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Considerations for Eating and Living in the 21st Century
As Adopted by the Sinai Temple Board of Trustees May 14, 2008

The Jewish way of living is an answer to a supreme human problem, namely:  How should a person, a being created in the image of God, think, feel, and act?  How can a person live in a way compatible with the presence of God?  All mitzvot are means of evoking in us the awareness of living in the “neighborhood of God,” of living in the holy dimension.
Adapted from God in Search of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel

We are committed to the ongoing study of the whole array of mitzvot and to the fullfillment of those that address us as individuals and as a community.  Some of these mitzvot, sacred obligations, have long been observed by Reform Jews; others, both ancient and modern, demand renewed attention as the result of the unique context of our own times.
Statement of Principles of Reform Judaism adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1999
As a combination of belief and action, Judaism speaks to us at many levels.
We believe in its precepts such as the oneness of God and the sanctity of life while we also act as Jews through tzedakah, social justice plus holiday and life cycle observances that include such mitzvot as the lighting of candles. 

In other words, even as we believe and think about Judaism, we also seek to embody our Judaism – to express it through concrete acts in our daily lives.

This is the context in which we have recently re-examined the role of dietary or kashrut guidelines for our synagogue.  When questions arose from a number of congregants about what foods should or should not be served in our Temple building, we discovered that only one brief statement on kashrut at Sinai was available.  It was found in the administrative booklet that guides Bar/Bat Mitzvah families as they consider the use of our building for their simchas.  Although the statement forbids serving pork and shellfish in our building, it offers no rationale for that position.  Appearing as it does in a conversation on Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations, the statement also makes it appear as if dietary issues only apply to Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. 

We think there is more to say and more to learn about kashrut.  For that reason, during the Fall of 2007, our Shabbat morning Torah Study group followed by the Ritual Committee and the Board of Trustees decided to explore the history of kashrut from biblical times through to the present.  We paid special attention to the way Reform Judaism has understood kashrut in the last two centuries.  We were also guided by the Statement of Principles of Reform Judaism adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1999 (see above) as well as our own Sinai Temple Mission Statement 1.

We now propose that the following guidelines shape our Temple’s community practice of kashrut.  We offer these guidelines for the congregation with three critical explanatory notes.
1.  Judaism’s dietary laws (kashrut) are not an “all or nothing” package.  Through study we have learned that there is a wide spectrum of observance when it comes to kashrut.  One Jew may place her/himself at a point on this spectrum where kashrut plays a determinative role in all that s/he eats; another Jew may place her/himself on the spectrum of kashrut with few limits on what is eaten.  What matters is that, although both Jews may express their kashrut differently, both Jews are observing aspects of kashrut. 
            This understanding of kashrut as a spectrum of observance informs our Sinai Temple guidelines.  We do not claim that our kashrut is everyone else’s kashrut.  In these guidelines we simply try to establish where we believe our community can finds its legitimate spot on the spectrum of kashrut.

2.  The guidelines that follow are only meant to apply to meals served in our Temple building or under our Temple auspices.  In keeping with Reform Judaism’s respect for individual choice, we recognize that the personal dietary decisions of our Temple members are theirs to make as they wish.  These new guidelines only apply to the public setting where we think it is fair to establish a communal standard.

3.  Just as our congregation has never enforced the kashrut guidelines that have existed previously, we do not see ourselves overseeing the menus that are prepared in our building going forward.  We are a community that lives, worships, studies, and “eats” together.  We trust each other to see these guidelines as opportunities for learning and for building a strong synagogue community.


Guidelines for Kashrut at Sinai Temple

1.  Shellfish and pork products should not be served in Sinai Temple.

2. The separation between meat and milk products deserves serious consideration.  For congregational events, this means that meat and milk products should not be served during the same meal.  For private functions (those organized by individuals or Temple families), we invite those creating the menu to consider the possibility of not mixing meat and milk.

3. During Passover, chametz should not be served. 

4.  In consonance with Reform Judaism’s commitment to continuing Jewish growth, we also propose that our congregation explore possible new meanings of kashrut for modern Jews. 
            We propose that our congregation expand the traditional focus of kashrut by considering the implications of the Hebrew root word.  Kashrut literally refers to that which is “fit” or “proper.”  In this context, we believe Sinai Temple should explore how to apply four classic Jewish values to the way in which food is presented in our congregation.
These values would urge us to consider the environmental impact of the meals and food served at Sinai (Baal Tashchit 2), the way in which animals that provide our food are treated (Tsaar Baalay Chayimr 3), the health implications of the food eaten (Shmirat Ha-Guf 4), plus the way in which workers who have produced our food have been treated (Oshek 5).  
Concretely speaking, we propose that the congregation assign importance to such issues as the use of minimal packaging for food served plus the use of local and organic foods where possible.  We propose reducing the amount of disposable materials such as paper and plastic used in the kitchen. 
The value of kindness toward animals might suggest that veal not be served at Sinai Temple.  Vegetarian meal options might also commend themselves for some congregants in order to avoid mistreatment of animals.
Healthy foods (as defined by those preparing the meal) might also be encouraged at Sinai.
Finally, we propose that our congregation consider serving only Fair Trade Coffee plus other foods that can be certified “fair trade.”        

1. "Sinai Temple is a welcoming and inclusive Reform Congregation where our members pursue a continuing journey of Jewish growth. We are guided by the history and traditions of the Jewish people as we encounter the challenges of the modern world. We encourage participation in prayer, life-long Jewish learning, and social justice within a joyful, creative, and compassionate community."

2. Baal Tashchit – You shall not be destructive - Deut. 20:19.  This verse has come to be understood in Jewish tradition as the text which enjoins Jews to be sensitive to all aspects of the environment and ecology. 

3. Tsaar Baalay Chayim – The pain caused to living things – This Talmudic phrase refers to the suffering we are commanded not to inflict upon animals.  To put it more positively, the notion is that we are commanded to be as merciful as possible to animals.  Psalm 145:9 provides a proof text for this value.   "The Lord is good to all, and God’s mercy is upon all God’s works.”  The final Hebrew word of this verse is ma’asav, literally, “God’s created things."  The verse could have specified that God’s mercy extends to people or children or any other term for humanity.  Since it doesn’t do that, the tradition has seen this verse as a reference to God’s concern for animals whom God also created.

4. Shmirat Ha-Guf literally means "protecting the body."  The value comes from two Torah texts where the Israelites are told:V’nishmartem m’od – Be careful – Deuteronomy 2:4 & 4:15.  These texts along with the teaching that human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) are understood as commandments that we must be careful with our bodies and take our health seriously.  Moses Maimonides taught, "Since by keeping the body in health and vigor one walks in the ways of God…it is a man’s duty to avoid whatever is injurious to the body and to cultivate habits conducive to health and vigor."  (Mishneh Torah)

5. Oshek.  Deuteronomy 24:14 reads, "Lo ta-a-shok – You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer."  This verse gives rise to the value of Oshek which prohibits Jews from oppressing workers.

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