This Sunday is Tisha b’Av, a fast day that remembers the destruction of the Temple and other tragedies in our history. It begins a period of seven weeks until Rosh Hashana, a time for introspection, when we evaluate ourselves, our behavior, and maybe even our relationship with God and our Judaism. Let me suggest that food is an accessible prism through which to focus on these heavy, existential concepts.
We eat every day. If we take a moment when we’re shopping, or cooking, or eating to consider some of these larger issues, maybe we can find some meaning to help us greet Rosh Hashana with more mindful purpose than we are used to.
When we examine the laws of kashrut, we find millions of pages about the details of what and how. But details aside, my students, customers, and co-workers usually ask, “Why?” The reason we’re given in the Torah is fairly vague. “Thus, you shall be holy, because I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45) This logic follows what we learn in Genesis; that we are created in the image of God. But what about the laws of kashrut makes us holy?
Compassion: “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” The rabbis interpret this directive –mentioned three times in the Torah – to support the complete separation of dairy and meat products, including separate dishes. But at its core, this is an injunction to show compassion. Only mammals nurse their young with milk from their own bodies, which only begins to flow after the mother gives birth. It seems cruel to take the very milk meant to nourish and instead, use it to cook the delicate flesh of a newborn. So, kashrut teaches us compassion – even for the emotional suffering of an animal.
Today this relates to industrial farming and the treatment of farmed animals. It may seem like a contradiction, but just because we eat them, doesn’t mean we should be cruel while we raise them. Look for kinder sources for meat, eggs, and dairy.
Self-control: It’s not until after the great flood, when Noah, his family, and all the animals leave the ark, that humans are given permission to eat any meat at all. It seems that before the flood, we were vegetarians, maybe even vegans. But understanding that creating humankind in God’s own image did not make us perfect, God issued a compromise, allowing us to eat meat. Later we learn that the compromise is not without restrictions – we mustn’t eat all the animals and we mustn’t eat their blood. We must control ourselves, our own animalistic instincts. Just as God promised not to yield to anger and destroy the world again, we also are bound to control our own behavior. We cannot eat whatever we want, whenever we want. So, there are some things we do not eat, simply because God told us not to. This is a pretty big leap; I am not trying to convert anyone or advocate radical change. But self-control is worth thinking about.
Environmental Stewardship: In the garden of Eden, we are told the world is ours to use and to guard. From the beginning, it is humankind’s responsibility to protect the planet on which we live. When besieging a city during war, we are prohibited from destroying fruit trees. First, it’s wasteful – fruit from trees destroyed for military purposes is not eaten. Second – and this speaks to our role as guardians of the planet – the trees cannot protect themselves; they can’t run away or fight back. It’s our job to protect and use them wisely. There are many examples of waste and unnecessary destruction in the food industry. One example: dolphins or endangered sea turtles caught during commercial fishing are wasted. They don’t get eaten and they can’t protect themselves. So, maybe dolphin-safe and sustainably fished labels are just as important to kashrut as traditional certifications.
Justice: Agriculture is essential to Judaism; the Torah discusses farming often. Most of us don’t grow our own food, but the many rules related to farming affect the kashrut of our food and have important lessons to teach. When harvesting crops from the field, farmers are instructed to leave the corners and anything on the ground for the poor and strangers among us. Today we can look for food businesses that use their power, profit, and position to help feed people who are hungry – right here in Cincinnati there are people who aren’t sure they will have anything to eat tomorrow – and there are companies working to fix that.
Ethical Business Practices: There is a huge body of Jewish law related to business practices that covers how to treat employees, customers, vendors, and contractors. You must pay a fair wage, on time. You must be honest about your product and your intentions. You shouldn’t solicit information from vendors if you have no intention of buying from them. Any business, large or small, that takes advantage of the very people who make its business possible, might not be worthy of our business.
In future columns, I will introduce you to some of my favorite companies that embrace these ethical practices as a badge of honor, if not an actual hechsher. In the meantime, this week’s recipe really doesn’t have anything to do with ethics. It’s just a delicious salad that I’ve been making for more than 20 years. It’s perfect to bring to a potluck because it’s easy to make, keeps well, and tastes great at room temperature. To make it a complete meal, add cubes of chicken, Monterey jack cheese, or firm tofu.
Roasted Corn and Black Bean Salad
Serves 6 to 10 depending on the rest of the menu
Ingredients – For Salad
4 ears fresh corn, kernels removed
1 TBSP vegetable oil
½ C fresh parsley, chopped
1 very small red onion, diced
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, minced (to reduce heat, remove seeds & ribs)
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 fresh garlic cloves, crushed
1 can (15 ounce) black beans, rinsed
1 large avocado, peeled & cubed
Ingredients – For Dressing
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp cumin
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
2½ TBSP vegetable or olive oil
1 TBSP cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Remove kernels from corn. Toss with TBSP vegetable oil.
Spread corn on ungreased baking pan; roast 15-18 minutes until corn starts to turn golden brown and smells toasty. Stir or shake corn every 5 minutes while roasting. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine salad ingredients, including corn. Take care not to crush the avocado.
Combine all dressing ingredients in a small jar and shake to combine or whisk together in a small bowl.
Pour dressing over salad and toss gently with hands, making sure avocado is well coated.
If serving the same day; leave at room temperature to allow flavors to combine. If refrigerating until next day; remove from fridge and allow salad to come to room temperature before serving.
If you questions about food, email Gayle at food@americanisraelite. com.