Eco-Kashrut Question: Beit Din in France is a guest post by Louis Lavis.
A note to the reader:
My family and I moved from Cambodia to France this summer. When we arrived, I sent out the Jewish Food Hero newsletter as usual. Louis Lavis, a JFH Community Recipe contributor, replied to welcome me to France and invite me to go on a picnic in Paris with him and his partner, Elisa. I absolutely loved this aspect of moving to Europe! When we met a second time, we were walking through a park in Paris and Louis told me about his Jewish conversion experience. I thought this was a fascinating story. So, I asked him to write about his experience to share with our community. Over to you, Louis…
Beit Din in France
It is 2020 and I am finalizing my conversion to Judaism. At my recent Beit Din interview, the panel of 4 Rabbis asked me to prepare a written response to the question “What meaning would an ‘eco-Kashrut’, according to the principles of tradition, have today?”
As I was preparing my response, I realized what a long journey it has been with my conversion and my relationship with food.
My Jewish Roots Discovered
When I was 16 years old, I found out about my Jewish roots. The family names on my grandmother’s side were Jewish: Krugman, Gilman, etc. These relatives used to live in a part of Alsace in France, where the Jewish community was quite important at the time. My grandfather had been working on a family tree. One day, he showed me the result of his research. This was how I discovered my Jewish roots. As we reviewed the family tree, I was fixated on the truth that I was Jewish.
Searching for more information
I was fascinated and keen to find out more about my Jewish heritage. However, despite many years of research I couldn’t find any official documents that could prove my Jewish lineage. I tried everything, from calling and writing to local archives, city halls, Jewish genealogy organizations, subscribing to genealogy websites, and manually going through hundreds and hundreds of online archives. Even though I did not have the records, I did not give up.
At 24, when I came back from my work experience in Israel, I decided to follow a conversion process. I believed that this would end all identity issues and allow me to move on in life as a Jewish man. Before I started the conversion process, I felt hopeless and lost, not knowing who I really was, not knowing what to tell people when talking about my Jewish identity. Now, 3 years later as my conversion is complete, I appreciate all the things the process has brought me. I could write endlessly about how the process has transformed my life and feelings. But, here I am going to focus on one of things I have learned: Judaism’s stance on ethical eating.
Childhood Food Habits
Up until I was 20 years old, my eating pattern was omnivorous. I loved meat – the taste of it, and all the memories associated with it. My favorite meat dishes and memories were:
- eating dried sausages with my grandfather
- my grandmother’s meatballs
- my mom’s tajines made with prunes and chicken or lamb.
A first taste of veganism
During my gap year I was in Halifax, Canada. I had a girlfriend who introduced me to veganism. She was passionate about the impact of food on personal health. She spoke about how our eating choices impact the environment and about the suffering of animals. I tried being vegan for a week, and I was surprised by how many delicious vegan foods there were. I remember eating delicious rice and beans, vegan burritos filled with hummus and plenty of veggies, and amazing Indian curries.
I also felt physically better in my body after only one week – lighter, more energetic and I started to lose some weight. So, I decided to continue to explore vegan eating. However, when I returned back to France, my vegan girlfriend and I broke up and my old eating habits returned. Food habits are so hard to break and I mostly returned to my omnivorous diet.
My Jewish Eating
When I started living as a Jew, my feelings about food and my eating habits changed. Of course, I quit pork and seafood and stopped mixing milk and meat. This focus on food heightened my awareness of what I was consuming and put an end to my automatic eating habits.
The hardest part of keeping kosher was explaining my kosher eating to members of my non-Jewish family. I think it was hard for them to understand why I suddenly couldn’t share the food that we had always enjoyed together.
After I explained, everyone understood and I felt supported by my family. Today, my family accommodates my kosher eating mainly by cooking vegetarian food, which I so appreciate.
Connections between Kosher and veganism
During my conversion experience, I started to think about food in a new way because of the kosher laws. I feel there is a natural link between Judaism and veganism, via the kosher laws. Our rules force us to be more ethical by limiting how and when we can consume animal products. During my conversion, I took Jewish classes with several Rabbis. They taught that, despite the fact that most famous Jewish dishes are not vegan, Gd’s original plan for humans in the Garden of Eden was for man and woman to eat plant based foods! Gd allowed humans to consume meat after it was clear that we were not perfect beings.
Eating plant-based and Kosher is win-win for me, I get to follow the kosher food laws while helping the planet and animals at the same time. The bonus is that I feel so much better physically too.
The Beit Din Written Exam on Eco-Kashrut
As part of my conversion, I had to prepare a written exam for the Beit Din. My Beit Din was composed of four European Rabbis associated with the liberal movement: Rabbi Tom Cohen, Rabbi Daniela Touati, Rabbi Marc Neiger and Rabbi François Garaï.
They asked, in the written exam: What sense would an “eco-kashrut” have today according to the principles of the tradition?
Here is what I wrote in answer:
Eco-Kashrut makes a lot of sense today, because kosher as it is applied at the moment is not necessarily in line with certain principles of the tradition.
If Gd created this Earth, and put us on it to exist and live (Tzimtzum), we owe it to ourselves and to Gd to preserve the earth and make it a healthy place. We must do everything to honor its creation and to take care of the earth and Gd’s creatures on earth.
In particular, we now know that over-consumption of meat is harmful for the environment. Eco-kashrut should therefore promote meat reductionism and a more plant-based and local diet. Regarding meat consumption, eco-kashrut should promote eating meat that is locally available. In addition, ritual slaughter regulations might be updated to ensure that we are keeping the commandment Tza’ar ba’alei chayim, that forbids us to cause unnecessary suffering to animals.
Concerning fish consumption, eco-kashrut might ban fish that are endangered due to intensive fishing because we know that intensive fishing considerably disrupts marine ecosystems and food chains. We cannot allow ourselves to eat food that disrupts Gd’s natural order in nature.
Eco-kashrut might also review in detail how kashrut rules around using separate dishes for milk and meat impact people’s choice to use disposable plates and cutlery. The labor involved with cleaning all these dishes during holidays and Shabbat pushes a lot of families to use disposable plastic cutlery and plates. These end up in the trash and then in landfills. This modern habit in response to kosher laws has a very bad impact on our planet.
Our food choices and waste habits are threatening our planet and our own health. It is important to remember that Gd tasked us with Pikouach Nefesh: to celebrate and protect human life.
Eco-kashrut is essential today and it should be motivated by the tikun olam, the reparation of the world, a very important principle in Judaism. There are more steps we can take today to enact eco-kashrut in our homes and communities. I think the next generation will make eco-kashrut a priority in the Jewish community, in light of the ecological crisis facing us.
More about ethical kashrut / eco-Kosher
Thanks so much to Louis for sharing his experience and ideas with us. If you are interested in this important topic and want to read more take a look at these other Jewish Food Hero posts: