August 28, 1997
What’s Wrong With
"Why does your God object tocheeseburgers?" a friend asked me over lunch one day. "Why does He care?" A good question. Why does a tradition so concerned with ultimate issues concern itself so earnestly with, of all things,cheeseburgers?
First, please understand that it has nothing to dowith health. The laws of kashrut -- the food restrictions imposedupon Jews by the Bible and the Talmud -- were not intended to keep ushealthy. Trust me, one can eat very kosher but very unhealthily.Kashrut is a symbol system. The question is not, "What does it do forme?" Rather, it's, "What does it say to me?"
"You are what you eat," said the philosopherFeuerbach. The way we confront nature and make a living in the worlddetermines our values. And eating is the most direct way we confrontnature. Because the way we eat speaks for the values we hold, Judaismimpresses its most fundamental values into the daily act of preparingand eating food. All of kashrut says: Choose life.
The Bible envisioned man and woman in the Gardenof Eden as vegetarians. The perfect world -- without conflict,violence, fear -- is a product of vegetarianism. It is a world ofoneness with nature. When we hunger for animal products, especiallymeat, we break the oneness. At that point, the laws of kashrutapply.
Kashrut is a compromise. Choosing to eat meat putsus at the end of a process of killing -- making us the end cause, thereason, for the entire process and, therefore, morally responsible.No matter how careful and clean, this is a matter of aggression andviolence. We often forget this when meat appears in the supermarket,all sanitized and freezer-wrapped: This was once a living, breathingbeing, whose life we have taken by force. Kashrut is a compromisebetween the nonviolent ideal of vegetarianism and the human cravingfor meat. We may eat meat, but only with certain restrictions.
There are four basic laws for eating meat: 1) Onlycertain animals may be eaten so that killing is not indiscriminate.2) The animal is killed in the most painless way. 3) All blood mustbe removed because blood symbolizes life, and all life belongs toGod. We may eat the animal, but we must not imagine ourselves to bethe masters of life and death. 4) Foods made from milk and foods madefrom meat must be prepared, served and eaten separately because meatsymbolizes the taking of life and milk symbolizes the giving of life,and the two must never be confused in our lives.
This week's Torah portion teaches this ideal: "Youare a people consecrated to the Lord your God. You shall not boil akid in its mother's milk" (Deuteronomy 14:21).
What's wrong with a cheeseburger? It bespeaks aculture that is no longer shocked by violence, that casually mixes uplife and death. We are surrounded by a culture that celebratesviolence as a source of vigor and vitality, and mixes violence intothe fabric of daily life.
Consider Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the mostsuccessful and highly paid actors in Hollywood. For what? Certainlynot for his portrayal of character. Olivier he's not. But with superbpanache and elegant style, Schwarzenegger hurts people. He kills. Andwe love it. That's entertainment.
This is a culture that sells weapons as toys.Visit any toyshop. The LAPD should be as well armed as myneighborhood Toys R Us. We give weapons to children as playthings,and then we wonder where they get the idea to bring guns toschool.
What will you change by refusing a cheeseburger?Will it make a difference? Maybe not in the world at large, but,certainly, within you. You will be different. You will make astatement about your values and about the world you choose to livein. You will be a little more conscious, a little more sensitive, alittle closer to oneness, a little more Godly. Shabbat Shalom.
Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom inEncino.
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Read a previous week's Torah Portion byRabbi Feinstein
AUGUST 22, 1997 -- Finding the AdultWithin
AUGUST 15, 1997 -- Make the Time Count
AUGUST 8, 1997 -- 'What's the Meaning ofLife
AUGUST 1, 1997 -- A Warning toRevolutionaries