem about this experience. I called it “Born in January, like me.” Now, with a little more humility, I am giving it a new name: “Azazel.”

 

AZAZEL [5]

 

Mountain goats in their whiteness

clamber up the stony cliffs,

scale rocky heights,

melt age-old snowcaps

with heated vision.

 

Flock protected beneath his

fortress, a monarch stands

alone atop the tajo.

Azazel.

[1] “Aharei Mot,” JPS Hebrew English Tanakh, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999) 244.

[2} Ibn Ezra, Quoted in Michael Carasik, Ed., Trans., “Leviticus,” The Commentators’ Bible: The Rubin JPS Miqra’ot Gedolot (Philadelphia: JPS, 2007) 120.

[3] Ibid., 120.

[4] Ibid., 121.

[5] My poem was first published in the 10th Anniversary Issue of Voices of Israel, Haifa, Israel, 1982.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

Parshat Metzora: The Healing Process (Leviticus 14:1-15:31)

Parshat Metzora: The Healing Process

(Leviticus 14:1-15:31)

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

Painting by Yoram Raanan. (photo credit: YORAM RAANAN)

About three years ago, just as I was about to serve as Guest Staff Rabbi on a long cruise to Brazil, it was announced on ILTV (Israel- English news) that Israeli scientists have created a technology that eliminates the need for insect repellent. That was the last I heard of it, though. However, I would have defied any disease-bearing mosquito to have come close to anyone who emerged from our bus tours, dripping with sunblock and extra-strength Deet. It would have been a fatal journey for the mosquito!

Meanwhile on board the ship, just as on this one, every precaution was taken. Passengers were reminded daily to wash their hands frequently; disinfectant soap machines were stationed outside all public areas; and attendants with piles of hot towels awaited us outside the ship at every port before we could even touch the ship’s gangway railing on re-boarding. In addition, we passengers had individual responsibility to be preventively vaccinated for all kinds of diseases occurring in that part of the world. Most of us took anti-malaria pills. In addition, the ship provided a infirmary staffed by two nurses and a doctor. We were protected plus.

In our Torah portion for this week, Parshat Metzora (which discusses infectious diseases in detail) we can similarly marvel at the wisdom of the careful precautions taken by our ancient Jewish religious tradition not only to isolate – that is, quarantine outside the community – a person afflicted by a disease deemed infectious, but also the concern shown by the priests, the biblical healers, in attempting to identify when the contagious period had passed, and when the infected person had healed sufficiently to return to the community without risk to its members. And without social rejection. Always there is the effort to bring the person back to the community.

This passage clearly identifies the dual concern in our tradition, both for the community and for the individual. The sick person is not an outcast. A daily effort is made by the healers – the priests, dangerously exposing themselves to infection – to go outside the community each day to examine the sick person or persons, and with the medical knowledge of the time to know when they are healed. Simply stated, the priest builds a bridge between the need of the community and the dignity of the person concerned. Only then can the community be whole.

Parshat Metzora also addresses inanimate objects – infected buildings – as well as people. Mold and fungus and greenish-black areas must be removed, and, if the buildings cannot be restored to health, they must be destroyed.

Understandably, most kids approaching bar- or bat-mitzvah dread getting this portion. Their initial reaction is usually “Ugh – Why me?” Most years Metzora is combined with Parshat Tazria, so that the two portions combined go into even more detail about these issues. When my granddaughter ascended to the Torah for her Bat-Mitzvah two years ago, and Metzora was the portion she got! It was my joy and honor to have studied it with her, and to be the rabbi conducting her Bat-Mitzvah. We decided to concentrate not on the disease but on the courage and medical knowledge of the healers, and, yes, she read and commented on this portion with great respect for the healers of our tradition in their ancient, priestly wisdom. In fact, this portion is an essential element in understanding the ritual purity code outlined in the Torah.

There is Divine symbolism inherent in this portion too. In the biblical account of the early years in the desert, Moses throws the sweet branch specified by God into the bitter waters, and, behold, they are sweetened. Jewish wisdom thus suggests that adherence to Divine commands is the sweetness (symbolized by the branch) that alleviates illness (the bitter waters).

Some moderns, like Rabbi Harold Kushner, suggest that concentration on what the powerful and beautiful words of the 23rd Psalm can help in the healing process. So today, thousands of years after it was written, we lift up our eyes to the mountains – to our Divine shepherd – for the health and strength and wisdom to overcome whatever this challenging era demands.

 

PSALM 23 [1]

Lord, You are my shepherd;

I lack nothing.

You make me lie down in green pastures;

You lead me to water in places of repose;

You renew my life;

You guide me in right paths

as befits Your name.

Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness,

I fear no harm, for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me.

