This is an repost, with a few changes, of a Table Talk I first posted a year ago. It generated a lot of interest then and I have so many new subscribers, I hope you enjoy the encore.
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 today ain't what it used to be, nor is it what it could be.
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 about health, they should have just told the potential converts, "You'll live longer if you keep kosher!"
It took me a long time to figure out this whole kosher thing.
It's really quite simple: The idea of kosher is training yourself to think: "You can't eat everything."
In other words, you're not an animal. If you want to reach your fullest spiritual potential as a human being, train yourself not to eat like an animal, i.e., not to eat everything. (Based on this, even deciding to avoid a single food for kosher reasons - such as pork or whatever - without keeping strictly kosher - even a small choice like that would be spiriitually meaningful.)
Think about it.
(Last year I mentioned that there is an esoteric teaching about pigs becoming kosher in the Messianic age. Several people emailed me for more information and are still waiting....This time I will do so more promptly so email me if you'd like the details.)