A few years ago, I was teaching a walk-in class in Seattle. The participants looked like a cross-section of mainstream Seattle.
The class was about the intersection between the mundane and the mystical. At one point, I asked, “Who knows the bracha to make on pork chops?”
“That’s a trick question,” a young lawyer answered. “You don’t make a bracha on non-kosher food!”
“Ah – but what if someone were starving, and the only thing they had to eat was pork chops? If they need it to save their life, then pork becomes temporarily kosher!”
Afterwards, an older lady came up to me with a word of protest. She was friendly but quite driven. “I’m a survivor of Auschwitz,” she said. “After we were liberated, we were starving. There was some non-kosher meat, and we ate it. But we would have NEVER eaten pork!”
First question for your table: What is it about pork?
Keeping kosher, gotta love it, gotta hate it.
On the one hand, it's so easy now. Walk into any Safeway and you'll find that little O-U symbol everywhere. Trader Joe's even publishes a list of their kosher products.
On the other hand, there aren't very many kosher restaurants, and very few great ones.
I used to associate "kosher" with being "religious". A little bit fanatical. But then again, I used to think someone who strictly reported every penny of income or stringently avoided gossip was also a bit fanatical.
Second question for your table: If, as Hillel said, the essence of the Torah is how we treat others, how does “kosher” fit in.
Once upon a time someone promulgated a myth that the kosher rules are based on health concerns. Pork and shellfish can carry diseases, right?
The problem with that logic is that lots and lots of ancient people ate pork. If the Jews had some kind of health secret, wouldn't word have leaked out? The Romans were ruthless, but they weren’t dumb.
In fact, it was only when the early Christians (who were Jews) discarded the kosher rules that they were able to attract Gentile converts. If it were all about health, they should have just told the potential converts, "You'll live longer if you avoid pork!"
It took me a long time to figure out this whole kosher thing.
Finally I figured it out.
It's really quite simple: The idea of kosher is: Train yourself to think: "You can't eat everything."
Think about it.
(There is an esoteric teaching about pigs becoming kosher in the Messianic age. I’m not going to put it on the blog, but email me if you'd like the details.)