My friend Cantor Yonah Kliger pointed me to an interesting article in this month’s Reform Judaism Magazine. It’s a thoughtful discussion (a sort of point-counterpoint) from two rabbis about whether Reform synagogues should have kosher kitchens.
On one side, Rabbi David Frank argues that kashrut is a legitimate and valid form of Reform Jewish practice If Reform Jews are going to be made to feel like they are free to make that choice, their synagogue needs to be a place where they can freely practice this part of their Jewish life. As he puts it, “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.”
On the other side, Rabbi Jeff Marx explains that keeping a kosher kitchen is out of sync with the lifestyles of the overwhelming majority of Reform Jews. If none of the members of the congregation keep kosher, then why should the synagogue have a kosher kitchen? If we, as Reform Jews, have made a conscientious choice to not keep kosher (and, perhaps, have actually made the choice to be food-conscious in other ways), then shouldn’t the kitchens in our synagogues reflect these values? As Rabbi Marx explains,
“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).”
Our kitchens, Rabbi Marx believes, should reflect this current form of “kashrut,” not some traditional sense of keeping kosher that doesn’t resonate with our current values.
This debate is funny to me because I think I fall squarely in the middle.
On one hand, I very much agree with Rabbi Frank. I believe that kashrut can be an important part of an individual’s choices of Reform Jewish practice. As such, congregants who might make these sorts of choices should (a) be empowered to do so by their synagogue, and (b) should be able to eat in their own synagogue building.
On the other hand, I’m loathe to support the installation of traditionally kosher kitchens in Reform synagogues for one big reason (and it’s a reason that Rabbi Marx fails to mention): rabbinical authority.
Here’s the problem. If you’re going to maintain a traditionally kosher kitchen in a communal building, then you need traditional rabbinic supervision of the kitchen. Someone needs to make sure that cooking implements designated as meat and dairy maintain their kosher status. Someone needs to check to make sure that all ingredients brought into the kitchen have proper kosher certification. Someone needs to make sure that only certified-kosher caterers may use the kitchen. And ultimately, “traditional supervision” and “traditional certification” means Orthodox.
And there’s the rub. I think it is totally inconsistent with our Reform Jewish values to accept that our kitchens need to supervised and certified by an Orthodox authority. In fact, I think that accepting Orthodox supervision of our kitchens is an affront to Reform Judaism. It accepts that our rabbis aren’t good enough, and by extension gives into the Orthodox canard that Reform converts aren’t really Jewish and that our rabbis (especially the women) are unfit to perform rabbinical duties. Furthermore, to pay for Orthodox supervision and certification (and to insist on the use of only products that carry this certification) is to provide financial support for the very Orthodox establishment that asserts (in deed, if not necessarily in word) that our movement is not a viable expression of Judaism.
I guess this leads me to accept Rabbi Frank’s assessment that we ought to be providing avenues for viable forms of Reform Jewish practice within our synagogues, but to take issue only with the notion that we should have “traditionally” kosher kitchens. I am not advocating for the creation of some “Reform kashrut.” Rather, I’m saying that synagogues should find ways to celebrate different Jewish lifestyle choices while affirming the viability and authority of our own Jewish practice.