Has Kashrut become the ‘in’ thing to do?

BY RABBI YITZCHAK ROSENBAUM

It seems that Kashrut is “in.”

I recently came across an article which outlined the kosher dining adventures of various celebrities. I was surprised to learn that Madonna, Paris Hilton, Bono and Donald Trump have been partaking in kosher dining…if I am to believe what I read, that is.

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Actually, according to recent research, there are 11 million kosher consumers in the United States.

Guess how many Jews there are nationwide?

At most, 6 million.


So even if it’s not Madonna, we can be sure there are people eating kosher for other reasons and it just so happens that kosher seems to be “cool” for now.

People believe kosher food is more pure; they also believe it is blessed (which is not true).

The reality is kosher food is rabbinically supervised, and as such, a non-dairy item is safe for someone with a lactose allergy and a Pareve item is sure not to contain meat — which is important for a vegetarian.

Of course, the laws of Kashrut are rooted in the Torah, and we Jews believe that the Torah is the blueprint for the right way to live one’s life. An integral part of the 613 commandments of the Torah are the laws defining which animals are permitted and which are not (Leviticus 11), as well as those exhorting the separation of meat and milk (Exodus 23:19) and various other food-based restrictions. If the Torah commands us to eat kosher, then eating kosher must be the healthiest spiritual diet possible for us.

But still, when public figures whose pictures appear in the media regularly, such as Madonna, Donald Trump and Paris Hilton, start asking for kosher food, it gets into the news and all of a sudden there is a buzz, even among us Jews. If they who are not required to eat kosher — non-Jews — are specifying kosher, then perhaps it is time for the Jewish people to do the same.

Unfortunately, over the past hundred years, observance of Kashrut among Jews has declined precipitously. But American Jews like to be more American than their fellow citizens.

So, should we be dismayed about this development or raise our kosher wine glasses to toast Paris Hilton?

I am actually encouraged by this “news.”

I think we can hope that many young Jews who will eat in a kosher restaurant to ‘do the trendy thing,’ might enjoy the experience, finding kosher dining has gone far past gefilte fish (not that there’s anything wrong with gefilte fish!) and decide to find out what else Judaism has to offer them.

Who knows, maybe eating in a good kosher restaurant will lead to people asking what makes something kosher. Perhaps a good, seared tuna or marinated steak with fries will inspire a search for answers.

Maybe the old adage about the “way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” means that filling empty stomachs with kosher food will lead to filling empty souls with Jewish spirituality, and filling lives with Jewish living.

So how should we feel about Madonna’s alleged kosher palate? As someone who has spent decades in Jewish outreach, I say to Madonna, to Paris, to Trump and to Bono, “Bon Appetit! B’tay’avon! L’chaim! To Life …To Jewish life!”

Rabbi Yitzchak Rosenbaum is associate director of the National Jewish Outreach Program in New York City. Rabbi Rosenbaum has been with NJOP since 1989.