 

You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies,

You anoint my head with oil;

my drink is abundant.

Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me

All the days of my life,

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

For many long years.

 

[1] This modern translation is adapted from Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Eds. (New York: Oxford University Press [JPS], 2004), 1307.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

SH’MINI (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)

SH’MINI (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Image credit: http://yerusha.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Eco-Kosher-Logo.png

As a Torah portion, Sh’mini covers a lot of ground, and what it has to say about the food we consume affects Jewish people to this day. In other words, Sh’mini explains what we have come to call “Kashrut,” “The Kosher Laws,”– an outline of our dietary do’s and don’ts for everyday living, which Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews all interpret differently. A whole range of what we can and cannot eat at Passover is included in these laws too.

Despite the fact that her husband was a Labor Socialist with a dim view of God, my maternal grandmother always kept a strictly kosher home. But she refused to eat at my mother’s home. Why? Because my mother, who thoroughly enjoyed being an “acculturated” school teacher, did not keep a kosher home — even though she had been taught to do so by my grandmother. However, my grandmother would eat regularly at my home because I had not been taught to keep kosher. Also, she said, God would understand that it was important to be with her grandchild – her ainikel –and young family on Friday night. My grandmother’s God was very accommodating, stronger on rachamim than din. Of course, I kept special glass plates for my grandma and served her fruit salad, which was all she would eat, apart from the delicious cakes I bought from a kosher bakery with a heksher stamp.

Much later in my life, I was glad to learn that Los Angeles Torah educator (and political pundit), Dennis Prager, had simplified most of the kosher requirements expressed in Sh’mini into two simple rules: 1) Don’t eat animals that eat other animals, and 2) Don’t eat animals that are scavengers. Most important of all, of course, is the requirement to treat animals humanely, to slaughter them with the least pain possible, and the caution that, if we do eat meat, not to consume the blood of the animal. The ancient Israelites believed that the life of the animal – the DNA so to speak — was in the blood.

The rules concerning separation of milk and meat relate to a different text in the Bible – the prohibition about taking the chicks or potential chicks of the mother bird out of the nest while the mother bird is present. The idea is to avoid causing distress to the mother as much as possible. But there is a deeper concern. Milk represents life; it is considered life-affirming, whereas when we eat meat, it is dead. Dead meat. And so, according to Jewish reasoning, life and death should always be kept separate. Thus no milk and meat together. Some of my rabbinic colleagues have become vegetarian, in fact, so that they don’t have to think about whether or not they are keeping kosher appropriately when their congregants peek at their plates.

* * * *

For centuries, the laws pertaining to Kashrut were clear, but according to Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Kashrut has become both complex and controversial in modern times:

“A number of factors [have] contributed to the debate over kosher food during the last two centuries. Among those factors are massive acculturation, changes in food production including the industrialization of the making of foods, ‘new’ foods from tofu to genetically modified products, changing views of hygiene, the application of scientific method to kosher food inspection, mass marketing, the health food movement, new understandings of Jewish spirituality, and the recent growth of Orthodox Judaism to mention a few” (“You Are What You Eat: The New World of Kosher Food”).

Added to this is the fact that the kosher food business is BIG business in over 100 countries and, according to Forbes, accounting to food sales of over $12 billion under rabbinic supervision.

Until recent years, the Reform movement considered that kashrut was no longer binding on modern Jews, but it has come a long way since a non-kosher meal known as “the treifah banquet” was served in 1883 at Hebrew Union College. Jewish soldiers, by the way, were first granted an exemption from keeping kosher during World War I.  Since 1979 and more especially since the second Pittsburgh Platform in 1999, the Reform movement has defined its policies with a new openness to traditional practices. Then, “in 2011, the Central Conference of American Rabbis published The Sacred Table…which presented “the possibilities of an ethical, health-based, spiritual approach to culinary culture in the Progressive Jewish Community today.”

Also, many Progressive Jews have become involved in observing “Eco-Kosher,” which Rabbi  Shacheter-Shalomi and Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Jewish Renewal movement defined as “good practice in everyday life that draws on the deep well-springs of Jewish wisdom…. The fusion of the ancient with the post-modern.” Eco-kosher stresses respect for animals and concern for their distress, it is about not ruining the earth, not eating foods with carcinogens, not overusing tobacco and alcohol, avoiding anorexia, etc.; it stresses tzedakah, the sharing of food with the poor, and praising God for the earth’s bounty before and after a meal. There is a lot of emphasis on praying for rain, which, living in California, I particularly appreciate. Other links with the earth are clothing, energy, breathing (in regard to air pollution) and socially responsible work conditions. And of course, shmita, giving the earth a rest. All of these concerns may be summed up by the ethical principle of Tikkun Olam – Healing the World.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.