Is it kosher?




Is it Kosher?


Two quotes from author Robert Brault:
“Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true.”
“Life becomes easier when you learn to accept the apology you never got.”


We are at the dining room table at my mom’s apartment.
I grew up having our more formal family dinners, and all holiday dinners in this room, decorated with Polish CYRK posters and built-in wooden cabinets
The kids, Jane, and I are in NYC to celebrate my youngest niece’s bat mitzvah.
Emmett is surfing the web on Jane’s laptop, which is currently tethered to Jane’s iPhone, as I am working on backing up and restoring it.
For reasons that won’t make sense until we return to Portland, Jane’s phone is burning through mobile data.
It winds up while it looks like the phone is on WiFi, it’s not.
“Uncle Ira” — mom’s paramour, not blood relation—sits to Em’s left. Jane sits to my right. My mom hovers.
She doesn’t like sitting.
I recount a story about an incident from the party.
What follows is that story.


Between loud songs and loud games the kids are playing, a woman I don’t know gestures to me, my hat and says, ‘So, Rabbi, you wear a hat. Do you keep Kosher?’
I know how this is going to go.
I’ve had this question before.
I will tell her “I don’t.”
She will tell me she does.
And she will leave feeling herself better than a rabbi.
It happens.
A lot.
But, I’ve done this dance before.
I don’t answer with a simple binary no.
Instead I give a quality answer — one that if she were asking to learn something she would.
But, as predicted, she doesn’t register what I say before she says, “I keep kosher.”
And, then she leaves.
What did I tell her?
I told her his: Kosher is more about what comes out of my mouth than what goes in.


Ira’s thick Boston accent joins in, “Kid, that’s quite a good answer there. A good answer, yes-sir-ee, a thinker.”
“Thanks, Ira. It’s a quote from Jesus, actually, in the both the Gospels of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew.”
He plays along, “is that so? Is that so?”
“Yeah, right near the Sermon on the Mount…. the best quote about what kosher means comes from what might be considered the least kosher of sources.”
Mom interjects, “Emmett, look that up.”
I don’t notice anything off with mom’s request/demand of her grandson.
But, Jane does.
Jane lifts her hands from the table, putting her head in her hands, shaking her head, and then quietly settles down. She looks up with a half-smile.
“Jesus,” she says. Then with a Jedi’s ability to not eliciting hostility, “Jesus, Ylain, your son is a rabbi and New Testament scholar, you can believe him.”
Still exacerbation-free, she pushes her chair from the table and excuses herself with a very pleasant, “Oy vey! It’s been a fun day. Good night, all.”
Echoes of “Good night, Jane” follow her.
“An interesting question,” I say to my mom. “I mean, can we ever know if Jesus said unclean or unfit — they are different after all.”
Kosher is also about keeping others from feeling shame.


An hour later, I’m still at the table working on her iPhone.
Emmett, my mom and Ira have moved on.
Jane wanders back in.
“Did your mom apologize?” she asks.
“Yeah. Later on. She came back in.”
“What did she say?”
“She said, ‘I wasn’t being insulting to you. I wanted Emmett to learn not to take things as facts without checking them out.’”
Jane tells me that it’s not an apology.
I tell her, “Sure it is. I took it to be one.”


The word KOSHER doesn’t turn up in the Bible until books written after the exile to Babylon.
Which makes sense.
The early books of the bible talk about foods being clean and unclean.
Picking some foods as “our group will eat this but not that” because we are intentionally prioritizing group membership, is a later concept.
The fitness of my religious life is, I hope, to be judged on how kind and how forgiving I am.

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