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December 1, 2013  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Our values should be reflected in our food choices

By Rabbi Daniel Treiser Temple Bnai Israel, Clearwater

The other day I bought a pummelo at the supermarket. Pummelos are those giant, greenish yellow citrus fruits. The ‘genetic ancestor’ of the grapefruit, it is eaten the same way as a grapefruit, though it is much less bitter. I await pummelos in the market each year, because they bring me emotionally back to Israel. I first discovered them 20 years ago on Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev desert. Every day, we ate pummelos, peaches, tomatoes and other produce grown right on their farms or on those of the neighboring kibbutzim.

In Israel as perhaps no place else in the world, I became more aware of what it really means to eat food that’s “right off the farm.” Rows upon rows of tables line the shuk alleyways with fruits and vegetables grown just hours away. Of course, it helps that all the produce in Israel tastes so much better, too!

The link between agriculture and the land of Israel goes back to the Torah. Deuteronomy 8:8 reminds us that the land is “a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.” Throughout the Torah we read of the obligation to bring sacrifices of thanksgiving for the bikkurim, the “first fruits” of one’s field, as well as the rule forbidding the consumption of fruit from a tree until its fourth year, allowing the tree to sufficiently grow and sustain itself.

Our major Pilgrimage Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot are all intricately tied to the growing cycles of the year. All of these mitzvot made our ancestors more conscious of the food that entered their mouths. But with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and the dispersion of people from the land, an evolution in worship was forced upon Judaism, as sacrificial system disappeared. Many of those ritual connections to the land were lost. More than that, in the two millennia since, we’ve moved from an agrarian lifestyle to an industrialized one, so our society as a whole lost many of the connections we once had to the land and the source of our food as well.

Today, though, we are witnessing a renaissance of consideration for the food we eat and the impact it has on the earth. Though it has become a very popular secular trend, many of the core values are Jewish. The term “eco-kosher,” coined by Rabbi Zalman Shachter- Shalomi and popularized by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, refers to the idea of going beyond guidelines for ritually “fit” foods, and letting Jewish values influence the choices we make.

Should an apple grown in pesticides and shipped in exhaust spewing cargo trucks be considered “kosher?” Is an animal kept in a pen or a cage and treated cruelly “fit” to eat? Is food picked by farm workers who aren’t paid a fair, living wage “kosher?” Eco-kashrut encourages us to make conscious, ethical decisions about what we eat.

There are many wonderful resources available to us today to help make these decisions. Organizations like the Orthodox Tav HaYosher (http:// html) and the Conservative and Reform partnership of Magen Tzedek ( certify restaurants and food products as ethically produced.

Guidebooks like “The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic” by Rabbi Mary Zamore offer food for thought and help making these decisions.

Within our own community, you can shop in a farmer’s market almost any day of the week now. Community Supported Agriculture groups (CSAs), a way to buy locally-grown produce, are appearing more and more. More accurate labels indicating if food is either organic or not genetically modified make shopping choices easier, too.

We have a long, proud history of making values-based food choices. In today’s world, those values are just as important to uphold in all the choices we make, even ones as simple as what we put in our mouths.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned, on a rotating basis by the board.

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